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Truth and the Church in a Secular Age 

A collection of essays which addresses a post-truth culture - we dare not avoid its challenge

Truth and the churchTruth and the Church in a Secular Age
Edited by David Jasper & Jenny Wright
SCM Press 
ISBN: 978-0334058168
Reviewer: Stephen Copson

'Truth is no longer a virtue to be extolled but a commodity to be traded.' Discuss.

Poor old veritas. Under fire from fake news, beset by alternative facts and assaulted by the assertion that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. 

When the Manic Street Preachers, echoing Nye Bevan, wrote 'This is my truth, tell me yours,' they both had in mind that something valuable was being exchanged. Oxford Dictionaries chose 'post-truth' as its international Word of the Year in 2016. This collection of essays addresses a post-truth culture that seems less confident in its claims or hopes for truth.

All of the authors are members of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and at times reflect their ecclesiastical home. They are exercised by the challenge, and robust in their defence, of the need to uphold the concept of truth when it is treated as disposable or malleable. To be sure, truth has been an abstract concept discussed and argued over by theologians and philosophers, grammarians, poets, artists and social commentators. But all have been broadly in agreement that there is a fundamental guiding principle to uncover that underpins practical action and values.

'What is truth?' jested Pilate. Starting with truth in the biblical tradition, the essays move on to explore the philosophical foundations of truth (Kant and Wittgenstein) and engagement in the context of theological tradition. Some of the other essays focus on the grounding of truth in prayer, in liturgy and in the pastoral context, as well as a couple of chapters on truth and science. The questions at the end of each chapter suggest that the hope is for the essays to be used in discussion or study group.

We live in a culture awash with information and yet often lacking the framework for discernment. Social media blurs the lines of fact, opinion and bigotry, and the reader must learn to tread warily through the unfiltered pages. It is a thought-world where truth may be less compelling than image, and people are willing to forgo first principles just to get things done. In this atmosphere of pragmatism, does truth really matter?

'The truth is rarely pure and never simple,' wrote Oscar Wilde, observing that truth may be a straightforward concept but a complex reality to unpack. Many are happy to skim the surface and not probe more deeply. As John records, Jesus laid out his claims to interpret the world and how people should live as a result. 'The truth will set you free.'

This collection may be a book you will not read but as those who follow the Way, the Truth and the Life we dare not avoid its challenge: what is it that shapes the human search for meaning, our faith, our politics, our social relationships, and our concepts of justice, peace and concern for the environment?

Stephen Copson is a regional minister with the Central Baptist Association 

Baptist Times, 22/11/2019
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