The communication of truth
As a teacher, the communication of truth is important to me, but this is true for everyone regardless of our various contexts, isn’t it? Indeed, for a variety of reasons, we should all be concerned with the question, how can we more effectively communicate truths to all? First, if St. Augustine is right that all truth is God’s truth—since truth is either revealed by God, or is representative of the nature of his creation— shouldn’t we be open to truth from whomever, and in whatever way God chooses to reveal it? No wonder the protestant Reformer, John Calvin remarks, “if we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”
Second, the communication of truth is worthy of exploration—for our teaching, parenting, relationships, our vocations—for human nature and communication is fallible. That is, language is incapable of completely conveying ones thought, leaving one’s hearer with only an approximation of their thought. Is it not true that, on the one hand, someone known for falsehoods can at times put forth claims that are truthful? On the other hand, is it not also true that one who is generally considered to be truthful might lie, or attempt to mislead others—deliberately or not?
Finally, if the chief end in life is to glorify God, surely this includes how we communicate. But how can we effectively communicate truth if communication is never perfect? Moreover, how can we communicate the truths God has revealed, or declared, if God is ineffable—in that, in this life, it is impossible for us to communicate or understand his inexpressible aspects? That being said, it should be our goal in life, not only to become more and more like God, but also to receive more and more of his truths so that we might apply them to our lives, be who we are supposed to be, live and communicate the way that we should.
Now, it is commonly understood that God has communicated his truths to humanity through the person of Jesus Christ, the Bible, and his creation. But I also want to highlight some lesser considered ways that God communicates truth to us. My intent is that we might be aware of these, then make applications of that knowledge in our daily lives, at our jobs, in our schools, and in our churches.
In his book, The Triads, Gregory Palamas (1296 C. E.–1359 C. E.) addresses ways in which our ineffable God can be revealed, and his truths communicated. Palamas had been engaged in a debate over the issue of whether humans could directly experience God or receive his truths. On the one hand, rationalistic philosophy insisted that only a secular education around the acquisition of wisdom could lead to a true knowledge of God. At the other end of the spectrum, there were those who thought the truth of God could only be received through prayer. Palamas recognized the need for a middle ground between the two views and suggested that essential truths of God cannot be known, communicated, and participated in, for God is infinite and unknowable in his essence, but God’s truth can be known, communicated, and participated in through the “energies” of God. These “energies” of God include spiritual gifts, but also varieties of services and works that helps us to effectively communicate truth—God’s truth.
Through spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:8–11), for example, truths about God can be known. They are a demonstration of his presence and activity. Spiritual gifts reveal, for example, that God is wise, knowledgeable, a healer, is faithful, a miracle worker, is prophetic, a discerner of spirits, speaks whatever language we do, and can interpret our every thought. God gives these gifts to us as he chooses (1 Cor 12:11)—this includes all stakeholders, faculty, parents, students, coaches, etc. So, there is much we can learn from each other as we faithfully exercise our gifts for God’s glory.
The communication of truth via varieties of services (1 Cor 12:5) and works (1 Cor 12:6) is alluded to by the apostle Paul. His use of “services” conveys a variety of related ideas. Among them is that of acting or serving in an intermediary capacity, an office, and serving on behalf of a larger public—this is the essence of what teachers, parents, coaches and administrators do. Students also, when, for example, they participate in various service projects. In our serving, we communicate and mediate the truths of God to those being served, often selecting what needs to be learned as well as facilitate the desired response. This is what mediators/communicators of truth, such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that Paul refers to (Eph 4:7–13), do. Paul’s use of “works” refers to activity that impacts others. These works take place within the community—including schools, home, work, and neighborhoods, for their edification. They are spiritual strengthening, and mutually beneficial for the whole. They are communicated through all stakeholders, regardless of how insignificant some may consider themselves to be.
Contrary to a postmodern tendency to reject what is traditional and authoritative, the communication of truth should also consider, and be informed by traditional tools of discourse such as the Bible, doctrinal formulations, historical personalities and movements that have shaped the way society has come to understand truth. For, there is no presuppositionless understanding, and as the Continental Philosopher Hans Gadamer has said, the “person seeking to understand something has, . . . or acquires, a connection with the tradition.” Rather than hindering truth, tradition allows truth to emerge as it filters out what blurs truth and allows for the consideration of new sources of understanding. It takes advantage of a check against humanistic understandings that are contrary to the truth. Being considerate of traditions also serves to affirm the value of relationships which transfer wisdom from generation to generation as classical truths are gleaned and applied to one’s context.
To be sure, edifying communication of truth should be done in a contextual manner—where ideas do not put obstacles in the way of stakeholders but become all things to all people. Regardless of race, gender, and socio-economic background, all may benefit from the truth (1 Cor 9:22). All are valid and valuable sources of knowledge. Therefore, the communication of truth should be done in a manner that is conversant with various sources of knowledge and be accountable to feedback from these sources of truth. Thus, tacit knowledge such as that derived from faith, and spiritual gifts, as well as rational, or philosophical claims to truth, should be considered in the communication process, along with Western, Eastern and Southern modes of thinking. This communication of truth is also open to experience that is made possible by experience itself.
Conclusively, since our goal in life is to glorify God, despite our fallen human nature, which makes communication fallible, and because all truth is God’s truth, it is important for us to effectively communicate truths to all. Rarely considered ways of communicating truth include the exercising of our spiritual gifts, as well as the varieties of services and works we perform to glorify God and edify humanity. Additionally, the communication of truth should be done in a contextual and traditional manner to be most effective. Consequently, in our teaching, parenting, coaching, and administering, we are we to model Jesus, who is the Truth, and communicator par-excellence. This means we are to exercise and model the gifts, services, and works of God that he has graciously given us to do. And we should provide opportunities for students, our children, and everyone in our spheres of influence to do the same. All for God’s glory!
The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.