3.07.2006

Truth, Relevancy, and Pluralism:

Our world and specifically—America is a pluralistic society. Meaning we accept numerous religions. We have Judaism, the Church of Christ, Baptist (of all kinds), Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, New Age, Unitarians, Hare Krishna’s, Buddhist, Islam, Bahai Faith, Mormon’s, Unification Church, Christian Science, Scientology, etc. As a people, we are in the throws of deciding how to be tolerant and yet maintain absolute truths.

As a result of post-modernism, truth is publicized as relative. Meaning, truth is truth for you but is not necessarily truth to me. I have my truth and you have yours. Relativism is values and judgments differing according to circumstances, persons, cultures, etc. Relativism destroys truth.

I do not espouse intolerance, but The Truth. There can only be one truth. Our world is under the deception that, “Good Christians Should Accept Other Faiths!” or “Or Just Accept People As They Are!” Many quote the words of Paul, “Love Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ) They use this text to imply that Christians are taught to, essentially, compromise their beliefs for the beliefs of others. This is not what Paul had in mind here. “Love bears all things: the Greek verb is related to the word for a roof. It may mean, "supports or carries the universe," but more probably Paul means here that love bears or endures all kinds of ill treatment.”[1]

Webster’s defines tolerance as, “The endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expression of offensive opinions; toleration.” Today, however, a NEW definition of tolerance is being touted. For example, Josh McDowell in his book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict quotes Thomas A. Helmblock, exec. VP of Lambda Chi Alpha frat. He says this, “the definition of new…tolerance is that every individual’s beliefs, lifestyles, and perception of truth claims are equal…your beliefs and my beliefs are equal, and all truth is relative.”[2] Obviously, this definition is invalid and does violence to the original meaning of tolerance.

Philosophers maintain that truth is what is relevant to our reality or life and false if it is not. Truth then becomes subjective or merely personal. This is an attempt to make truth inclusive, which defies its obvious nature, which is in some way exclusive from non-truth. Truth must, as a consequence of its nature, exclude as false that which is NOT true. Norman Giesler, a noted Christian philosopher said, “What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true or the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.”[3]

Those who feel truth is relevant end up in a pool of uncertainty and basically asserting that truth is not knowable. Some have said, “We cannot know truth, it is unknowable.” That is a self-contradicting statement. One who says such things is making an absolute claim to “know”. You cannot say absolutely that truth cannot be known in a truth statement. To suggest we cannot know anything is to contradict oneself because one has just expressed a positive knowledge of something.

Some reply to Pentecostal certainty with, “How do you know you are not wrong?” This question is foolish because it assumes that truth is vague or even relative to you and puts the basis of truth on humanity and not the scriptures. The same can be asked of anyone who claims absolute truth. A reply to such a question could be, “How do you know that I am?” Hopefully, this will bring the focus back to the scriptures.

It is true that Austin is the capital of Texas; there is exclusively no other city that can hold that title. In fact, no other city in America or the World can lay legitimate claim to being the capital of Texas. Therefore, just because one city is the capital of Texas does not mean the people who hold to this truth are intolerant. It simply makes that person correct about the capital city of Texas. The same is true about Christianity. If the claims of the Christian faith are true—then Christians who believe and teach this are not intolerant. They are only correct.

Geisler wrote, “Surely, it is good to admit the possibility that one might be wrong and never good to maintain a position no matter what the evidence is against it. Also, one should never make a firm decision without examining all the evidence without prejudice. That is the half-truth that ropes us into this view, but a half-truth is a whole lie. Are we still to remain open-minded when all reason says that there can be only one conclusion? That is the same as the error of the closed mind. In fact, openness is the most closed-minded position of all because it eliminates any absolute view from consideration. What if the absolute view is true? Isn’t openness taken to be absolute? In the long run, openness cannot really be true unless it is open to some real absolutes that cannot be denied. Open-mindedness should not be confused with empty-mindedness. One should never remain open to a second alternative when only one can be true.”[4]

Paul urged the Ephesians to speak the "truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Notice he maintains that truth should be presented yet done so in love. The Greek word for love in the text is agape, this type of love is rooted in concern and interest [5] for the other person and not selfish gain or selfish motives. Paul does not say that we will be understood all the time or that truth speakers will always be accepted. In fact, this is not the case many times. Yet, truth must be proclaimed. Truth is the opposite of non-truth. Our world is wasting in the pool of confusion and uncertainty because to humanity truth has become a situational and merely personal. Jesus said that we will know truth and that truth will set us free (John 8:32), free from darkness, free from uncertainty, free from depression, and free to know the truth of a loving Savior.


FOOTNOTES:
[1] The UBS Handbook Series. Copyright (c) 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies
[2] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, “Introduction” pg. xxxix Thomas Nelson Publishers © 1999 by Josh D. McDowell
[3]Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker reference library (Page 742). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
[4]Geisler, Norman L., and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990.
[5] Newman, B. M. (1993). Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (Page 2). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.

2 comments:

Nate said...

Hi, I found your site through thepentecostalprincess.blogspot.com and would like to say that I enjoy conversations (or discussions) about philosophy and religion, although I would say that I'm not much into religion as much as I'm into spirituality. Granted, I realize that you can't really have one without the other but I feel that spirituality is more important than religion.

Now to my discourse and the pontificating of my thoughts on Truth, Relevancy, and Pluralism (although I won't really touch on pluralism much).

I feel that postmodernism is coming to an end and that relativism takes on many forms. No, I don't have sources to cite but I'm sure I could find some if needed.

I do believe in a perceptual relativity. In other words, I believe that there is a Truth but our perceptions of that truth will differ one from another. And it can be proven by the many denominations that are present within Christianity, even if you only look within the Pentecostal movement.

You say that relativism destroys truth but then if truth is destroyed, was it really truth? I would say that relativism destroys our perception of truth, even better, I would say that relativism destroys our thoughts that we are right about truth and allows truth to be what it is, that is, truth irregardless of our perception. That will, in turn allow, for an equality of perceptions.

Also, truth may exclude all that is false but it's our journey that allows us to flow from farce to truth, doing so over a period of time, not in an instance. A journey of getting closer to truth and further away from non-truth. As we get closer to truth, our non-truth becomes less, but it is always there through our perception of the truth which is set before us. Never ceasing until that day that we have have been captured by that which we chase.

You quoted Norman Giesler as saying: “What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true or the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.”

But I can differentiate that which is real vs. that which is perception of that which is real. A pen is a pen, a gun is a gun, but that which is relevant to my life is unable to be objectified so simply by paralleling it to a tangible item.

In other words, our experience, through culture and upbringing will influence how we see truth. And experience isn't tangible. It is something that influence every single thing we do, and we are constantly experiencing something different that, in turn, influence how we percieve things. That perception is flawed and no perception is less flawed or more flawed, therefore every perception is equal.

Another example, my reaction to God's moving in a church service will be relative to it's relevance to my life as I'm living it now. [Off subject]Which is a bit of deconstruction because the two words (relative and relevance) can kind of work at each other and be very close in definition.[/off subject] The question isn't if you and I have the same experience and same result from the same movement because that will, more than likely, not happen. We will each walk out of the service each getting something different from the same move of God.

Now, to be honest, I'm sure there are some postmoderns and moral relativists out there that have only one concrete statement and that all truth is relative, which is, obviously a contradictory statement. But I fear that we are fighting a fight against an idea that is itself a terminal idea. Not that it kills but it is destined to fail.

The idea isn't to fight a fight. It isn't to change people. It's to reach people where they are that Jesus might change them. The problem I have with much of the 'answers' that are coming from mainstream Christianity is that they are based around something that isn't relevant anymore. While there are some who do believe this, there are many, many more who don't and find themselves in a box labeled pluralist/moral relativist with a sub label of heretic. And that isn't true.

Another example that perception is relative. And thanks for allowing me to post and I look forward to a great conversation.

James Anderson said...

Nate:

Thanks for you comments, they are good ones. I look forward to dialoguing with you here. I think that PM may be taking its last breath as well, but it has done some good and bad things. For example, it has broken some traditional barriers that allow people to question presuppositions. Wheras before they were locked into The Grid, so to speak. It has also been negative in some ways because through relativism is has blurred the absolutes.

Absolutes is basically what my paper was about. Not subjective nuances that don't really make a difference. Absolute truths are those, mainly, that relate to scripture and God, as far as my paper is concerned.

I think we should ask, is perceptual relativity equal to truth? No. Can perceptual relativity arrive at the truth? yes. Perceptual relativity is not negative in every sense, we all believe in some form of it. Yet on the level of absoulte truth it is dangerous. I am not sure in what arena you are referencing it though. Our pereceptions are our realities; however, our realities can be negative ones or false ones. Ones that our presuppositions have formed for us through culture. An Islamic pereception is that there will be 70 virgins awaiting them after martyrdom. That is their perceptual reality, yet is it authentic? No.

Relativism destroys the idea of truth. Genuine truth can be affected by relativism. For example, abortion and homosexuality are clearly wrong. That is a truth. However, our culture has worked hard at making this a situational ethic or a transtional moral. It is relative person to person. However, abortion is murder and homosexuality is an abomination. Yet, in our society it is becoming normative for both, at least homosexuality. Decadent societies of the past are examples of how truths became swallowed up by rationalization until it was not even a norm. Yet, it remains a truth on some level although it is neglected.

Relativism also defies the proper use of truth. If we are referencing the capital of Texas we know it to be Austin. Relativism would argue that it may be Austin to you but not to me. A truth is a state of being the case or a fact. When facts and truths are blurred we have distorted truths.

Scholars have concerned themselves with what is called the heremeneutic spiral, as it relates to theology, which is basically the process by which humans remove pretext and presuppositions as they study the Word of God. You are right, each of us have presuppositions because of our cultural upbringings. However, that does not make them right, by Illumination of the Holy Spirit we are led to the right interpretation. Don't be mistaken though, this does not leave the canon open for new revelation. Our revelations should be accountable to the texts. In other words, a spiritual revelation that is void of scripture should not be a doctrine. An historical reference here is Martin Luther--a Catholic. As a Catholic he saw salvation by works. Yet, through study of the scriptures and Illumination he came be salvation through faith. His presuppositions (catholicism) were weeded out and he saw truth.

If we approach the texts being aware of our pretexts and presuppositions we will be quicker to complete the spiral and arrive at a more objective understanding.

Any analogy will break down eventually, yet Geisler's stands because it affirms the basic fundamental of truth. Something either is or isn't. One of the laws of logic tells that something cannot be and not be in the same sense. That is the point. Just because one has a perception of something does not make that perception true, just that the perception exits. Possibly falsely.

I think, ultimately, we are not discussing truths when we discuss perceptual realities. Those are subjective and would probably be better called cultural norms or presuppositions. A truth is just that--truth. It is the state of being a fact. If something does not fit that criteria then it should be called by another name.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)