Truth and Discernment for This Cultural Moment

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John Stonestreet

An old Chinese proverb says that if you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish. Why shouldn’t we ask the fish about water? I asked that question to a group of high schoolers years ago, and they replied, “because fish can’t talk?”  

No, you don’t ask fish about water because fish don’t even know they’re wet. Fish don’t know anything other than the water.

Culture is to humans what water is to fish. It is the air we breathe, the environment we think is normal. Because of this, we often forget that culture could be different than it is unless we travel to another culture or take note of a cultural change. That means we tend to accept culture as it is, rather than asking whether culture is good or bad. 

That’s why it’s so important that Christians find ways to step out of culture from time to time, to intentionally look at and evaluate our cultural moment. So often we get distracted by the noisier stuff in our culture and lose sight of what’s important. But, as Brett Kunkle and I discuss in our book A Practical Guide to Culture, the louder parts of our culture are rarely the most important parts of our culture. 

In recent years, our cultural moment has become more and more relentless. We are pounded by issue after issue, such as addiction, the rise in suicidal ideation, the ever-growing list of identities and acronyms, and the onslaught of social media dominating every moment of every day. The issues are like pounding waves. They seem endless, and we feel them.

However, there are also aspects of culture that we don’t feel. Like the ocean, in addition to the waves we see and feel, there are undercurrents we barely notice until they sweep us out to sea. These currents lurk beneath the surface, dramatically altering the landscape of our culture.

One of the most significant cultural undercurrents is what historians and scholars call “the age of information.” We live in a noisy world that is saturated with content. Today, you will likely encounter more information than someone who lived hundreds of years ago would have seen in their entire lifetime. The sheer amount of information available to us is stunning and historically unprecedented. 

Information is not neutral. Information carries and communicates ideas. These ideas may be true or false, but they are not neutral. Ideas matter. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims. 

In other words, the age of information is also the age of ideas. Ideas have a source. This means we also live in an age of competing authorities.

Certain existential questions become more important in certain cultural moments. One of the most significant questions that has emerged in our moment is, “who can I trust?” This is no small question. How can we glean the good when there are so many bad ideas floating around? 

The obvious reaction to the age of information is to think that what we need is truth. And, of course, we need truth. But, if true information is added to a sea of information, it can easily get lost, part of the white noise we experience on a daily basis.

The Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi is one we need to claim as our own in this cultural moment. Paul prayed for this church that “their love would abound more and more in truth and in all discernment.” We need truth, and we need the skills to navigate all of the ideas, the competing authorities, and the information of this moment. The word for that is discernment, the ability to distinguish between what is true and false, what is genuine and counterfeit, what is good and what is evil.

This is one reason I encourage families to have World Magazine in their homes. WORLD has proven to be, in my home, a reliable source of discernment in this age of information. In addition to the print magazine, their digital resources and podcasts are committed to analyzing the events of our world through the lens of Biblical truth. 

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I contribute weekly to the WORLD podcast, The World and Everything in It. I’m grateful for our long partnership and grateful that they’ve made it possible for the Colson Center to extend this incredible offer to you.


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