Ask any attorney or law enforcement official and they will tell you that many times eye witnesses are not reliable witnesses. What they have witnessed may indeed be true but it may not be true to the actual event based on the facts.
What I believed I experienced in my childhood may be true based on what I know or remember, but it may not be fact. Even some events in adulthood may fall in that same category.
When talking to my son about the circumstances leading up to the separation between his mother and I, those circumstances have often been confused between what his mother and I believe to be the truth and what the actual facts may have been.
In a recent article by Chuck Colson in CT (Doctrine Bears Repeating, CT, April 2009, 72),he talks about “today’s biblically illiterate church” when it comes to basic doctrine and beliefs. He goes on to say, “The most obvious things to be said about Christianity is that it rests on historical facts: the Creation, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection.” Then he adds, “Since our doctrines are truth claims, they cannot be symbolism.” I would contend that they cannot necessarily be facts either. They can be “truth claims” but ascribing them to facts may be a characterization without support (not popular support mind you, but factual support).
I’m not certain that anyone can claim a basis of fact for the creation outside primary truth claims. The creation story is what we believe to be true based on the biblical record. Or based on the fact that God’s word is true. The same would apply to the incarnation and the resurrection. Perhaps, the resurrection can come closest to “fact” because of the numerous witnesses who encountered the resurrected Christ. Even then, to submit it as fact, may be more than anyone can absolutely attest to outside the biblical record.
This is important because it goes to the heart of doctrine and beliefs. Every religion, even evangelicalism, is based on historical truths and doctrines that find their root in those truths. However, not everyone subscribes to them equally. Does that make the doctrine or the beliefs emanating from those doctrines fact? Perhaps not. Much of the primary doctrine for evangelicals is based on faith not fact. If it were strictly, or even mainly factual then detractors would have no substantive basis for their disbelief or their disingenuous observations.
Perhaps a good example is the Holocaust. Despite all the factual evidence for the “event”, there are some today who say that it did not happen and that it is purely a fabrication by Jews or Jewish sympathizers. It is the same thing with flying to the moon or mars. I have told my wife on several occasions that the whole thing is not true. We’ve never been to the Moon or Mars. What they show you on television and report on the radio and in newspapers is all being done in some warehouse out in a remote desert. That may be a truth claim from an observer, however it may not be fact.
Now I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Colson, his ministry and his mission. Nevertheless, confusing doctrinal principles based on historical fact is perhaps more than might be warranted. His premise about “historical truth” however is certainly factual. Doctrine has its roots deep in historical truth. Truth based on scripture, which however much we want it to be true, has certainly found its own detractors and those who would strip it of its veracity.
Truth versus fact is no trivial matter. Truth can be factual and facts can be true, but we might want to be cautious on when and where we combine the two.
Heb 11:1-3 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.