Direct Link to this page: http://tinyurl.com/truthful-relationships
Abstract: What is more important: truth or personal relationships? Sin creates a moral dilemma between these two values. How we resolve this dilemma will determine much about how we interact with other people. This essay is a response to the invitation to contribute to the Revolving Church Door by Dr. Tom Pittman and hopefully answers the question in essay #128 titled "What Is a Relationship?" 
What guidance does Scripture provide to help Christians define a
biblical basis for the purpose and practice of personal relationships? A keyword search for the word "relationship" in most translations of
the Bible will result in few, if any, references. By this it might be
concluded that relationships are not a particularly important focus of
God's instruction to man. However, if relationships are conceived to
be the process of getting along with "one another" or "each other", and
a search is made of Scripture to identify the use of these two terms
and their related forms, the picture changes dramatically. These terms
are used dozens of times throughout the New Testament and provide
significant guidance in defining a biblical philosophy of
relationships. Or we can look at the word "covenant" that appears over 280 times throughout the Bible. Covenants are a kind of relationship between persons. The Bible was not written
for the specific purpose of being a relationship manual or an
exhaustive curriculum on interpersonal dynamics; however, it does provide clear authoritative principles that can form a
solid foundation and framework for developing God-honoring
personal relationships. 
Definition of Terms and Scope
As Dr. Pittman rightly points out in his essay, the dictionary defines relationship
as "a connection between or among things." The category of "things"
here discussed are persons of two ontological types: God and man. Biblical Christianity teaches that God reveals Himself as three persons
(Father, Son, and Spirit), and He created man as a person in His
image. This essay is focused on the three personal relationship
combinations that arise between God and man:
Many other types of relationships exist, but these are beyond the
scope of this essay. Here are some examples of other types of
relationships not discussed or considered in this essay:
The Moral Dilemma between Truth and Relationship
A man ambushed by his wife with the question, "Honey, do I look
fat?" is immediately and painfully aware of the dilemma between truth
and relationship. A similar fate awaits the man whose wife returns
from the hair salon and tearfully asks: "Do you like my new hair
style?" Relational conflict is all but guaranteed if he responds
truthfully with "Yes, it looks like you've put on a few pounds" or "No,
I liked it a lot better before you cut it all off, and what color is
If a man desires a peaceful or romantic evening with his wife, he is
unlikely to respond with such unvarnished truth. These marital
anecdotes point to the problem of criticism which is the intersection
of truthful but dis-affirming information. Three additional combinations of truth and affirmation are shown in this table of four quadrants:
Affirming truth, or (1) praise, builds mutual respect and admiration
and strengthens a relationship. Honest praise, both for God and among
people, is regarded as good in the Bible. An observant Christian will
avoid both (2) flattery and (3) slander because they are examples of
bearing false witness which is a violation of one of the Ten
Commandments. These are the sin quadrants. This leaves the problem quadrant of dis-affirming
truth or (4) criticism. Can relationships persist when criticism is
involved? Or, is affirming truth the only option for truthful
Criticism and Hypocrisy
In his essay,
Dr. Pittman provides compelling anecdotal evidence that his policy of
"never criticize" works, and he argues that "...people do not have the
dictionary sense of 'connection' in mind when they say 'relationship'
but rather a particular quality of connection, namely one of
unconditional affirmation." I agree and find this very disturbing. A
limited view of personal relationships that singularly focuses on the
one-dimensional quality of unconditional affirmation is unbiblical and
If "personal relationship" means only those personal connections
which affirm, doesn't this remove the important corrective
power of criticism? Aren't
we told in a court of law that we are to tell the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth? How is leaving out dis-affirming
truth any different than telling half-truths which are a form of a lie? To be proven wrong should be celebrated since somebody’s intellect has just been elevated!
Adopting a "never criticize" policy in personal relationships does make avoiding hypocrisy easier. In Romans 2:1-4
the Apostle Paul gives a blistering warning about judging other
people. A godly purpose for criticism is bringing human beings to
repentance, and God alone is the true judge while we "mere men" judge
hypocritically. As Jesus taught with the speck and plank example,
hypocrisy is harshly condemned. In fact, throughout the Gospel
accounts of Jesus, the most strident and stinging rebukes are reserved
for the hypocritical Pharisees. So, with these grave warnings in mind
regarding hypocrisy, what does a truthful relationship, i.e. one that incorporates constructive criticism, look like
in the life of a Christian?
What is a Truthful Relationship?
Personal relationships are developed through many connection points such as communication,
shared experience, mutual love and submission, affirmation, encouragement, and perhaps even a business
transaction or contract. A study of the dozens of "one another" and "each other"
verses in the New Testament provides a substantial list of God's guidance for interpersonal connections. However, the purpose of this essay is not to classify or
categorize types of connections in personal relationships. This essay
is an examination of the differences between affirmation-only
relationships as defined by Dr. Pittman and fully truthful relationships which incorporate criticism.
An affirming relationship certainly feels better emotionally and is therefore more
enjoyable than the conflict created by corrective criticism. But,
which relationship is more beneficial and loving: the
relationship which only affirms, or the one which tells the whole
truth? Taking an affirmation only approach can create a breeding ground for
hypocrisy and a false sense of self-esteem as Dr. Pittman points out in
his Two Cultures essay:
People are connected to one another in many ways, and not all of
these connections affirm. Personal relationships are frequently
dysfunctional. Abusive parents need corrective criticism to overcome
their poor parenting and properly love their children. A friend who is
behaving badly needs corrective criticism so he can repent, and the
relationship can be restored. A criminal needs corrective criticism
(and perhaps a prison term) where he can be rehabilitated to live as a
productive member of society. Most of the time when
people talk about personal relationships, they mean relationships
that are mutually affirming and which persist by mutual consent. But,
when things go bad and affirmation becomes impossible, should we refuse
to reveal disaffirming truth and seek separation? Or, do we risk the
confrontation required for criticism with hopes of restoration? Let's
examine how God handles things.
Relationship between God and Man
The Bible is a reliable inspired text that informs man about his
Creation and Fall into sin. The fundamental problem of all mankind is
sin. It is the barrier that prevents man's relationship with
his Maker. The Bible also informs us about God's plan for Redemption
and Restoration from the problem of sin [Rom 6:23]. God's corrective plan is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, explained
further in the New Testament, and completed by the Atonement of Jesus
Christ on the Cross. The Bible contains an incredibly cohesive narrative of the Creation,
Fall, Redemption, and Restoration of man's relationship with God
including the solution for sin which is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. This solution for sin is applied in our individual lives through repentance and faith [Eph 2:8-9].
The restored vertical relationship between God and man is based on
the truth of who God is, not anything man does. The Atonement alone
restores the vertical relationship from God to man making way for
eternal life. Obedience and submission to God do not redeem the
relationship. Obedience and submission to God are the fruit or outworking of saving faith in the Atonement. The Atonement, a gift which brings eternal life, is received by repentance and faith alone apart from works. Eternal life is an eternal connection (i.e. relationship) with God. The second death mentioned four times in Revelation is eternal
separation from God, a.k.a. hell (i.e. no relationship).
God's solution for sin depends on corrective criticism, the
dis-affirming truth that man is a sinner. God's forgiveness of sin
through the Atonement of Christ is contingent on man's repentance. And
what is repentance if not a response to the dis-affirming truth that I
am a sinner? It seems that God himself has a fully truthful view of
relationship that includes dis-affirming truth. Anyone who reads the
prophets of the Old Testament will quickly see that God takes truth
seriously and doesn't mince words when it comes to dis-affirming truth,
yet God persists in pursuing relationship with mankind to the point of
sacrificing his perfect Son for our benefit.
Relationship in the Godhead
The Holy Trinity exists eternally as a community of three
persons so perfectly related they are unity, one God in three persons. There is no untruth within the Godhead. However, the Cross was a mysterious point
in created time where God's relationship with Himself was broken. In
Matthew 27, Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him. The word sabachthani used by Jesus on the Cross can be translated as abandon or depart.
Substitutionary atonement doctrine teaches that the sin of the
world was placed on Jesus as expiation for God's wrath. Jesus, in
his sinful condition, was forsaken by the Father. It was justice being worked out. However, can we conclude
from the Cross that God values relationship more than truth and justice? The Atonement does lead to man's
reconciliation with God and restoration or relationship, but is the focus here really on the relationship or on God's justice and mercy?
Interestingly, the breaking of relationship within the Godhead when Jesus was on
the Cross was accompanied by the tearing of the temple curtain. Many
theologians interpret this to mean that God initiated this new access
to Himself from above. All three synoptic Gospels inform the reader of
the temple curtain being torn. Matthew and Mark's Gospels provide the
additional detail that the tear was from top to bottom. Is this event
which happened at Christ's Atonement relationally significant? Can
we learn something from it?
The temple curtain was a barrier between man and the manifest
presence of God in the most holy place in the Hebrew temple. Only the
high priest could enter through this curtain into God's presence, and
then only once a year on Yom Kippur,
the Hebrew Day of Atonement. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus
tore apart this barrier and restored the possibility of direct
relationship between God and man. The Atonement of Jesus resolves the moral dilemma of sin allowing
both truth and relationship to continue between God and man as God works out His redemptive purposes over time throughout history.
Relationship between Human Beings
When I was growing up my mother used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This aphorism fails in many situations. When a bully is slamming your
friend into a locker, do you stand by and say nothing? When a child is
being molested by a relative, do you only say nice things to the
pedophile? As I grew older I realized you have to learn to pick your
battles, and sometimes truth trumps nice. The question before us is understanding how Bible believers should
behave when it is no longer possible to maintain an affirmation-only
stance in horizontal relationships with other human beings. Should we
choose truth alone and sever the relationship or should we seek a
redemptive path and pursue relationship through corrective criticism?
God's use of dis-affirming truth is generally corrective, restorative, and redemptive. Although some people believe the God of the Old Testament is vengeful or even vindictive, the character of God even in the Old Testament is shown as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love [Ex 34:6, Neh 9:17,Ps 86:15 103:8 111:4 112:4 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, etc.]. In fact, the repeated theme of the Old Testament is a God who is very patient and long-suffering in pursuing relationship with nearly incorrigible human beings. However, I do believe there is a point where God draws the line. I am not convinced as some theologians are that God will eventually restore relationship with all human beings.
But, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone [Rom 12:18]. We should seek to live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and
dignity, diligently focusing on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is
right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is
admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—thinking about such
things [1Tim 2:2, Phil 4:8].
And, if in focusing on what is true and right there comes a time where
corrective criticism is needed, we should do as God does and look for
ways to offer the disaffirming truth in a way that restores,
reconciles, and redeems the relationship.
 Dr. Pittman posted a refutation of the above "Truthful Relationships" essay in his Essay #153 (For and) Against Relationshipism.
 This introduction is the exact form of a paragraph written by Dr. John A. Hugues on p. 245 of Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview.
In his chapter on "Why Christian Education and Not Secular
Indoctrination," Dr. Hugues uses nearly the same words but his focus is
on the terms "education" and "educated" not being found in the Bible
while still finding hundreds of examples in Scripture for "teaching"
and "learning." This shows word count alone is a poor hermeneutic, and we must consider concepts and meaning as well.
© 2007 by Dennis Elenburg. All Rights Reserved. Note: Initial version created in 2007. Latest Revision Date/Time displayed at the top.