By Dr. Dennis Acop
I had come across an article entitled ‘Truth is Truth — Whatever Its Source May Be (Thoughts about Christian Thinkers Who Sin)’ by Roger Olson. In it, the author basically defended his title. That whether the author is a non-practicing advocate of what he preaches has nothing to do with the truthfulness underlying his speech. While I am tempted to follow his thesis, I cannot fully agree with Olson for a couple of reasons. One, such integrity between preacher and speech is easier said than done. And two, the value of one’s speech tends to diminish once the audience discovers the lack of adherence and follow-through between a source and his exhortations.
Let’s break my challenges down to more minute detail. First, while the truth of a matter preached may be undisputed, the credibility of a preacher who does not practice what he preaches is easier said than actually believed. Real life examples can clearly illustrate this point. In the matter of a parent who mouths truisms to his child for instance, but does not practice such his child sees the incongruence and will doubt his parent. Even if the child acts in acquiescence, it will be out of fear but not convinced belief. A teacher may teach values to his pupils but until such teacher shows that he actually practices what he says the preached values will remain mere theoretical constructs. This pattern can be repeatedly applied to every human interaction thereafter and the logic would remain the same. Whether these be: priest-parishioner, superior-subordinate, leader-follower, mentor-apprentice, elder-youth, grandparent-grandchild, etc.
The second reason is this. While Olson merely emphasized the truthfulness of a message given, he failed to equally pay tribute to the impact a messenger has upon his message. That to a greater degree than stated by the author, what ultimately matters is how the message is received and lived owing to the credibility of the messenger relative to his message. For the ultimate value of a message is how it becomes enhanced by the subsequent truth it inspires in those who receive that message. A message of truth may stand on its own. But it does not exist for its own sake. It serves no useful purpose if it does. The value of truth is in being received. And being received well. This value cannot be realized in its enhanced form if received from a hypocrite, liar, or demagogue. There once was a retired soldier who sought to write about his memoir in order to inspire aspiring soldiers and point out observed defects in the system to likewise induce correction. His message on the truism of age-old virtues like honor, integrity, courage, humility, honesty, and sacrifice could not be ignored. Except that enough people from the service knew who he was and were not inspired by this knowledge. The message was true and awe-inspiring. But the messenger was not. Not many dared write similarly after that. In fact, no one dared write at all.
The concluding message is clear. Truth may be claimed to not be diminished by the sins of a sinful messenger. But truth can likewise become doubted if preached by a sinner from a pedestal of holiness more than a lived life of good works.