In the last scenes of The Life of Pi, the narrator, having made an astounding trip across the Pacific in the company of a Bengali tiger, tells two contrasting stories about his journey. Asked which is true, he asks “Which do you prefer?” A more post-modern ending could not be written. No one but the sociopath really believes that history and its truth — whether personal, societal, or world-shaping — is just a matter of what you prefer to believe. Statements to the effect that “That’s your truth” or even statements about self-identity in contravention of the obvious (as in a human being saying “I am a dog”) are at best an acknowledgement that our perception of reality is shaped by many factors, among them place, upbringing, and circumstances, and at worst just a mask for self-idolatry, when I am god and what is true is what I say it is, and if I have power, I can make others submit to my definition of reality. This is the pulse of our culture. And yet I am aware of how easily I am infected.
I believe in what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth,” and yet for the sake of peace and acceptance I allow assumptions about the good and true to go unchallenged. I don’t mean to suggest triumphalism or any sense that I fully know the truth, but I know that finding truth means beginning with God, with the Logos at the heart of all reality.
Leslie Newbigin, a long-time missionary to India, recognized the Gospel’s claim to absolute truth. Newbigin wrote that:
“We have to proclaim [the Gospel] not merely to individuals in their personal and domestic lives. We do certainly have to do that. But we have to proclaim it as part of the continuing conversation that shapes public doctrine. It must be heard in the conversation of economists, psychiatrists, educators, scientists and politicians. We have to proclaim it. . . as the truth about what is the case, about what every human being and every human society will have to reckon with. When we are faithful in this commission we are bound to appear subversive to those who believe that the cosmos is a closed system. We may appear to threaten the achievements of these centuries in which this has been the reigning belief. In truth we shall be offering the only hope of conserving and carrying forward the good fruits of these centuries into a future which might otherwise belong to the barbarians.”
Newbigin echoed words I heard from Os Guinness nearly 20 years ago when he spoke of our task as one of “holy subversion.” Christ-followers cannot make our bed in this culture. We are a nation in exile. We tend to our families, train our children in truth, rescue those we can from the barbary of radical autonomy, testify to what is true for all, and wait. . . for restoration, for a Kingdom without end. We can have no illusions that we will gain acceptance, yet even among a pagan culture there are good works to do. Newbigin said that “[t]he incarnate Word is Lord of all, not just of the Church. There are not two worlds, one sacred and one secular. There are different ways of understanding the one world and choice has to be made about which one is the right way, the way that corresponds to reality, to the reality beyond all the show that the ruler of this world can put on.”
Subversion? Thinking this way is a challenge to me, and I fear I am not up to it. But God is.