I recently sent the following letter to Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. After sending the letter, I did some more research on Pastor Harris only to discover that he is the author of a book that made the rounds during my college years: I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris's new book, Dug Down Deep, explores the relationship of doctrinal truth to our relationship with Christ. Harris points out that one can't separate doctrinal truth from devotion to and relationship with Christ; indeed, you can't have one without the other. My letter below, as the interested reader will learn, picks up on this notion of truth. If truth is both objective and critically important, as Pastor Harris and I agree, then how do we come to a correct knowledge of the truth, especially considering that there are a number of "truths" about which Pastor Harris and I disagree?
That, my friends, is the question...
Hi Pastor Joshua,
I just stumbled across your interview about Dug Down Deep through a link on Denny Burk's website. At Burk’s website, I listened to your talk at SBTS, and my ears were piqued when I realized you preach right around the corner from where I live. So I did some poking around and found this interview: http://www.joshharris.com/2010/03/an_interview_about_dug_down_de.php
The interview brings up the following questions in my mind:
If "we can't know him [Jesus] and relate to him in the right way without doctrine," then what provisions did Jesus leave his Church so that they would know correct doctrine? Many good, honest Christians pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their interpretation of Scripture, yet still believe in different doctrines. Doctrines, as you correctly note, basically constitute a person's or church’s interpretation of Scriptural teaching.
Yet, if not knowing correct doctrine is tantamount to not knowing Jesus (at least in as full a way as he wants to be known by us), then how can a Christians ever really be sure they know Jesus fully? To repeat: what provisions did Jesus put in place so that if ever there were competing ideas about what doctrines (i.e. interpretations of Scripture) were true, Jesus’s followers would know for sure which ones should be believed?
Your interview speaks about truth in a number of different contexts:
"building your life on the truth about God;"
truth doesn't cater to culture (it doesn't "speak their language") but rather should be given "straight up" so that it can accomplish "God's work;"
"your life interpreted by God's truth;"
"truth and theology [can't be separated] from devotion and relationship. You can't have one without the other;"
"I think we all struggle with [getting the truth from our head to our heart];"
"Getting truth into our heart starts with meditating on truth;"
"Expository preaching of God's word will deepen your grasp of biblical truth;"
and "We need both the truth of Jesus and the compassion of Jesus if we would rightly represent him to a lost world."
All of these statements seem to treat truth as something objective, solid, and unchanging. It doesn’t get swept along with culture. It is solid such that we can build our life on it and interpret our life by it. The truth of the Gospel is something that was just as true in 200 AD as it is in 2000 AD. (It might give your readers pause to know that the vast majority of Christian pastors preaching the Gospel in 200 AD—those who had learned the Gospel from the students of the apostles themselves—taught truths that are quite different from some of the ones taught at CCL.)
Yet, very few of your statements about truth give your readers any idea of where they can find this truth. In other words, getting truth into our hearts really begins with knowing how to get truth into our minds, and into our ears, since “faith comes by hearing.”
If truth is objective such that we can measure ourselves by it, then how can we know if the truths we believe didn’t really begin as the reflection of ourselves, of our own individual readings of scripture, of our own weaknesses in Scriptural understanding, etc.? After all, the Bible is a book written in languages that could not be more different from our own, to a culture that could hardly be more different from our own, etc. The average reader of the Bible does not know the expressions, the assumptions, and the traditions of the Jewish culture within which the New Testament was written and received. Yet, many evangelical Christians today reject the teachings of those earliest fathers of the Church who DID read the Bible in this historical context, and who did learn the Gospel message even from the apostles themselves. (Ignatius of Antioch’s teaching on the Eucharist as being the body and blood of Christ is just one example among many. Many Catholic and Protestant scholars agree that Ignatius was a disciple of the apostle John.)
I agree with you completely that "truth and theology [can't be separated] from devotion and relationship. You can't have one without the other."
But what is the pillar and foundation of truth?
At the same time that I applaud you and encourage you in your work in spreading the gospel and for connecting how our relationship with Christ relates to the Truth who is Christ, I wonder if I might challenge you to articulate more clearly exactly how it is that you believe Christians can know with certainty this Truth. Also, please forgive me if you address these questions in your book. Just point me in the right direction, and I’ll read your book asap!
Thank you for your time and for all the work you have done for God! May you and your loved ones experience a blessed Holy Week, and may the peace of Christ be with you!
Let us join our prayer this week with Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17: “that they may be one.” Sanctify us, oh God, and teach us the fullness of the truth that was “delivered once to the saints” (Jude 3). Give us hearts that are open and obedient to following the truth wherever it leads us!
Your brother in Christ,