Relativism

What Apologetics Can't Do

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By Jojo Ruba

When I was in grade 12, I was part of as many student clubs as I could be. I was elected to be on student council, joined the yearbook club, was part of the choir's musical, and even showed up at a few juggling club meetings. I did all of this while I was taking a full course load. Eventually, the long days and lack of sleep took their toll and the quality of my work suffered. I had to cut back, dropping a few classes and clubs.

When Christians argue against using apologetics, it's important to accept that apologetics also has limitations. Those of us defending the use of apologetics shouldn't exaggerate what a reasoned defense of the faith can do. But even by acknowledging what apologetics can't do, it becomes clear why apologetics is such a necessary part of the Christian life. Here are two of the top things apologetics "can't do" that actually show why apologetics is essential.

1. Apologetics can't replace relationships with people.

I was at a huge Christian youth event when I talked to a young woman who was sitting in an information booth for the conference. As I chatted with her, I mentioned the idea of learning good reasons to share our faith. Her response was that she didn't really spend a lot of time doing that. Instead, she said, she just built relationships with people and that's how people became Christians.

"Conversion is exclusively the role of the Spirit. But we can rationally commend our faith to thers in the confidence that some, whose hearts he has opened, will respond to the apologetic we present and place their faith in Christ." —William Lane CraigThis popular argument against apologetics is attractive, especially for those of us who don't like to "argue" or make others feel uncomfortable. And as apologists, we should be willing to agree that apologetics can't replace relationships. But here's a question that those who hold this view should be asked: "What do you talk about in those relationships to get people to become Christians?"

If you were to adopt the model this young woman advocates for, you would still have to learn how to explain the faith to someone you are in a relationship with. When the atheist you have befriended begins to ask why you believe in the Christian God or why you trust the Bible, would you simply say, "I don't know but you should believe in that God because I'm your friend"? How much of a friend would you be with that attitude?

In contrast, no one I've heard teaching apologetics has ever come out against relationship building. In fact, in our training, we encourage Christians to learn how to begin a conversation so as to be in relationship with others around us.

The other point to remember is that the Bible never says we have to be in relationship with someone before we share our faith with that person. In fact, there are several examples where the opposite happened. For instance, Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell everything he has and then follow Him, prompting that man to leave and not have a relationship with Him (Matthew 19). He also tells a mocking thief that he was going to Paradise based on just a few words and no prior relationship (Luke 23). Philip also showed the Ethiopian eunuch who the Messiah was and then promptly disappeared (Acts 8). This doesn't mean we shouldn't build relationships when we can, but it does mean relationship-building and apologetics aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, relationship-building requires apologetics, though apologetics can be used outside of relationship.

2. Apologetics doesn't appeal to a world that embraces relativism.

I was teaching an apologetics class when Ambrose interrupted the class to argue against what I was teaching on truth. He said that "apologetics" doesn't work because our culture doesn't embrace propositional truths.

This argument is popular among those who embrace the emergent church or the teachings of Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard (though it is debated whether they properly interpret him). The argument basically goes like this: Our culture has rejected modernity and all the hard claims about "truth" because we recognize that truth is subjective—it is always seen through the subjective understanding of flawed people. Therefore, the only way to reach a postmodern culture is to tell them stories instead of "facts." People who embrace the Christian faith do so not because it is more rational, but because it meets their subjective "needs."

Ambrose later wrote a public comment on our Facebook page that even goes further. He says not only is the "modern" view of truth unreliable, it actually contradicts the Christian message. He wrote:

Reason itself has to be sanctified to be of any use. 2 + 2 = 4 has a kind of rightness. But its rightness is defined in a closed system that is part of a fallen order. What becomes of "reason" and "arguments" once they are sanctified? My point is, the modern apologetic obsession with reason and arguments is already too great an acquiescence to the present age and, by association, its ruler. We are called to get a new mind, not one that thinks more skillfully by the world's own definition. The entire underlying worldview of fbb, from what I have seen, is unbiblical.

Now to be fair, Ambrose is right that human reason is tainted by sin. He is also right that apologetics simply doesn't appeal to a postmodern mindset—it doesn't "work" in changing everyone's minds. As apologists we should be willing to accept that apologetics can't make someone rational.

However, we already know this because Jesus promised that when we talk to others about Him, they will say all kinds of evil about us (Matthew 5:11). But this fact doesn't make Jesus conclude that, "Lack of appeal means you shouldn't share reasons for your beliefs!" Rather, He makes clear that our success or failure has nothing to do with whether the person accepts the arguments. Rather, we are commanded to bring these reasons to people so that the gospel can be understood (1 Peter 3:15). In fact, that's exactly why Luke said he wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts so that his friend, Theophilus could know the "exact truth" of what he believed (Luke 1: 1-4).

And surprisingly, Ambrose's own arguments show that he can't escape the need for reason. When he argues against reason, he does so using arguments he thinks are reasonable! In fact, postmodern Christians who chastise apologists for defending the Christian faith must use their own rules of logic to come to their conclusions! They make an observation (culture rejects truth) and come up with a conclusion that they think will help rectify the problem (Christians should reject modernism's obsession with truth). Despite its tainted nature, they can't escape the tool of reason to help them come to their conclusion. Which is why when I asked Ambrose how he came to that conclusion (that is, how did he reason his way to that view?), he never responded.

As Dallas Willard says:

Today, by contrast, we commonly depend upon the emotional pull of stories and images to "move" people. We fail to understand that, in the very nature of the human mind, emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith, if it generates it at all. Not even "seeing" does, unless you know what you are seeing. It is understanding, insight, that generates belief. In vain do we try to change peoples' heart or character by "moving" them to do things in ways that bypass their understanding.[1]

In my next article, I'll discuss two more things apologetics can't do, but which nonetheless underscore its importance.


[1] Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician," Christian Scholar's Review, 28 no. 4 (Summer 1999): 605-614. http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=39.

The Consequences of Relativism from a Christian Worldview

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By Dr. Ron Galloway

The origins of relativism in North America and abroad arose from worldviews that worship nature as the ultimate reality, such as evolution, for example. The Roman letter of Paul warns in the very first chapter that any nation that begins to worship the energy, spirits, or processes of nature are in great peril. Paul explains that they becomes senseless in their reasoning and are en route to destruction if they do not turn away from the worship of the creature and creation, rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.[1]

North America and Europe have it all now: the worship of nature, contact with the spirit world, and hearts filling to overflowing with all the evils that the Roman letter says will fill the human heart when it exchanges the truth about God for a lie.[2] Once a society claims that truth and morality are relative, there remains no limit whatever to the heights and depths, or breadths, that evil can go, for there is no longer any basis for objection or protest against anything. If there is no truth, then who can object? If all that exists is no more than a random product of nature, there can be no evil. Therefore, who can consistently object to any evil of any kind? Evil has been ruled out of existence.

Consistency and Relativism

This is why I find it slightly comical when dyed-in-the-wool moral relativists object to injustice and discrimination. This is more than just a little inconsistent with their doctrine that truth is relative, and right and wrong a matter of taste and preference. Thanks to the continuance of their own God-given human conscience, many relativists still do not know what a hole they have dug for themselves and for the free world. Relativists often say that homosexuality is okay, but that child abuse is a horrible thing. It they are consistent, they must simply admit that they must sanction both, since, according to their own doctrine, right and wrong is simply a matter of taste and preference. Some relativists are already becoming more consistent and starting to advocate that maybe certain adults can have sexual child companions of the same or opposite gender.

Morality is not a preference; you can't choose it like you would a flavour of gelato. (Photo by Alex Gorzen, via Wikimedia Commons)At that point, less consistent relativists protest out of their revulsion at what they view as horrid conduct committed by horrid people.[3] But it should be remembered that a relativist protesting in this way is not practicing what he preaches. How can he or she object when according to their doctrine, all such practices are simply a matter of taste, and each person is entitled to generate his or her own unique set of values?

The more consistent relativists become, the more they will have to allow anything people other than themselves wish to do or believe.

This same kind of vapid and wishful thinking is still being carried on today, by the "powers that be" in our universities, media, and public schools. With all their talk of survival of the fittest, and the relativity of right and wrong, they blissfully assume that with proper guidance students will make the right choices. However their talk of right choices is logically inconsistent. A true relativist cannot talk of right choices at all. He can only talk of preferred choices, but can make no judgment as to what should be preferred and what should not. It just so happens that some students, under their tutelage prefer knives, machetes, and guns.

Relativists, The Great Affirmers

By saying that no judgment can be made about what others choose, moral relativists must affirm whatever another person chooses and thinks is right for them. As long as it satisfies that person, it is automatically right for that person. As John Dewey, the neo-Marxist founder of modern education and co-originator of instrumental pragmatism (along with Charles Pierce and William James) would say, it is true for him.[4] In this way the relativist sanctions what the other person or child chooses for himself. He or she must also admit that objecting to what they choose would be to impose their own values on someone else. This is the great and only sacred taboo of relativists.

When All Is Said and Done It is Simply a Matter of Power

Wedded to their perpetual faith in, and fondness for, saying that no one has a right to impose his or her idea of right and wrong on anyone else, is their passion to fervently preach that morality cannot be legislated. They should, of course, admit that even that belief is simply a product of their own personal values, and therefore must not be imposed on others. Instead of making this admission, they force this belief on others, thereby turning it into an absolute.

Of course relativists might argue that people must co-operate. They might argue that humans have an instinct for survival even though there is no such thing as intrinsic right and wrong. But such a move simply means that the relativist is imposing his or her belief that instincts must be obeyed. That of course is only their value. Besides which, a consistent allegiance to instinct gives licence to any manner of conduct whatever, such as rape, murder, and mass serial killings, to name only a few. After all, the relativists' talk of the instinct for survival really translates to the survival of the fittest in evolutionary doctrine. Then, it is just a case of who is the strongest. Hitler felt the Jews threatened the progress of what he called the Master Race, so he tried to exterminate them. In this way he simply exercised his instinct for survival.

This is always the inevitable outcome of relativism when it is consistently applied. Life becomes a struggle for power, and whoever gains power is able to impose his values on everyone else.[5] This, in theory, is opposed to the dogmas of relativism, but it is the reality of what happens.[6] This is because relativists are generally quite selective about the times they choose not to impose their values on everyone else. There are times when relativists could easily be mistaken for the most dogmatic of absolutists.

No Intrinsic Value to Survival and No Intrinsic Human Worth

There is yet another problem with the relativists' attempt to justify co-operation by reference to the need to survive. For the self-consistent relativist must preach that there is no intrinsic value in surviving or co-operating because according to the relativist no intrinsic values exist. There is then no intrinsic value to human beings, and no such thing as true human nature. Therefore, this is another reason why the relativist cannot impose his value of the need for co-operation on others. Ironically, a consistent relativist cannot even object to the genocidal horrors of Rwanda or even advocate any reason why these people might have averted the horror if they had learned to co-operate with each other. All the relativist can say is what he always must say. Here it comes again: Personally, I don't feel that the slaughter was a good thing, but I wouldn't want to impose my personal values or my preference for co-operation on anyone else.

Political and Collective Consistency On The Rise

Sadly, collectively and politically North American law is becoming ever more consistent with the implications of relativism. After listening to so-called "Progressive Educators" molded in the image of John Dewey, the Father of Modern Education, I can effortlessly see why, in ever-increasing numbers, our teenagers feel no remorse whatever when they rape, lie, steal, or kill. Indeed, the court system all but sanctions these evils as the court itself increasingly transitions away from its Christian heritage into the embrace of moral relativism. I am not at all surprised to see the rising level of hate and violence in the free world. After all, the powers that be in our universities, courts, and social institutions have told our people and their children that truth is relative.

In the words of Paul's letter to the Romans, we have exchanged the truth about God for a lie. If we do not soon see the insanity of the indoctrination our children and teens and young adults have received and are now receiving through Hollywood, the media in general, and the cultural relativism that has long been taught through the public school system (that has so betrayed them), we will soon see evils beyond what we could think or imagine when the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow. When we listened to Jesus our nation grew. He spoke of the great worth of all human beings, a worth so great he died for us. Now He lives within those who love him and teaches them to know the difference between good and evil. In Him we see true goodness and true humanity, apart from Him and by their own choice alienated from His love and mercy, we see increasing dehumanization and the relativism that ever accompanies it.


[1] See Romans chapter 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] It is well known that Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary relativist, commits this inconsistency on a regular basis in his high-sounding moral objections to the God of "The Old Testament."

[4] The co-creators of the philosophy of Instrumental Pragmatism were William James and John Dewey. See James' The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, 1917) and Pragmatism and Four Essays from the Meaning of Truth (New York: Longmans, Green, 1907), and Dewey's Experience and Nature (Chicago: Open Court, 1926) as well as Democracy and Education (New York: Free Press, 1916). See also the Humanist Manifesto I and II.

[5] On this matter, see C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man.

[6] We witnessed this power struggle under Lenin and Stalin, as well as under many militant neo-Marxist regimes. If the neo-Marxism that characterizes our schools and our culture gain sufficient political clout, we may find that North America follows in the train of the former Soviet Union, complete with the Christian purge that took place. We of course witness the same thing in the form of communism in mainland China. All that need happen in Canada for a purge is for the subtle form of relativistic neo-Marxism that presently permeates our culture to abandon subtlety once its proponents are sufficiently representative of the North American political and social and judicial consciousness. We have examples all over the world that show us how very militant relativism is by nature in direct contradiction to its alleged freedom from dogma.