Our Monmouth County neighbor Mr. Brian Williams from NBC was suspended for telling a story about his time in Iraq that was not completely accurate. No sooner had he been relived from his anchoring duties then Mr. Bill O’Reilly from Fox News faced similar questions about his reports from Argentina. The director of Selma, Ms. Ava DuVernay, was criticized for inaccurately portraying the position of President Johnson during the Civil Rights Movement and she replied that she is not a historian.
There are many facets to telling a story accurately and truthfully. One starts with that sacred moment when we are witnesses in the court of law. We are asked to take an oath that we will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some people are asked to take a story and personalize it; otherwise the story is perceived as dry and dull. In various churches I have been in, when testimony time came, I felt that the louder the “Amens” became, the juicier (more sinful) the testimony became. Robert Cook used to say that in one church he heard two kids singing, “Years I spent in vanity and pride, without knowing that Jesus was crucified.” He felt the kids were singing something they did not understand, yet the congregation applauded them.
To the poets we give poetical license. We allow them to stretch the rules of grammar and composition because we know that their truth is made-up truth. Their conversations with the moon and their description of beauty compared with interplanetary entities are beyond compare. One of my favorite lines of Romanian poetry is when a father is praising his daughter and he says, “She is so majestic in her beauty that you could look to the radiance of the sun, but you cannot look to her face!”
During Enlightenment, philosophers created a distinction between scientific truth and theological truth. Very soon, the theological truth became marginalized, and in this way, many of the biblical truths were rejected such as the miracles of the Bible and divine revelation. This bifurcation of truth has been one of the most devastating decisions for the universal church.
As a church historian, I have always defended the veracity of the Bible. When the writers were unsure, they wrote accordingly, such as Jesus was about 30 years when he started his ministry. The description of about 30 has flexibility – it could be as young as 25, or as old as 35 (Luke 3:23).
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I had a problem with the director of the movie Selma. The movie Selma is a historic event. The main protagonist Dr. King is a historic figure. In these two points, the director wants me to follow her and trust her historical accuracy; however, when she comes to dealing with President Johnson she evades the historical accuracy.
Writing history is pretty demanding task. Reporting news as accurately as possible is hard work. Controlling one’s biases and emotions in a story is exceedingly difficult. However, it can be done. During a major denominational battle, I was in Des Moines, Iowa. The local newspaper reported everyday on the convention proceedings, and the reporter was the brother of one of my friends. I went to him at the end of the Convention and I told him that I could not figure out what was his position on the issue. He smiled and said, “Thanks for the greatest compliment a journalist can receive – reporting the whole story accurately and without bias.”
When talking about his preaching, Apostle Paul says that what was required of him was to speak the truth in love and to be found faithful in the things that God has entrusted him to do. Mr. Williams, Mr. O’Reilly, Ms. Ava DuVernay, myself, and all of us who preach and teach and present the truth in any public forum have to remember that.