David Wells writes that, “Truth is now simply a matter of etiquette: it has no authority, no sense of rightness, because it is no longer anchored in anything absolute.” This certainly addresses the issue of why religious pluralism is running rampant. Carl Henry says that “The West has lost its moral and epistemic compass bearings. It has no shared criterion for judging whether human beings are moving up or down, standing still, or merely on the move only God knows where.” Henry goes on to suggest that:
“Once the living God is banished, both Jesus Christ and the Bible become cognitive orphans. Not only are history and nature rendered godless, so that they can be assimilated readily either to mechanical determinism or to chaos, and not only is mankind rendered godless, so that humanity is free to play deity or to consider itself mere soulless specks of cosmic dust, but also the most basic referents of Christianity become embarrassing enigmas.”
Gene Veith concurs in his suggestion that today’s apathy toward truth is because “there is no universal consensus about what is true.” He contends that the postmodern culture “teaches that meaning is created by a social group and its language. According to this view, personal identity and the very contents of one’s thoughts are all social constructions.” Thus, the postmodern person will want to shed any oppressive understanding of truth that “seeks to restrict” one’s autonomy to construct the world as he or she sees it. Postmodernism advocates relativistic variety and rejects restrictive structures that tyrannize individuals with “rules or criteria” for making or defending “truth-claims.”
This philosophical underpinning can be clearly seen in the debate over the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ. Until the participants of the debate can agree about what their epistemological foundations are, there will be no way to even begin the debate or dialogue. While both parties will appeal to an authority for their position, the Christian will point past autonomous reason to God himself. However, while the other participant is “free to reject the authority of Scripture, [he or she] will only substitute some other authority in its place.” Ronald Nash reveals that this is precisely what happened to the philosopher, John Hick. Hick once embraced at least some aspects of orthodox Christianity. However, once he gave up the epistemological foundations for those beliefs, he drifted away from orthodoxy into the pluralism he now embraces. The abandonment of truth in the secular world has certainly made powerful inroads into the church. David Wells comments,
“Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wrench itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning. It may seek substitutes for meaning in committee work, relief work, and various other church activities, but such things cannot fill the role for very long. Cut off from the meaning that God has given, faith cannot offer anything more by way of light in our dark world than what is offered by philosophy, psychology, or sociology. Cut off from God’s meaning, the church is cut off from God; it loses its identity as the people of God in belief, in practice, in hope. Cut off from God’s Word, the church is on its own, left to live for itself, by itself, upon itself. It is never lifted beyond itself, above its culture. It is never stretched or tried. It grows more comfortable, but it is the comfort of anesthesia, of a refusal to pay attention to the disturbing realities of God’s truth.”
This has certainly happened to much of the church at large in our own culture. Christ’s church has mirrored the culture instead of leading it. The result is that instead of clinging to the touchstone proposition of the Christian faith, the church’s anchor has been lifted and many of God’s people are epistemologically adrift. The result is that the polls taken now show that there are as many people in the church as there are outside of the church who reject the notion of objective truth. Yet in the face of this retreat from truth, the contemporary culture has not faced up to the logical consequences of a world and worldview without objective and absolute truth.
And on that note… What might relativism, played out to its logical conclusion look like? Here’s a short film that explores that question, entitled, Cruel Logic by Brian Godwa…