FaithTalks: Josh, you’ve become known as someone who promotes the concept of absolute truth, but you’ve brought out a different dynamic in some of your newer materials, and that is the aspect of relationship. Can you explain why it’s important to cultivate a relationship in the transmission of truth?
Josh McDowell: Well, there are many reasons. First of all, that’s how God created us. Science now shows that a baby’s brain from the time they are born, and this is amazing, is physically, biologically hard-wired to connect in relationships. I thought, come on, how can science…but then I thought, wait a minute, God created us. God says in Exodus 34:14, “You shall worship no other gods, but only the LORD, for He is a God who is passionate about His relationship with you.” Then it makes sense that God would create us to desire to have a relationship and need a relationship with Him and others. So God created us for relationship. Second, God’s dimension, God’s program for truth is in the context of relationships. All truth is relational. Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Most people have no idea what that meant.
What is truth? Webster defined it, “Truth is that which has fidelity to the original.” Fidelity means the same as “equal to.” So truth is that which is the “same as” or “equal to” the original. What does that mean? Let’s suppose that I say have a liter of water. You say, “No you don’t.” I say, “I do too.” You say, “You do not!” Now is my statement true and yours false, or is your statement true and mine false? We would catch a flight and fly to Paris, France. We’d go to the far out suburb where there’s the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, where they have all the original measurements in metrics. Linear, liquid, solids, everything. We would take my bottle, my liter of water, and we would compare it with the original. Remember, truth is that which has fidelity to the original, same as, equal to. If the water in my bottle equaled the original measurement of a liter then my statement is true. Why? There was fidelity to the original. But if there is a little more or less water then my statement was false. Why? Because there was no fidelity to the original. Now, picture this, Jesus said, “I am the truth” in John 14. What did He mean by that? He meant that he had fidelity to the original, or Jesus said, “I am the same as, equal to, the original.” Who is the original? God the Father. It’s probably the boldest claim to deity that Jesus ever made. You see, Mohammed could never say that, Buddha couldn’t say that, no one. Only Jesus. Others say I have the truth, I teach the truth, I believe in truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Why? Because “I am the same as the original, God the Father.”
Do you know why in that context he said, “Why do you say you do not know the Father, when you know me? For if you know me, you know the Father.” Why? Because “I am the same as, equal to the original.” He said, “Why do you say you believe in the Father, but you don’t believe in me? If you believe in me you’ll believe in the Father.” Why? Because “I am the same as, equal to, the Father, the Creator.” And it says there, “Why do you say you haven’t seen the Father?” Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” Why? Because “I am the Truth.” This is why he said, “I am the visible representation of the invisible God.” Why? Because “I am the truth.” Christ is the truth. Why? Because he is the same as, equal to, the Father. Now that becomes our standard for everything. Why is lying wrong? Because God is truth. Why is hatred wrong? Because God is love. Let’s put it this way, why is lying wrong? Because there is no fidelity to the original. God is truth.
Jesus intended truth to be relational. He became man. God became man, as truth, and he related to people. So He has created us to understand truth in relationships. That if it is true, it will work. This is why I think the scripture is so dogmatic about relationships. For example, “I have been constantly aware of your unfailing love, and therefore I have lived according to the truth.” If kids do not believe, in their hearts of hearts, “My dad and my mom love me,” they will walk away. It’s the relationship that engenders the belief. I believe part of a Biblical worldview is relationships. If you don’t have relationships incorporated in there it’s not a Biblical worldview. It’s isolated, it separated. We’ve got to teach that all truth is relational. Therefore, no matter what part of our worldview, we’ve got to show that it’s relational. Like with the deity of Christ: what do I learn about the incarnation? Who I am. What do I learn about the resurrection? Where God wants to take me. What do I learn from the Scriptures? What God wants me to be like. All these scriptures are relational. God wants to show us what we need to be like, to relate to Him. Anyone who says, “I believe in a Biblical worldview” has to incorporate relationships in it. Where we are falling down today is where there is not that loving, intimate relationship.
For instance, I think homeschooling and Christian schooling is the future of the Church. I don’t know how any kid can come up through all school: elementary, junior high, high school, going to a secular university and in the future really become a Christian leader, unless they had the most phenomenal parents and church. They won’t be able to. If there is any hope (and this is just apart from spiritual things), if there is any hope for any morality in this country, the leaders are going to have to be homeschoolers. It’s going to have to be. They are not going to get it in public school and it’s going to be difficult in Christian schools. It’s too anti-Christian and secular oriented. It’s not public education, it’s secular education, it’s anti-Christian education. A downside is that many homeschooling families come from a very narrow, fundamentalist perspective. Now I’m a fundamentalist, if by fundamentalist you believe in the fundamentals of the faith. Yeah, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, the holy life, etc. Oh, I’m a hard-core fundamentalist when it comes to that, but not when it comes to the rules and regulations.
Here’s the principle: rules without relationships leads to rebellion. Truth, the truth of God’s word that we are so sold on … we want our kids to know truth, to be embedded in truth, truth to change their life, truth without relationships leads to rejection. Relationships is part of God’s plan.
FaithTalks: So just as Jesus modeled truth, as He discipled His followers, parents have the same responsibility. The children are to imitate them as they imitate Christ.
Josh McDowell: In John 13, Jesus says, “Imitate me, follow my example.” In 1 Thess. 1, it says, “Many of you are following our example,” and “Follow the example of those who follow Christ.” Oh yes! Especially today, if we don’t model that truth, they will reject it. There are two cultures now for the first time ever, and parents had better realize that. Kids do not process truth the way their parents do. Parents process truth through their minds and flow them through the scriptures. Kids process truth through their feelings, their emotions or relationships…called their experience. That’s why when a parent hears a true statement whether it’s the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the resurrection, or whatever, their mind is, “Well, if it’s true, it will work.” For the kids, “If it works, it is true.” It’s totally different. For kids you create truth, for adults you discover truth. You can’t communicate the same way to them.
Adults see hypocrisy and say, “They’re not living the truth.” Kids see hypocrisy in their parents and say, “It’s not true.” That’s how the process. Wow! That’s devastating if parents don’t model that very truth. It’s very interesting that Dartmouth Medical School came out and said, “You want to pass your values on? Then model that very truth.”
FaithTalks: What is the difference between belief and conviction?
Josh McDowell: It would be better to ask, “What is the difference between belief and faith?” You can believe something, and I think in the scriptures belief is the same as faith. In the scriptural belief, pisteuo, means not just to adhere to something intellectually, to know it. It means to adhere to it, to grab on, rely in. Probably the best description of that is the Amplified Bible, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…that he who believes (adhered, relied in, grasped ahold of).” So true Biblical belief is what we see as faith. It is committing to that truth. I would say that when you commit to it, that’s when it becomes faith. It’s like, there could be a big gully here with a rickety bridge going across it, and I could say, “I believe that bridge will hold me. In fact, I know that bridge will hold me.” But that’s only belief. It becomes faith when I commit and walk across that bridge. Then I’m living by faith. It’s taking the belief and committing your life to it and living it out. The difference between belief and conviction is that belief basically, in our mode, in our culture, not eastern culture, but in our culture, is to adhere to a set of cognitive facts or something. Conviction is to not only adhere to those facts but to know why you hold on to those facts, and to experience it. Faith is experiential. Faith means to live out what you believe. We need to lead our kids to a life of faith, not a life of belief. Because it goes one step further to experiencing that very faith.
FaithTalks: What are the most important ingredients in developing relationship with your children?
Josh McDowell: I outline the most important ingredients in what I call “The Seven A’s.”
One of the most effective ways of identifying with your children, even when you don’t fully understand them, is to affirm their feelings. To affirm means to “validate or confirm.” When we affirm the feelings of our young people, we give them a sense of authenticity. Affirming their feelings tells them that they are real individuals with valid feelings. When we identify with their feelings of excitement or disappointment, we let them know they are understood for whom they really are—authentic human beings. (See: Romans 12:15, Matt. 5:4 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Your acceptance helps your kids believe that you will still love them no matter what happens. When we accept young people for who they are, we give them a sense of security. Acceptance is embracing people for who they are rather than for what they do. When your young people feel accepted by you, they are more likely to be vulnerable and transparent, opening up greater trust between you. (See: Romans 15:7 and Psalms 139:13-18)
While acceptance is the foundation for a secure relationship, appreciation can be considered a cornerstone. When we express appreciation to young people, we give them a sense of significance. While acceptance of young people tells them that their being matters, expressing our appreciation to them says that their doing matters too. Our appreciation conveys to young people that they are valued and that their accomplishments do make a difference to someone. (See: Matt. 3:17 and Romans 1:8).
Expressing affection to our kids through loving words and appropriate touch communicates that they are worth loving. When we show affection to young people, we give them a sense of lovability. Every expression of care and closeness provides emotional reinforcement, helping kids realize that they are loved. (See: 1 John 4:7 and John 15:12).
Expressing affirmation, acceptance, appreciation, and affection to our kids is critical, but we can only do that if we make ourselves available to them. When we make ourselves available to young people, we give them a sense of importance. And when we’re not available, we are saying in essence, “Yes, I love you, but other things still come ahead of you.” Being there when your young people need you will not only tell them they are important to you, it will keep you relationally connected to them. (See: Matthew 19:14 and Psalm 145:18).
1 Cor. 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
To connect relationally, we need to show our young people affirmation, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and availability. Still, if we do not balance these relational connecting points with loving limits and boundaries, young people will not learn responsibility. When we provide loving accountability to young people, we give them a sense of responsibility. Accountability provides the parameters within which a young person can operate safely and securely. Young people need the loving authority of parents and caring adults so they can learn to make responsible, right choices. Without parameters, there is only confusion and chaos. (See: Romans 14:12 and Galatians 6:5).
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