Would You Choose Christ Over the Truth?


Would You Choose Christ Over the Truth?
Brian Zahnd

“If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”
–Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky said that if he were forced to choose, he would choose Christ over the truth. That is a very bold and provocative claim.

What do you say?

Yes, I know, we don’t have to choose. I get that. I agree. Of course.

But for a moment entertain the matter as Dostoevsky intends it — as a kind of thought experiment. If it were conclusively proven that the central claims regarding Jesus Christ were outside of the truth, what would you do? Would you continue to worship and follow Jesus Christ or not?

I’ve pondered this question a lot and I have a few thoughts.

First of all, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Simone Weil disagreed with Dostoevsky’s conclusion, as I assume do many (most?) of you. But I think it’s a worthy question. How we answer the question reveals something about us.

So what do I think? If push comes to shove I agree with Dostoevsky. I would choose Christ over truth. But this is a claim I make only of Jesus Christ. Which is significant. I would not make this claim for anything else. Truth trumps everything…except the beauty of Christ. Which is central to how I think about this.

Let me put it this way: I do not want to live in a world where the beauty of Christ is untrue. No matter what. (Remember this is a thought experiment.) For me, Christ is so beautiful, he must be true. And I would reject a world where such beauty is untrue.

Which leads me to what I’m trying to say.

Beauty is a reliable guide to life. To choose the beautiful is a consistently wise choice.

You may say, “Why not choose the true?” I’m all for it, but this will often be a matter of dispute. (Politics anyone?) It seems to me that we have a better instinct for beauty than truth.

If the subject is Christ and Christianity, beauty is as reliable a guide as anything else.

Of course, I agree that we have the three prime virtues of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and we must consult all three. Yes.

But in reality we often fail to consult beauty at all. In our empiricist age beauty ends up being demoted to mere adornment and is no longer regarded as a wise guide. We ask if it’s true, and that’s the end of the discussion. We tell ourselves that if a thing true (i.e. we think it’s true), that’s the end of the matter. But this may only lead us to an ugliness we tolerate because it is “true.” Too much harm has been done in the name of an ugly “truth.” You can burn heretics in the name of truth, but never in the name of beauty. You can wage a crusade in the name of truth, but never in the name of beauty. You can bomb a city to oblivion in the name of truth (or freedom or liberty or justice), but never in the name of beauty. You can hate in the name of truth, but never in the name of beauty.

One of the primary reasons I reject many tenets of Calvin’s Ism and certain atonement theories is that they are just plain ugly. I will reject a doctrine if it is ugly. Just as I will eternally cling to Christ based on his beauty alone.

Jesus is beautiful. His life is beautiful. His teaching is beautiful. His death and resurrection are beautiful. His gospel is beautiful. His kingdom is beautiful. If some ology or ism claiming to be Christian is patently ugly, then I am immediately dubious.

Christ is so glorious that his transcendent beauty is sufficient to be my constant, my ground, my fixed point for all other realities.

I believe in truth and Christian apologetics.

I believe in goodness and Christian ethics.

But as an aesthete at heart, I believe first of all in beauty and Christian aesthetics.

For me, I start with the beauty of Christ and then find my way into the truth of Christ.

It may have been the same for John the Beloved who said—

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory (beauty), glory (beauty) as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” –John 1:14

So I’m sympathetic with Dostoevsky when he says he would choose to remain with Christ even if to do so were to be outside the truth.

Likewise, I believe Dostoevsky was right when he said, “beauty will save the world.”


P.S. In case you don’t know I’ve written a book related to this question: Beauty Will Save the World