Truth Can’t Be Relative

with_his_disciples002Reportedly a recent Barna Research Group poll showed that 70 percent of American high school students believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Certainly what we believe to be true has a great influence on our morality, and clearly there’s been a shift in the American culture—most likely in all of western culture—away from modern thought that relies on scientific, philosophic, or religious absolutes, to postmodern thought that evaluates truth subjectively.

Hence, one of the philosophical positions postmodern thought holds is that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Gotquestions.org explains the postmodern perception of truth this way:

postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice, postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for you, but not for me.”

In its thumbnail sketch of postmodernism PBS.org includes the following:

reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

I think this latter is an important key to understand this way of thinking that has become fundamental to our culture. The idea is that reality (R) is not understood as R by any and all parties and therefore is not R.

There’s an old saying that winners write the history, which is another way of saying winners and losers don’t see the war in the same way.

Of course different people have different perspectives, but the postmodern thinker goes on to say that perception creates reality.

Sadly that idea is wrong.

The clearest way to disprove the idea that truth is relative is to consider what the Bible says about truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

Truth, then, is not a description of reality or an interpretation of it. Truth is a person. A person is either believed or disbelieved, followed or ignored, trusted or distrusted. There is no room for relativism in relating to a person.

A person is objective, outside our subjective interpretation. I can believe Jesus is Santa Claus, but my idea about Him doesn’t change Him. He stands before me as He is, apart from my ideas about Him. My view of Him does not affect Him. He is who He is, independent of my opinion or belief or indifference.

Since Jesus clearly states that He is truth, and a person clearly is not relative, then it’s easy to conclude that truth is not relative. It is absolute.

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Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm  Comments (13)  
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13 Comments

  1. I don’t if you’re aware of how much overt and self acknowledged post modernism is all over the so called evangelical world? I’m being dead SERIOUS

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    • Please insert the word “know” in between don’t and if 😀

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    • Don’t miss Groothius REVIEW

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  2. Hmm, I’m hesitant here Becky, for a couple of reasons.

    First, the Truth is a person! I love that. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Perfect.

    “…reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.”

    That really does seem to be true. Here we are abandoning faith and shaping our culture in negative ways. So we are bringing into reality our own interpretations of what the world means to us subjectively. Of course the truth of God doesn’t change, but our worldly reality sure does.

    Salvation itself only comes into being for us as individuals if we subjectively receive it. If we don’t, it’s just not our reality. Jesus Christ may remain the same but those who reject Him really have “brought their reality into being.”

    Faith too is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, so it must be subjectively embraced and internalized before we can make it manifest out in the world. We’re also called to believe, another subjective concept, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

    I really believe there is a paradox in here where both things are true at the same time, absolute truth and the truth of post-modernism. I used to believe that post moderninsm would lead us astray, but I’ve watched too many rational apologetics misuse scripture to justify everything from polygamy to sex trafficking, all promoted under the guise of alleged absolute truth.

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    • IB, I understand what you’re saying. And I believe that postmodernism has brought some refreshing change to our thinking. Refreshing and necessary. Modernism moved us away from belief in the invisible.

      Postmodernism also describes reality in a way that takes into account more than one perspective, which does correct overly biased views. However, it does not acknowledge the fact that there is an actual, fixed, absolute truth that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It only accounts for the human and fallible positions, not for the immutable, transcendent God whose word is fixed in heaven.

      That’s the great error, as I see it, of postmodernism (at least one of them).

      When someone rejects God, he does make his own reality, as you state it, but only because God has created a conditional circumstance—believe and you will be saved. Apart from His intervention, we all, as sinners would experience the wages of sin—death. We would not be making our own reality. We would be experiencing the just payment for falling short of the glory of God.

      That He intervened and opened up the way to reconciliation is a new reality, if you will. His truth, absolute and fixed, is, from our perspective, in flux. But whether someone believes or disbelieves, the reality is the same. It’s judged by God who is outside of time and omniscient. And He has revealed to us what we need for life and godliness.

      What He has revealed is not relative. He is good, no matter what people may believe about Him.

      There’s a song my church sings from time to time and some of the lines irritate me because they seem consistent with a relative view. One line is “He is a so good to me.” I want to shout, No, He’s not just good to me. He’s good, period. Whether I consider Him good, whether I experience Him as good or not, is immaterial. Good is as much a part of His character as is love, and it’s not something that changes just because people might not see Him as good.

      Sorry, I could go on and on, Suffice it to say, I think the loss of belief in absolute truth undermines our faith.

      Becky

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    • I wrote that whole long answer but I don’t know if I got to the crux of the issue, IB. You said, “So we are bringing into reality our own interpretations of what the world means to us subjectively. Of course the truth of God doesn’t change, but our worldly reality sure does.”

      Our worldly reality is not Truth. Our perceptions are partial and incomplete. We call them true, but they are marred by sin and therefore are not a real reflection of reality. One day we will realize this.

      We forget that we are eternal beings. We’re in our infancy in many ways. So like a child views the world one way—candy is good and a parent who says no you can’t have candy right before dinner, is being mean—but later comes to understand his error, so we too will one day realize how skewed our ideas are.

      The only way we can minimize our error is by holding fast to God’s word. That’s why belief in the authoritative, infallible, inerrant word of God is so important.

      We make mistakes regarding the Bible because we interpret Scripture from our own culture rather than letting the Bible interpret the Bible. The polygamy issue, for example, is easy to defeat from Scripture, though clearly people in the Bible, particularly the wealthy and powerful kings of the Old Testament, were polygamists. In truth, God told the nation of Israel through the prophet Samuel that their king was not to have many wives. The wives, he explained, would pull his heart away from God to worship the false gods around them. And that’s precisely what happened.

      Because people did certain things and the Bible records them, doesn’t mean God sanctioned their lifestyle choices. In some cases, such as the polygamy issue, the record actually illustrates God’s truth by way of their disobedience.

      I may have fallen into babbling now, so I’ll stop. Interesting topic, though.

      Becky

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      • Those are awesome answers, Becky. Thanks for helping me try to sort this all out!

        I love this, “Our worldly reality is not Truth.” That is something I am always saying, “perception is not reality.” It is quite possible to perceive things all wrong, a disconcerting idea indeed, but it is true. We see through the glass darkly and so our perceptions are somewhat limited, even sometimes distorted.

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  3. Clearly you and I see post-modernism from different perspectives. I’m writing with irony here, but is also true. Modernism has been very hostile toward Christianity, elevating reason and science above the Creator. I believe there is room in evangelical Christianity for people who honor Christ as the real and ultimate Truth but who are skeptical of many of the ideas of which modern people are so convinced (such as inevitable progress or unbiased reporting of facts). J.

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    • Both modernism and post modernism are equally pagan.

      There IS one and only one (how could it be otherwise) explicitly biblical and hence Christian epistemology and commensurate “worldview.”

      Post modernism (and modernism) is precisely what the apostle warned the Colossians about. The unbelief of the world smuggled into the Church by those who refuse to start with God’s word and abide the faith one for all delivered to the saints.

      I B, I think I could convince you if you’d give me a chance. There IS SOME truth in what you say.

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    • I agree that modernism was hostile toward Christianity. As my former pastor told me when I asked him about postmodernism, there is no right human philosophy. The human factor insures that we will miss something, view something incorrectly, put too much weight on one factor or the other. What we need to do is think Biblically.

      I mention postmodernism here because this view played a large part in bringing down absolute truth.

      The number one criticism of Christianity today is that we believe in absolute truth. Oh, it might not be worded that way. Most likely it will be something like, Christianity is intolerant or it’s so narrow. But that’s just another way of saying, you Christians think your way is right and no other way is true. Well, truth is in the eye of the beholder. What’s true for you may not be true for me, so stop trying to force you beliefs down my throat!

      Or some such argument.

      The reality is that not all of these ideas can be true. I can’t believe in absolute truth while someone else believes in relativism, the first being true for me and the latter true for him.

      Absolute means there isn’t the possibility of relative truth, and declaring that truth is relative is an absolute statement (though a false one).

      But postmodernism doesn’t carry the discussion to its logical conclusion.

      Becky

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      • Excellent Rebecca.

        So called “Christian” post modernism will affirm the notion of absolute divine truth, but then claim that nobody can really know what it is.

        Depending on which flavor you’re dealing with at the moment, this blessed uncertainty can range from the utterly inconsistent version that says we CAN know things like the Nicene essentials, or even the rudiments of the gospel for certain, all the way down to the most (ironically) consistent version that says we can’t even know the existence of God with unassailable certainty. All claiming to be Christian.

        “Critical theory” (a currently popular subset of post modernism) places the ultimately knowable reality for each person on that person’s experience, usually referred to as “narrative”. There is no overarching all governing and encompassing set of principles that govern all others such as we find in the bible. To them, they don’t find that in the bible.

        Once you have hoisted anchor from knowable divinely certain truth, all manner of creativity can and must be perpetrated upon the scriptures to escape it’s crystal clear passages in order keep yourself pitching about on the comfortable (especially morally comfortable) waters of uncertainty.

        As long as God’s reality is largely uncertain from our perspective, then people can believe and do all sorts of things that previous generations of faithful Christians saw as no brainier abominations. The one unpardonable sin is to be too sure of anything.

        Any whiff of actual conviction is met with condescending eye rolling scorn and charges of arrogance. GOD FORBID you should EVER declare anybody else certainly wrong. I have my interpretation, you have yours.

        That’s how it works now ya know. The spectacular arrogance of proclaiming that the creator of the universe has left His people in uncertainty is called “epistemic HUMILITY“, (I kid you not) and actual gospel conviction is seen as arrogance. And the devil laughs.

        This is of course a quite abbreviated treatment to say the very least, but I have been dealing with it for a good while and believe you me, it is EVERYwhere. The seminaries and bible colleges are inundated. Even THOSE ones you’d think should know better. The vast majority (oh yes they are). This is called ap[apostasy btw.

        Christianity Today magazine is the official organ and command center for this way of thinking in larger American “evangelicalism (whatever that means anymore). If anybody doubts that, I WILL make that case airtight. Lesser groovy outfits like RELEVANT magazine have been long onboard as well.

        It can VERY slickly couched in thoroughly biblical sounding phraseology, but make no mistake, they are not speaking your language.

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  4. Listening to THIS lecture by the venerable Dr. J. Ligon Duncan would be most instructive.

    You may find it disconcerting to realize how much of this thinking is right under your nose. Sincerely Rebecca, Duncan is the chancellor and professor pf theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and an exceedingly capable scholar and devout man of God.

    Excellent 50 minute primer.

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  5. I believe that truth is a person Jesus Christ. The perfect man and God.

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