Summary: The epistemological validity of the Christian Faith. The relativism of Christianity in a postmodern world.
"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth."
Paul has clearly stated his reason for writing Timothy in the above verses (1 Timothy 3.14-15). His statement is at odds with the prevailing relativism of a western postmodernist worldview. The church, Paul contends, is the repository of truth about the work and person of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of and acceptance of this truth is essential for all people in all places and at all times. Whatever else one may claim to be true, it is subservient to Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation (Colossians 1.15-20). This is not to minimize the importance of the empirical sciences, nor to devalue the speculations of philosophy. Yet these things may only be properly appreciated when they are understood in the context of their relationship to the purpose of creation. In this two part message, we will first consider how truth is popularly conceived and in the second part what Paul has to say about the truth of work and person of Christ.
TRUTH IN A POSTMODERN WORLD
Can anyone know right from wrong? A few years ago such a question would have raised more than a few eyebrows. Today hardly a person would claim to know the answer to that question. What does the Bible have to say about it? In a culture that is increasingly confused about morality, there are few people who speak up about moral absolutes. Relativism is the prevailing and determinative epistemology (theory of knowledge). Alan Bloom argues in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, that the open mindedness of pluralism will be the savior of western culture. (Let me add parenthetically that G. K. Chesterton said he always kept an open mind until he found something solid on which to close it.) Religiously minded people, in an attempt to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, are often seduced by an ill-founded appeal to be tolerant of the thoughts of others to recognize the obviousness that all things are somewhat relative. But the truth is that relativism is simply a variant form of anti-rationalism. It is a war against reason that has come to dominate the way in which people process information. In the academic circles of literature, social sciences and philosophy it is frequently referred to as the deconstructionist movement. Addressing this movement in education, Dinesh D’Souza commented in an issue of the Atlantic Monthly (March 1991): it is no exaggeration to say that the changes that are taking place are a revolution in ‘higher education.’ There is a kind of liberal closed mindedness that is driven by political expediency rather than a quest for truth and excellence.
Jacques Derrida, a past professor at Duke University and known as the intellectual father of deconstructionism, rejected the idea that human beings can rise above their circumstances. That is, everyone is presumed to be a product of his or her race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. All principles and standards are subordinate to political and social pressure and expediency. However, when these forces drive a culture in an ‘undesirable direction,’ it is impossible, under the terms now considered politically correct, to develop any reason to resist these social movements which are not deemed arbitrary. Of course, one cannot properly study or discuss the nuances of deconstructionism without depending on ‘un-deconstructed’ concepts. Though many people are influenced at a popular level by this system of thought, it is in the end a house of cards. It is a philosophical labyrinth that succeeds only in distorting true morality. There are no moral or ethical absolutes. There is no moral truth that transcends culture. There remains only popular consensuses of morality. The rules of relativism prohibit ethical debates. The questions that remain focus on what is politically correct. Having forsaken God’s moral absolute in the Garden of Eden (And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” – Genesis 2.16) the only thing that remains is an arbitrary indignation and a rage at subjectively perceived injustices.
BIBLICAL TRUTH AND SCIENCE
A few years ago I read John Polkinghorne’s little book, Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, and was impressed once again with the reasonableness of a biblical faith. Polkinghorne was a particle physicist and the former president of Queen’s College at Cambridge. When he retired from research and teaching he took orders to become an Anglican clergyman. Many might consider these two disciplines about as compatible as the solubility of oil and water. Of course, it is common to think of religion as a matter of the heart (or a flight of fantasy), which, by definition, is incompatible with the hard facts of science. Religion, so the argument goes, is speculative but science is investigative. The former deals with the metaphysics of the mind and the latter with the reality of the cosmos. The popular habit of segregating “truth” is nothing more than the illegitimate child of logical positivism (a philosophy which postulates that only sense perceptions can be adequate building blocks for epistemology). The fact is, truth knows of no such boundaries between science and religion. What is true of science is also true in the realm of religion. Faith is not something devoid of reason. Indeed, Paul Davies, in his book, God and the New Physics, says, “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion science offers a surer path to God than religion.” Indeed, there is a rapidly growing list of scientists and a philosophers who have come to espouse a faith in God because the weight of scientific evidence suggests His existence. The Bible gives the only adequate definition of God (read Philosophers Who Believe, Inter Varsity Press).