A ‘truth claim’ is basically what someone claims to be true. A variation of that definition is “a proposition or statement that a particular person or belief system holds to be true.”
How many ‘truth claims’ do you hear in a day? How many ‘truth claims’ do you make in a day?
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
We probably hear dozens of truth claims every day, maybe more. We hear them from family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, acquaintances and strangers. We hear them on television and radio and read them on social media. Many truth claims are really lies. That’s one good reason to challenge them, especially if those lies are leading people to make decisions that will have a negative impact on their lives.
Most people don’t have time to challenge every truth claim they hear, so I’m not suggesting that we do. We need to select which ones we want to challenge. The questions we’d like to answer in this article are who, what, why and how.
Everyone we know and meet is a potential “who.” As we pointed out earlier, that can include family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, acquaintances and even strangers. Every day that we wake up is a new opportunity to talk with people about truth. That sometimes means challenging truth claims when those people make them.
We first need to be sure that what we’re hearing or reading is a “truth claim.” If someone says, “chocolate ice cream is a lot better than vanilla ice cream,” are they presenting a truth claim or an opinion? It’s an opinion rather than a truth claim because the statement is a subjective personal preference rather than an objective claim that something is the absolute truth.
People often share their opinions in the same way they share truth claims. Many people don’t even realize they’re doing it. Since we’re the hearer or reader, we need to determine what they’re claiming. Everyone is entitled to their personal opinion, but people are not entitled to their ‘personal truth.’ No matter what you’ve heard, there’s no such thing as personal truth. Something is true or it’s not. That’s what we learn from reality. We don’t live in a fantasy world. We live in the real world.
Opinion – “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge” (Oxford Languages) … “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Truth – “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality” (Oxford Languages) … “the body of real things, events, and facts” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Some people have very good opinions because their opinions are based on facts/knowledge. Some people have very bad opinions because their opinions are not based on facts/knowledge. Some people’s opinions are somewhat neutral because they’re based on personal preference (e.g. liking chocolate ice cream better than vanilla ice cream).
We need to answer the “what” question before proceeding toward a challenge of what someone says or writes. If someone is simply sharing their personal preference for something that doesn’t come with a big price tag (not so important that it needs to be challenged), then we don’t need to consider a challenge.
Take a look at these two opinion examples and ask yourself the “what” question. Do either need to be challenged?
Example One — You’re walking in your neighborhood with a friend. Your friend looks at one house and says, “I think the blue one-story house is very pretty, but that green two-story house is ugly.”
Example Two — A friend tells you that in his or her opinion all Christians are stupid for believing that Jesus rose from the dead.
Would you challenge either? If so, why?
In example one, your neighbor is simply sharing a subjective perspective. Whether a person likes a blue house or a green house is personal preference. You might agree or disagree, but it’s just an opinion. You might ask your neighbor why they like the blue house instead of the green house or let his or her comments pass. It really doesn’t matter because it’s subjective personal preference.
In example two, your friend disguises his or her truth claim inside a stated opinion. Many people do that with topics like religion and politics. I would challenge my friend’s opinion because it is based on a truth claim that (1) Christians are stupid, and (2) Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. I might challenge my friend’s opinion/truth claim this way:
Challenge — The Bible agrees with you to a degree. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then Christians are stupid for believing it. The Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters in the New Testament, wrote “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Paul went on to say that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christians should be pitied above all people. The problem with that thinking, though, is that Paul and more than 500 other people saw Jesus alive after the Romans killed Him and friends buried Him in a tomb. Another problem is that Jesus told His closest followers exactly how He was going to die and that He would rise from the dead on the third day. If what Paul and the 500+ people witnessed is true, then it would be stupid not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
That’s just one example of responding to a truth claim disguised as an opinion. Truth claims should be based on “truth,” which are based on reality and facts. You can do the same thing with other types of truth claims that are disguised as opinions. In this case, as a Christian who has spent 50 years researching the life of Jesus Christ, I believe my truth claims are based on solid evidence. I’m comfortable talking with people who disagree because of the evidence. Evidence is the reason we can have confidence as followers of Jesus Christ. We have to determine which truth claims and truth claims disguised as opinion should be challenged. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of them that should be challenged and defended.
Why would we want to challenge someone’s truth claim? The truth claim would need to be something we believe is important enough to challenge. So many truth claims come at us through personal conversations, media reports and social media comments that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to address them all. We need to be discerning about which ones we challenge.
That goes to the “why” question. I need to have a good reason to challenge someone’s truth claim and disguised truth claim (disguised as opinion). Making that decision as a Christian, I think, should be a matter of prayer and study. I want God’s guidance in challenging truth claims. Some truth claims, like example two above, should be addressed as soon as we hear them “if” we’ve prepared ourselves to do that. If we’re not prepared, better to listen, ask some questions, pray about it and set a day and time with our friend to continue the discussion. We have some homework to do first.
Using the ALPS system (Ask. Listen. Pray. Speak.) works well whether we have a good answer and challenge ready or if we need time to do some research. There’s nothing wrong with admitting we don’t have all the answers. People who think they have ALL the answers often have very few.
When I say the word “challenge,” I want to make sure you understand I don’t mean it in a confrontational sense. The Apostle Paul wrote –
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4:5-6
The Apostle Peter wrote –
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 1 Peter 3:15-16
We don’t want to be argumentative or confrontational in spirit. As someone has said, the Gospel is offensive enough without our being offensive in the way we share it. The people who had the most impact on me when I was an atheist were those Christians whose speech was gracious and loving. I eventually came to understand that I was dead in trespasses and sins and desperately needed God’s salvation through Christ, but that’s not where my Christian friends began with me. Which leads us to the “how” question.
How do we challenge a person’s truth claim? I like to begin with a point of agreement, when possible. That’s based on basic respect for people. God loves people and has called us to love people, even people who don’t love us.
The “challenge” example earlier is one we can consider – “The Bible agrees with you to a degree.” That’s one way to begin with a point of agreement that also includes an entree to a forthcoming challenge (to a degree). Another way, when appropriate, is to make a statement about how you agree with them on some point in their truth claim. I don’t use that as a gimmick or trick and don’t recommend you do either. If you love and respect people, you won’t use gimmicks or tricks. You won’t have to because your words will be seasoned with salt. They will naturally flow from your mind to your mouth as God’s love is poured out through you to their ears. Plus, your challenge will include facts and knowledge based on reality. No need for tricks.
If you respectfully listen to people and ask them thoughtful questions to understand their claims better, they will often reciprocate by listening to your response. Your words may challenge their claims, but a challenge made with a loving, gracious spirit are often received well. Not always, but often.
A quick word about challenging someone’s truth claim on social media. Pray about it. I’ve challenged people’s truth claims online for more than 25 years and wonder sometimes what difference I’ve made. God knows. If you’re friends with someone online, that may be different. You can develop a trusting relationship that allows for helpful conversations and challenges. If the person you’re communicating with is not a friend and you haven’t had time to develop a respectful relationship with them, challenging truth claims usually doesn’t go very far. They often move to people calling you names, which is not helpful. Just be sure you don’t call them names back. Bad witness. Ask God to guide you to the people and truth claims He wants you to challenge online.
The “how” of challenging truth claims online is similar to in-person challenges. Listen. Ask. Pray. Speak. Be loving and gracious. Be humble in your responses. Stick to the facts that support your challenge and don’t be pulled into arguments. Remember that our truth claims are not based on ideas of the flesh or this world.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2. Corinthians 10:3-5
I know this is a quick look at challenging truth claims, but hope it helps you in some way. Christians don’t need to be afraid to challenge truth claims. We know Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He proved it through His perfect life, atoning death, burial, and miraculous resurrection. He proved it by ascending to Heaven to the right hand of the Father. The Spirit of God in us will guide us into all truth. We don’t need to be afraid. We do need to be wise in the “who, what, why and how” of challenging truth claims.
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