Abandoning Truth in the Name of Love
Dr. James Emery White
- 2021 Dec 13
The most basic idea of truth is that which corresponds with reality. If I say it’s raining outside, you can go out and see if what I said corresponds with what is real. It’s either raining or it’s not. That’s the idea of truth. Not what you think is true or may want to be true, but what actually is – objectively – true. Meaning truth is something that stands outside of us. It exists. It is.
God is truth—He’s the source of all truth. This means truth is transcendent. Truth doesn’t come from us, isn’t made up or determined by us, but rather comes to us. That’s why we speak of the Bible as God’s revelation. It’s God revealing Himself and truth about Himself that could not otherwise be known.
This is a radical idea.
Truth is not something we create, it’s something that we discover. It’s not what we choose to believe as truth, nor determining a 51% majority vote to be truth, nor what ideologies embrace as truth. Truth is. Something either corresponds with reality, or it does not. Something corresponds with the revealed truth of God, or it does not. It’s not a guessing game nor some subjective art.
This is why people who dismiss dealing with whether something is true and say things like, “All that matters is that you are sincere,” miss a very important point: You can be sincerely wrong.
I can sincerely believe that when I reach into my medicine cabinet at three o’clock in the morning with a headache that I am taking a Tylenol, but if I am really taking Cyanide, my sincerity will not save me from what I’ve ingested in my system.
If I put carbolic acid into my eyes instead of contact lens solution, no matter how sincerely I may have thought it was safe, I will still go blind.
During World War II, Adolph Hitler sincerely believed that the slaughter of six million Jews was justified—he was sincerely wrong.
Sincerity matters, but it cannot be all that matters, because sincerity alone has nothing to do with reality. This is why saying things like “Well, that’s your truth and I have my truth,” or “What’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me,” or “There’s no such thing as truth—truth is whatever you want it to be” (as though truth doesn’t even exist outside of personal opinion) isn’t being careful in our thinking.
As mentioned, the idea of truth is the correspondence between our ideas or perceptions and reality. What is true is that which actually is. If you believe that kind of objective truth doesn’t exist, or that if it does it doesn’t matter, you have some serious challenges to overcome. Even a skeptic as noteworthy as Sigmund Freud had to admit that,
“[If] it were really a matter of indifference what we believed, then we might just as well build our bridges of cardboard as of stone, or inject a tenth of a gramme of morphia into a patient instead of a hundredth, or take teargas as a narcotic instead of ether.”
Truth matters. Yet one of the reasons truth is being so readily abandoned in our day is because of something else that matters: love. It seems strange, but because we do not understand the interplay of truth and love, we are abandoning truth in the name of love.
Here’s the way the dynamic is meant to play out: The love we are meant to express cannot be separated from the truth we are meant to embrace. You cannot have the love without the truth, just as you cannot have the truth without the love. No application of love (if it’s truly love) can be at the expense of truth. If you feel love is calling you to abandon or turn a blind eye toward truth, then you are misunderstanding the proper application and demonstration of love.
Yet that is precisely the plague of our day. We are sacrificing and compromising truth in the name of love.
This very issue was addressed by the apostle John in his second letter recorded for us in the New Testament. Some people were using the command to love to do away with the truth, to do away with any sense of right or wrong, to do away with any sense of doctrine or authority. In the name of love, they were abandoning firm commitments to truth. John essentially thundered in reply: “No—love is based on the truth! When you divorce truth from love, you don’t have love, you have lifestyles that descend into immorality and thinking that degrades into heresy.”
This is what people get wrong about something like the idea of grace—to get grace right, it’s not just about grace. When we think about grace, we think about love and forgiveness and acceptance. And well we should because that’s what grace holds. But grace isn’t just about grace; it’s always part of a package, and that package is grace and truth. Grace and truth go together. They are inextricably intertwined. You take away truth, and you don’t have grace anymore. You have a cheap, sentimental, lifeless, powerless idea that requires you to accept everybody and affirm what everybody does. You’ll never find that in the Bible, much less in the life and teaching of Jesus. No one was more loving or grace-giving than Jesus. No one was more accepting than Jesus. But you’ll never find Jesus once affirming a lifestyle that went against the truth.
Or as John also wrote, “[Jesus] came... full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NIV). As Henry Cloud has written, grace is accepting relationship. Truth is what is real; it describes how things really are. Truth without grace is just judgment, but grace without truth is just deception. Or as John Stott once put it:
“Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love.”
James Emery White
Freud, as quoted in Great Books of the Western World, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins, Vol. 3, The Great Ideas: II, p. 915.
Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal.
John R.W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Epistles of John, p. 205.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.