Noted television journalist Edward R. Murrow once said, “To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.”
Suspended NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is learning this lesson the hard way. And yet, if we take an honest look at ourselves, his story is reflective of our entire culture. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve learned of a Little League cheating scandal, and that President Obama misled the American people about his beliefs on same-sex marriage. And lest we think the problem is just out there in the world, we also learned that a best-selling Christian book was a fraud and that another highly respected evangelical pastor cheated the system to get his book on the New York Times bestseller list.
Lies seem common, even expected these days. One famous study by the University of Massachusetts said, “60 percent of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once.”
Lying undermines credibility and for Christians, it destroys our witness. Christians are to be truth-tellers.
I think two things are getting in our way these days. First, many of us fear offending or appearing unloving, especially on what my friend Jay Richards calls the “pelvic issues.” The only answer is for us to understand that truth and love are not in conflict. As Pastor Tim Keller said, “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.” Christ is truth and Christ is love. These things are not in conflict.
The second thing discouraging truth-telling is that many of us have only a passing familiarity with virtue formation, and yet we are fully catechized in our culture’s utilitarianism that’s both narcissistic and self-justifying. This encourages small compromises. But small compromises for so-called “higher ends” is the quickest way to abandon virtue.
Think about King Solomon, who had the best start of anyone in the history of the world. God showed up at his birth just to tell King David how much He loved his son. Then he appeared to Solomon and gave him a blank check of blessing. But Solomon’s story, as we all know, didn’t end well. So what did him in?
Before Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses warned their future kings not to build big armies because they would trust them and not God. He also warned them not to marry many wives, who would steal their hearts and their allegiances. And finally, Israel’s kings were not to acquire many chariots and horses, and especially not get them from Egypt. Take a look at 1 Kings 10, the chapter before we learn of Solomon’s unraveling. He compromised on each of these points.
Small compromises, especially non-truths, lead to disaster. If it happened to Solomon, it can happen to us.
Aristotle taught that integrity and virtue have to be practiced. What we habitually do, shapes us. Small habits become lifestyles. But Aristotle is incomplete without Augustine, who taught that we are what we love. So we must love the right things, and we must love them in the right order—honor over success, truth over relevance, others over self, and God over all.
Combine Aristotle and Augustine and what you get is: We are what we habitually love. Our loves are fostered by our habits. What are we habitually choosing to be intimate with? What are we choosing to commit ourselves to? That’s what we need to ask ourselves.
So how do we pull change off when the psalmist tells us that we’re “born speaking lies”? Well, God gives us repentance and faithful friends to “wound us” with loving truth. Let’s encourage one another to speak the truth in love, and let’s cultivate habits of repentance. We do it because it’s good and right, but I bet we’ll also watch our credibility soar.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: February 26, 2015