Jesus once said, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” With that answer Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)  Pilate was neither the first nor last who would ever ask that question.  Many Millennials today (especially from college age on) are wondering the same question, “What is truth?”  Last week we talked about how Millennials are bombarded by all kinds of religions—many which say they speak the real truth.  So how in the world does a Millennial decide what is true or not?  One 28 year old Millennial explains she used to be a Christian, but she let go of her belief.  “There’s so much I cannot prove.  I’m not sure truth exists at all.  Instead of ‘I believe,’ I say ‘maybe,’ and ‘who knows?’” (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 18)

Subjective Truth vs. Objective Truth 

As Lutherans we have grown up knowing there is objective truth—God’s Word.  Our Lutheran Confessions state that fact as well with their theses (things the Bible says are true) and antitheses (things the Bible says are false).  But for a moment, think you did not grow up in a Lutheran home or even a Christian home for that matter.  You would probably find yourself struggling to understand what is true or not as well.

The one thing any person thinks they can know is what is true to them personally.  “Millennials rely heavily upon what feels right. What seems fair is more powerful to them than what someone tells them is objectively right” (James Hein, Ministering to Millennials: Part 2).  White talks about something similar as he explains the made up word, “Truthiness”: “The idea behind truthiness is that actual facts don’t matter.  What matters is how you feel, for you as an individual are the final arbiter of truth.  Truthiness is the bald assertion that we are not only to discern truth for ourselves from the facts at hand, but also to create truth for ourselves despite the facts at hand”  (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 58).  Confusing huh?  That’s what happens when objective truth is transformed into subjective truth—there is no ultimate truth, but many truths.  What is true for some may not be true for others. 

White introduces us to another term as well—“Wikiality.”  Wikiality is defined as “reality as determined by majority vote.”  Where does that word come from?  Well the concept comes from the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  The concept of that website is that any user can log on and make a change on any entry, and if enough users agree, it becomes true.  If you think about it…what’s often labeled as true in America?  It’s whatever the media, educational system, or the courts say is true.  To show how insane that is, basically if enough people say 2+2=5 instead of 4, that’s the reality then.  If enough people subjectively believe something is true, it becomes objectively true.  (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 59)

But for many there is an absolute denial of objective truth.  White describe America’s shift in thinking:

“So while Christianity used to be rejected by Enlightenment intellectuals because they thought its central beliefs had been disproven by science or philosophy, today orthodox Christianity tends to be disqualified on the grounds that it argues for truth that is unchanging and universal.  A particular faith used to be wrong on the basis of what one perceived to be truth; now faith is wrong for claiming there is truth…this is fueling the rise of those who hesitate to say they believe in any specific religion” (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 51).

When questioned about an afterlife, one Millennial (Brandon) responded, “First of all…no one can really have a clue what happens when we die.  I guess there is enough evidence to indicate that somehow we live on, but I’m not sure what that will look like.  I kind of believe that there might be several possibilities.  Some people may decide to come back as someone else, you know, reincarnation.  Others may just want to retire and go to some good place in the afterlife.  Maybe some have some scores to settle, so they have to deal with some folks before they move on.  That’s probably where we get our ghosts.”  You see the connection with what I wrote last week—Brandon has taken some objective factual truths and formulated his own truth.  Yet he is formulating his thoughts with a skeptic attitude.  (Thom & Jessie Rainer, The Millennials, p. 228-229).

One of the main reasons why many Millennials have this view is they basically don’t care…yet.  Spiritual issues are not very high up on their priority list.  I think Millennials are still too young to have death on their radar.  Most Millennials have just reached adulthood.  In about 20 years, I think we will see some changes in this generation’s thinking once they have more life experiences and get ever closer to their own death.

Truth needs to be test-driven 

So…we know we have the unchanging and universal truth in God Word, but we can’t say that?  That’s right.  Objective truth is denied by many.  How do we convince Millennials to follow the truth from God’s Word?  We need to say we know the truth but then explain how it works for us and how it will also work for them.  We need to make that objective truth subjective for them.  Like shopping for a new car, they need to test drive the truth.  You can’t just claim you know the truth and tell it to Millennials.  That won’t work.  You will need to take some time explaining how it applies to their lives.  Then they will need to then take some time during the week to see if it works.  Pastor James Hein explains in a little more detail:

“To connect with this group, the learning style has to be a bit more Socratic.  Highly relational and inherently inclusive, Millennials will reject any learning environment that isn’t, to some extent, perceived as “mutual learning.”  In other words, “Thus saith the Lord” will not resonate with them.  Why?  Because who are you to claim you know what God says?  Millennials are aware that, just like you, the Catholic priest down the road and the non-denom minister are also claiming to have an authoritative message from God, but these messages all contradict on some levels.  While Millennials don’t know nearly as much as they think they do, they have significantly more access to knowledge than previous generations.  They know that all three ministers claim something different and all three can’t be right.  This doesn’t mean they’ll reject the Bible outright.  It means you need to walk them through the steps of HOW we know the Bible teaches a specific point and WHY.  They won’t take your word for it.  You need to lead them on an experiential learning journey, a narrative thought exercise, not simply download information into their heads.” (James Hein, Ministering to Millennials, Part III)

“It is simply not enough to teach a Millennial the way something is, you have to show them. You have to take them down a journey of spiritual exploration, and you had better maintain a delicate balance—both a humility that leads you to listen attentively to their thoughts and concerns AND a passionate “I’d lose my life for this” conviction about where you currently stand.  You forfeit your audience if you make a mistake on either side.” (James Hein, Ministering to Millennials, Part V)

A good balance between grace and truth  

Some religions claim to have truth, but show no grace.  Others have grace, but say there is no truth.  While still others say they neither have grace nor truth.  White uses a good illustration in Chapter 9 of Rise of the Nones to show where some religions have that bad balance of grace and truth.  He uses a simple 4-box diagram to show where certain religions fall.

Hinduism and Buddhism are examples of religious systems that reflect “no grace and no truth.”  “This is reflected in systems of thought and practice based on karma, in which there is a cause-effect perspective toward all life (a lack of grace).  It also has a dynamic that makes right and wrong, good and bad either arbitrary or defined by personal choice (the absence of transcendent truth)” (p. 116).

Unitarian Universalists is an example of a religious system that reflects “grace but no truth.”  “If you have grace but no truth, you are left with little more than licentiousness.  In other words, almost anything goes in terms of life or thought.”  What results is that “we are pressed not only to accept people relationally but also simultaneously affirm whatever decisions or lifestyle choices they make” (p. 118).  Tolerance is now defined differently.

Islam is an example of a religious system that reflects “truth but no grace.”  (Unfortunately, many Millennials view Christianity in America this way as well.  But that is often our fault as we poorly approach the previous system above.)  White says this system is “religion at its worst, where there are rules and regulations, dos and don’ts, laws and legalities—but no grace.  When there is truth without grace, there is only judgment and condemnation” (p. 120).

We as Christians need to reflect a good balance of grace and truth both in church and in our individual lives.  Why?  Because that is how Jesus came—“full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and this is how he wants us to live.  Jesus always represented the perfect balance between the two.  The account where Jesus is confronted by the Jewish leaders with an adulterous woman in John 8 is a great example how he balanced the two.  Jesus stopped the stoning of the woman and did not condemn her himself (grace), but he directly told her to turn from her adulterous ways (truth).

Ultimately, we cannot prove that God’s Word is true to Millennials.  In the end, we need to let God’s Word work the truth in their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the only way.  What we need to do as Christians is avoid being an obstacle between Millennials and the Word.  We want to provide the best atmosphere for them to hear the Word.  The best atmosphere is presenting a good balance between grace and truth, and being able to show them how this truth is applicable in their everyday lives.  Then we let the Holy Spirit work.