Dr Francis Shaeffer
American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor
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We live in a post-modern world where the existence of absolute truth is outright denied.
Have you ever heard (or said) this sort of statement:
“Your truth is good for you, but I have my own truth.”
This is post-modern relativism in a nut-shell.
But is that statement logical? Can it be possible for every person on the face of the planet to have their own “truth” and yet they are ALL simultaneously true?
Or is there an absolute Truth? And if so, what is it?
Firstly I would like to look at post-modernism and its effects on absolute truth.
To start the definition of “post-modernism” is:
“A relativistic system of observation and thought that denies absolutes and objectivity. Postmodernism has influenced theology, art, culture, architecture, society, film, technology, and economics. Traditional social, art, social, and cultural, constructs are discarded and reinterpreted in relativistic terms.” http://www.carm.org/dictionary/dic_p-r.htm (accessed September 16, 2008).
Wikipedia : “Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism. Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as twentieth-century post-structural thought.”
Post-modernism played out is this statement :
“Well that’s your truth, and that’s good for you, I have my own truth that works for me.”
In post-modernism, truth becomes relative and subjective. I can determine my truth, you can determine your truth etc. “Truth” becomes subject to each individual’s own desires, beliefs systems and world-views and an objective truth (something outside of us) is thrown away. The end result of this relativism is that right and wrong and good and evil also become subject to our own personal opinions because a static point-of-reference is denied.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I spoke to a man one day who denied the existence of both good and evil.
“It’s all relative,” he claimed.
So I asked him what would happen if someone stole his car or his wallet, would he consider that wrong?
“No”, he answered, “because I do not hold onto my possessions.”
I asked him what if it was his child that was stolen, what if his child was groomed by a pedophile and molested? Would that be evil?
“No”, he said, “There is no evil, there’s only what we as a society define as evil or good.”
“Do you have kids of your own?” I asked.
I dare say that if he did, his answer would have been very different.
This is the logical conclusion of post-modernism – that there is no real truth, no good, no evil, not even gender distinction, just what we, as a society, label as such. All moral reference points are removed and we are left to flounder along as each determine. Dr Ravi Zacharias used the example of when you are stopped in your car at a traffic light and the next car is slightly rolling. It is difficult to determine whether it is your own car, or the one next to you that is moving until you find a static point-of-reference, such as a pole on the side of the road.
Biblical Christianity maintains that there exists ABSOLUTE TRUTH determined by a Sovereign, holy, moral God who created all things. It claims that this truth is objective, determined by something or someone other than us and that this Truth is the “pole”, or the point-of-reference for humankind.
I would like to seek to prove that ABSOLUTE TRUTH does exist. Take mathematics for example. Lately I have been teaching my daughter the multiplication tables. We have been learning that :
1 x 2 = 2
2 x 2 = 4
3 x 2 = 6
And so on.
The answers to these mathematical questions are fact, or truth. They are facts which neither you nor I can alter. They are facts on which buildings, bridges and airplanes have been created by humans.
I may decide that I don’t like the fact that 2×2=4, but my desire to change the truth of this equation does not in fact do anything to alter it. All I will succeed in doing is making my own life difficult, or building a bridge that falls down, because 2×2 does equal 4 and nothing I can do will change that established fact. I could try to fight for my rights to deny this truth, so I could say that 2×2 doesn’t equal 4, yet, in reality, the mathematical table remains unchanged and untouched by my own personal opinions and desires.
A Biblical example is the Ten Commandments. This is God’s moral law which declares that those who have broken His Law are sinners, law-breakers and transgressors. This Law is truth, it is outside of us and will never be subjected to humanity’s own desires or whims nor society’s changes.
(In abbreviated form):
You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Whilst I may decide that murder, or sexual immorality is not actually wrong and that it’s ok to lie if it’s a little, white lie, this does not in fact change the truth that murder, sexual immorality and lying is wrong and sinning against God and other people. And to deny that truth and to live as if it didn’t exist or didn’t matter only will make life (and eternity) difficult for me.
So then logically what I’m trying to say is that: truth by its definition is exclusive.
To qualify that statement I will use an analogy. Suppose I had red hair. If I were to ask two different people what colour my hair is and one said “black” and the other said “red” – only one of these answers would be in fact TRUE. (Bad example, but I hope you see what I’m getting at.) By virtue of the fact that my hair IS red, the other statement is disqualified as UNTRUE. Only one statement can be true. Just as in maths, 1×2 cannot equal both 2 and 13 at the same time, so too is truth exclusive.
To say that we can all determine our own truth (“that your truth is fine and my truth is fine too”) is not logical. It denies the very premise of truth itself. And it very obviously renders the question back:
“Well if there is no absolute truth, then why should I believe the very statement that there is no absolute truth? Isn’t claiming that there is no truth actually making an assertion of truth?”
Relativism by nature undermines itself.
So what’s left?
Jesus said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
There is a God who created the universe. Just as behind every painting there is an artist and behind every building there is an architect, so too behind our delicately balanced eco-systems, our beautifully laid out solar systems and galaxies, behind our moral laws of right and wrong, there is The Artist of artists, the Architect of architects, the Judge and Law-Giver to whom we each must one day give an account of our lives.
Jesus said “I am the Way, the TRUTH and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.”
You may choose to reject that statement as untrue, and that is your right.
But if you care about Truth the logical thing to do, if you were honest with yourself, would be to find out for yourself whether it is True or otherwise.
I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment below.
Next post ….. The “Emergent”-cy of Post-Modernist Christianity
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