How Do We Save Truth? Interview with Author Abdu Murray
Abdu Murray is not only a good friend of mine, he’s one of the top apologists today. He was also quite the basketball player who could have played with the Fab 5 at Michigan but decided to play D-1 elsewhere (which makes him a far better player than I ever was!).
As a lawyer and former Muslim, he has a unique approach to cultural issues today. He has a new book out called Saving Truth—and it’s fantastic. This is timely book that is a must-read for thoughtful Christians who want to be equipped to respond to some of the most important issues today.
Check out his brief answers to five of my questions, and then consider getting a copy of his excellent book (or stay tuned for a giveaway at the end of the blog).
SEAN MCDOWELL: Why did you write a book called "Saving Truth"? What makes you think truth needs saving?
ABDU MURRAY: Thanks for the opportunity to share about the book, Sean. The title is meant to be a double-entendre. In and of itself, truth doesn’t need saving but it does need to be saved in the sense that we’ve lost our emphasis on it as a culture. We’re in a “post-truth” society, which elevates personal preferences and feelings over facts and truth. We don’t deny that truth exists, we just subordinate it to our preferences. We think that this will lead to freedom and human dignity and flourishing. But it won’t. It will lead to chaos because truth no longer serves as the standard by which to judge human preferences and opinions. That’s why we’re seeing such vilification of “them.” Whoever disagrees with our preferences is automatically a villain, even if the truth is on their side. We need to recover our love of the truth and its primacy if we’re to escape the chaos that so laces our cultural climate. When we see that truth is the lens through which we should shape and express our preferences, we’ll see the truth that we are made in God’s image and that Jesus redeemed that image at the cross. We no longer see “us” vs. “them.” Instead, we see each other as people in need of redemption. That’s when we come to a knowledge of the saving truth – the truth that saves.
MCDOWELL: What makes abandoning truth so seductive? And what is the core confusion people have about truth?
MURRAY: I can recall my own journey of faith, coming from a Muslim background. I thought Islam was true, but when I was faced with the truth of the gospel, I resisted because my preference and comfort in being a Muslim was at stake. In other words, though truth mattered to me and I believed there was an objective truth, my preferences mattered more. So I understand just how easy it can be to not even realize that we’ve abandoned truth for the sake of our preferences. It’s an all too human thing to do. In fact, our original parents—Adam and Eve—were post-truth people. They walked and talked with God in the cool of the day, they personally encountered the literal truth incarnate. And that truth was that they were made to be with God in relationship. But their preferences were to be God, not be with God. They succumbed to that preference and rejected the truth.
We share Adam and Eve’s proclivities and so it is just as easy—even easier actually—for us to abandon truth in favor of our preferences. No one is immune: not democrats, not republicans, not believers, not atheists, not clergy, and not scientists. I document how this has played out in so many spheres of society.
The core confusion about all of this is that we think primarily in terms of pragmatism. “It’s true because it works for me” we often say or think. But that kind of thinking is just backwards. In reality, something works because it is true. Lies might “work for us,” but they certainly aren’t true. When we understand the difference, I think a lot of confusion can be cleared up.
MCDOWELL: You have a chapter called, "Clarity about Freedom." What is the connection between truth and freedom?
MURRAY: This really is the heart of the book and the core confusion in our post-truth world. The hallmark of Western culture has been the pursuit and maintenance of freedom. But in the past few decades, we’ve really misunderstood freedom. We’ve stopped talking about freedom and have really valued autonomy. Freedom and autonomy are not the synonyms. Autonomy comes from two Greek words, autos meaning self and nomos meaning law. When we are autonomous, we are a law unto ourselves. That means each of us can do, think, say, act, or even be whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever way we want. In other words, there are no boundaries. But if we are autonomous beings that elevate preferences over truth, we will be in a state of chaos. If I’m a law unto myself and have certain preferences and someone else is a law unto herself and she has conflicting preferences, what will decide between us when our preferences clash if truth isn’t important anymore? It won’t be truth, it will be power. That’s why unfettered autonomy doesn’t really lead to freedom, it leads to enslavement.
True freedom isn’t unrestrained ability. True freedom requires boundaries. My backyard abuts a main road with cars and trucks speeding by all the time. If there were no boundaries beyond which my kids couldn’t play, they wouldn’t have the freedom to enjoy the purpose of the backyard. I would be too afraid that they’d chase a bouncing ball into traffic. But because there were just enough boundaries, they had the freedom to enjoy the purpose of the backyard. So freedom requires boundaries. It is also linked to purpose. And purpose is defined by truth. That’s why Jesus said to us that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Truth defines reality and freedom operates within the realm of reality. And the human reality is that we are made in God’s image with the purpose of communing with God. Jesus secures that freedom, which is why he says that if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed.
Autonomy is the ability to do, be, say, or think whatever we want in any way we want. Freedom is tied to purpose. It is the ability to do what we want in accordance with what we should, based on what we are. The truth of what we are compels us to do what we should and that influences what we want to do. There is no freedom without truth.
MCDOWELL: How is truth related to questions of sexuality, gender, and identity?
MURRAY: These are such sensitive topics that one must be very cautious in addressing them. First and foremost, we have to recognize the truth that there are people who have real, abiding, and sincerely felt attractions to those of the same sex. Though very rare, there are those who have a genuine feeling of dysphoria, where their mental perception of their gender doesn’t align with their physical sex. But there are also those who want to use such people to advance an agenda. Such people don’t actually have gender dysphoria, for example, but want to be “fluid”—they want to be autonomous and so will argue that if someone with gender dysphoria can choose what they are, then so can I. And if that is up for grabs, then sexual behaviors are up for grabs too.
Against the backdrop of that autonomy, we can see how the culture views the Bible as an imposition of arbitrary rules that limit our autonomy. But the truth is that the Bible isn’t so much interested in prohibiting certain conduct as it is in protecting something sacred. Sexuality is sacred because it produces human beings who are sacred bearers of God’s image. And the sacred must have boundaries to avoid becoming common. The unity of diversity of sex between a man and a woman within the bonds of marriage gives us the privilege of reflecting the divine—a God who is a unity of diversities within the trinity.
And our gender identity can be seen in that lens as well. The truth is that our bodies are not incidental facts of our existence. Christianity has always recognized the sacredness of both our spirits and our bodies and an eventual unity between the two. That’s why the Bible teaches a literal, bodily resurrection as the culmination of history. Our minds are joined forever to our physical, yet glorified bodies. Though gender dysphoria may not fade away for some of us, we can cling to the hope of a congruence between our minds and bodies because of what Christ has done to give us the resurrection hope in rising from the dead himself.
MCDOWELL: As far as a solution, can you give me one big takeaway from your book Saving Truth? What's one thing people can do to help?
MURRAY: A post-truth culture of confusion offers very little reason to be hopeful. But a truth-based outlook can renew our sense of hope. In our polarized world—where everyone wants to demonize “the other side”—the solution is to see other people as those who have an objective value beyond anyone’s—including our own—opinion. The Christian faith uniquely says that we are made in the image of God. When we encounter those immersed in a post-truth mindset, we should always keep in mind that Christ died to restore that person’s God-given image. That is the saving truth.
If you want a free copy of Saving Truth, either tweet out this article (hashtag @sean_mcdowell and @abdumurray) or post it on facebook and copy me. I will randomly select three people for free copies!
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.