The Difference Between Saying True Things and Telling the Truth

A midterm soliloquy.

The TruthI hate to use Joel Osteen again to make a point–OK, “hate” is a strong word–but it was in the context of a discussion about Dear Joel that I came to think the thought that I post now; to wit, that there is a difference between saying true things and telling the truth.

Now this should be obvious to any adult who’s ever been a child…ahem…or dealt with one, but it bears being said that one may make any number of true statements, without any admixture of falsehood, and nonetheless be guilty of bearing false witness or, at the very least, of not telling the truth. Here’s how the conversation went, regarding the aforementioned Mr. Osteen (and I paraphrase):

Other Person: “But what he says is true; he just emphasizes the positive things about Christianity.”

Actually, that’s all of the conversation I need to mention, because I now give my response (and seek unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks), which is this: even if I were to grant (and I think I’ll be magnanimous, against my better judgment, and go ahead and grant) that everything that comes out of our boy Joel’s mouth consists of true statements, I nonetheless argue that he is not a man who tells the truth about the message of the Bible, that he distorts what the Bible teaches even if one can go to his individual statements and demonstrate their truthfulness.

And here’s how I illustrate that: the Bible teaches us that “Jesus wept”. Suppose I, as a supposed preacher of the gospel, took that theme and made it, or variations of it, my text every week. I suppose I could find a way for some period of time to go into deep detail about how Jesus wept, the nature of His weeping, the salinity of His tears, the things that moved Him to tears, the way His face might have contorted every time a tear fell, and so on. I could make that my text from week to week and probably generally say true things about the nature of crying in general and Jesus’ weeping in particular. But the more I restricted my topic to Jesus’ weeping, and the longer I made that the central theme of what I had to say, the more my listeners would be tempted to think that the most important thing about the Bible and the gospel is that Jesus had Himself a good cry. I believe I could say a lot of things that are true about Jesus’ crying, but if that were the week-in, week-out emphasis of my message, would I be telling the truth in the sense of placing the emphasis of my preaching on the things that the Bible emphasizes? Of course not.

And this is my beef (well, one of them) with Osteen and his defenders: while I don’t really grant what I said I did (about him always saying true things) because he consistently yanks Bible verses willy-nilly out of any sense of context and plugs them into his self-help program of teaching, even if he did, he would not be telling the truth, because he ignores some very critical whole areas of Bible teaching in order to focus on his few pet themes.

And that’s how a person can say true things and yet not tell the truth.


  1. Lance E. Freeman on August 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    I find the most amusing part of the bible to be “The third book of Moses”, otherwise known as Leviticus. This bit of old testament is the part often quoted by homophobes to justify their bigotry. Leviticus 18:22 says “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”. On its own, this might seem convincing to many christians (or as I will refer to them from here on in x-ians). But when it’s placed in it’s true context it becomes totally laughable.

  2. Kari Dent on August 6, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Great observations. Thank you!

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