Pursuing the Truth with Humility
by Gil Dueck, Academic Dean
“The witness that Christians bear to the truth must be a humble and penitent witness…The confession of the truth will be part of a continual indebtedness to grace.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence, 1995)
Newbigin wrote those words almost 30 years ago, and I believe they capture something important about what we are aiming at as a college. I think his words are every bit as important in 2022 as they were in 1995.
As a teaching college of the church, Columbia is really interested in questions of what is true. We are so interested that we hire faculty and offer classes to try to pursue it. We are a Bible college, so a big part of that pursuit involves digging into Scripture. We believe that God has spoken the truth and continues to speak it as we read the Bible together and commit to obey it. But we also believe that God’s truth pops up in all kinds of other fields of study, so we want to pursue it wherever it can be found.
We believe that the truth is beyond us or outside of us. The truth is not a matter of personal expression or branding – our preferences, our identities, our politics. We pursue the truth – a truth that is true for all of us and independent of us. The radical thing about what we claim as Christians, is that when we say we’re pursuing “the truth” we’re actually pursuing a Person – the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
What is vital about Newbigin’s quote is the way he pairs the pursuit of truth with a disposition of the heart. We offer a “humble and penitent witness” that recognizes our “indebtedness to grace.” What does this mean? It doesn’t just mean that we are open to revising our views from time to time. It doesn’t mean that we just express a surface-level interest in “diverse opinions.” It means that we understand and believe that our pursuit of the truth is impacted by who we are and what we’ve done.
We are glorious creatures with an incredible capacity for wonder, imagination and understanding. We are also fragile, limited creatures who see only a part of what’s really going on. We are sinful creatures who are prone to wander. We are part of tangled stories and histories. Our knowing is impacted by our doing (or by what’s been done to us). Telling the truth about ourselves leads us to a posture of humility. It reminds us that we can be wrong and that we need other people to help us with our blind spots. It reminds us that if we want to pursue the Truth, we need to be reconciled to the Truth. We need to be right with God. We are indebted to grace.
The pursuit is ongoing because our times keep changing. New contexts bring new questions. But what is unchanging is this: we pursue the truth with humility because we worship Jesus who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14). May this pursuit be at the heart of all that we do here at Columbia.