"What is truth?" - Pilate
Ok, so my title for this article is a little misleading. Absolute truth doesn’t come and go. But what I mean is the wider acceptance of the idea that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Let me explain.
When I was in high school and college, around the early 2000’s, all I heard about was relativism. Our secular culture had rejected any and all claims of absolute truth. Instead what was true for one person might not be true for another person. People talked about “my truth” and “your truth” as if everyone got to define what was true for them. As if truth was fluid or malleable. It was easy to see how this was not compatible with a biblical worldview. I learned time and time again how to demonstrate the inconsistencies of relativism. No one can actually live out the belief that all truth is relative. It’s just not practically possible. Relativism was popular, but it quickly became clear to me it could not last.
Fast forward to 2020. While Christians are still denouncing relativism in countless sermons and classes (attended mostly by Christians by the way), we are missing the boat. The modern, secular world doesn’t actually believe in relativism anymore. Absolute truth is making a fierce comeback. That in and of itself is a good thing. It means we are regaining some common ground with non-Christians. Ground that was lost for a time, but now is a good place to start from as we take the gospel to the lost. But this comeback also a problem.
Yes our world is coming back around to the belief that certain things are true for all people, no matter who you are. But their absolute truth claims are radically different than the ones we find in the Bible. We are starting to see absolute truth claims like the following: Anyone who does not fully support homosexuality or transgenderism is a bigot. Anyone who is white is racist. Anyone who supports a certain political party should be outcast. Anyone who will not wear a mask or wants to open back up the economy must hate elderly people.
But the truth claims themselves aren’t the only big difference. What happens when you encounter someone who claims an absolute truth that opposes what you believe? Christians have always been taught to respond with love, patience, peace, kindness, self-control, and gentle persuasion. But in today’s culture, time and time again we see people respond with shouting and branding the opponent as a social outcast. Instead of conversations we have cancellations. Instead of patience we have quick triggers. Instead of listening ears we have mic-drops. It is becoming clear the real goal is not truth.
So what does this mean for followers of Jesus?
First I think it means we need to spend less time denouncing relativism and more time engaging the truth claims coming from secular society. What are the underlying beliefs behind all of these new movements and ideas? For example, it seems a lot of new political ideas and movements for social change are based on the belief that all people are essentially good at heart. It’s only their environment that turns them bad. This could not be farther from the truth. Without Christ human beings have a natural proclivity to sin, selfishness, and evil. Do our church members know and believe that? Do our young people?
Second, we need to make sure we do not fall into Satan’s trap of doing the Lord’s work in the world’s way. When someone shouts at you it is oh so easy to shout back. To return fire when attacked. To defend the truth of the gospel with the weapons and tactics of the world. May it never be! We must continue to practice the fruits of the Spirit. We must go not only with truth, but with grace. And as we go, we must seek to help people come to know the One who came to us full of grace and truth.