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WORLDVIEW ANALYSIS - RELATIVISM

A Paper Presented to Adonis Vidu, Ph.D. Liberty University

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for APOL 500

by Joshua M. Marburger

October 3, 2010

CONTENTS SUMMARY OF RELATIVISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FLAWS OF THE RELATIVISTIC BELIEF SYSTEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SHARING THE GOSPEL WITH A RELATIVIST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1 3 6

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SUMMARY OF RELATIVISM In their hit song Cant Tell Me, which is currently being played on major radio stations in the United States and internationally, the band Soldiers of Jah Army articulates the popular relativistic worldview of modern society by singing: You can't tell me who I am, 'cause I'm working on that too. What's right for me just ain't right for you.1 Relativism is any theory holding that truth or moral or aesthetic value, etc, is not universal or absolute but may differ between individuals or cultures.2 Although, when logically examined, relativism is contradictory because relativism makes the objective truth claim that only subjective truth exists; relativism has pervaded not only popular media, but also public education and even many churches. Despite the self-refuting nature of relativism, modern culture heavily sympathizes with and even demands non-judgmental, reasonable, citizens to tolerate and even accept that all truth is relative. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter instructs Christians to share effectively their faith when he writes: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. In order for a Christian to share the truth of Gods Word effectively with the many people in modern society who hold relativistic worldviews, one must understand the flaws of the relativistic system and how to share the Gospel with a relativist. FLAWS OF THE RELATIVISTIC BELIEF SYSTEM Relativistic belief is inconsistent and self-refuting. In Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted In Mid-Air, a book which forthrightly addresses societys widespread urging for the toleration and

(Soldiers of Jah Army, 2006, Get Wiser, Cant Tell Me, ASIN: B000ERI8AS, DMV Records, [CD]). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, Relativism, [dictionary online] (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, accessed 02 October 2010); available from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/relativism; Internet.
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2 acceptance of relativism, Francis J. Beckwith lucidly articulates that most relativists do not take the implications of their belief system to the inherent, logical conclusions of purely subjective morality. Beckwith writes: For to deny the existence of universally objective moral distinctions, one must admit that Mother Teresa was no more or less moral than Adolf Hitler, that torturing three-year-olds for fun is neither good nor evil, that giving 10 percent of ones financial surplus to an invalid is neither praiseworthy nor commendable, that raping a woman is neither right nor wrong, and that providing food and shelter for ones spouse and children is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.3 To further exemplify the inconsistency of relativism, one simply needs to consider the logical implications of holding a relativistic worldview. Gregory Koukl writes that no one can actually live as a consistent relativist because in order to be a consistent relativist one would have to forfeit the right to complain about: corrupt treatment at work, someone cutting in line at the grocery store, unethical politicians, banks that mismanage money, fundamentalists who force their views on others, or anything/anyone at all!4 Relativism is not rational because even if one holds that a relativistic worldview is advantageous, he or she makes an objective truth claim inconsistent with the logic of holding a relativistic worldview. The primary flaw of a relativistic belief system is that the entire premise of no objective truth exists is self-refuting. When one says no objective truth exists he or she is implying an objective truth. Instead of the false idea that all truth is relative, Norman Geisler writes, Within a statements universe of discourse, every truth is an absolute truth.5 He defends that though truth claims seem relative to where, to when, and to whom they occurred, in reality, the truth Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 13.
4 3

Ibid., 43.

Norman L. Geisler, ed., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 743.
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3 claims are all true in all locations, at all times, to all people in the specific universe of discourse to which the truth statement applied.6 Truth is absolute, and to deny this is ignorantly attempting to make a truth claim to say that no truth exists. Therefore, relativism is inconsistent and selfrefuting. SHARING THE GOSPEL WITH A RELATIVIST Throughout Gods Word, Christians are commanded to share their faith; however, in order to give account for the reason they have hope, words must be understood to convey truth rather than impose a mere opinion of truth. Here lies the challenge in communicating the gospel with a relativist. In order to share the gospel with a relativist convincingly, the Christian apologist must practice incarnational apologetics, must logically confront the self-refuting nature of a relativistic worldview, and must consistently deal specifically rather than generally with individual objections to the Christian faith. In order to reach a relativist, a Christian must demonstrate incarnational apologetics by wrapping his or her faith in flesh, consistently living as a follower of Jesus Christ and narrowing the gap between Christian belief and Christian behavior. David Wheeler writes incarnational apologetics is the representative public and private lifestyle of a Christian that validates to the world the absolute truths of the Bible.7 As a Christian lives surrendered to God, though the world may accuse him or her of doing wrong, the world will notice a difference in the lifestyle of the Christian, and God will be glorified (1 Pet 2:12). Incarnational apologetics is the first step to sharing the gospel with a relativist in a convincing way. Next, in order to share the Gospel with a relativist, a Christian should lovingly point out
6

Ibid.

David Wheeler, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Ergun Caner and Ed Hinson, eds., (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 50.
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4 the inconsistencies of a relativistic worldview. By pointing out the logical fallacies in a relativists argument, a Christian will have the opportunity to present the objective truth of Gods Word and should present the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Norman Geisler wisely stated: While truth is absolute, our understanding of absolute truth is not absolute. As finite creatures, we must grow in our understanding of truth.8 Christians must address the logical fallacies of the relativistic worldview while humbly living and speaking the truth of Gods Word. Confronting the self-refuting nature of a relativistic worldview is the second step in sharing the Gospel with a relativist. Finally, to share the Gospel with a relativist, one must deal with specific rather than general objections and consistently hold that the Bible, Gods Word, is true (2 Tim 3:16). When a Christian deals specifically with individual objections to the Christian faith, a skeptic sees that Christians consistently hold to a logical worldview based on the truth of Gods Word. Consistency is essential in convincing relativists, who are nearly always inconsistent. Christians must apply the command given in 1 Peter 3:15 to address the honest questions relativists ask, and then Christians must carefully articulate why they live differently. Rather than dealing with broad, general issues of sin such as homosexuality or racism in churches, the wise Christian apologist will deal specifically with personal issues that a relativist is personally questioning. To share the Gospel with a relativist effectively, a Christian must the Holy Spirit guide conversation while rationally defending specific truth and lovingly pointing out inconsistencies in a relativists logic. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Ephesus and described people who lost sensitivity to truth and were ignorant due to the hardening of their hearts (Eph 4:19). One must
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Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 745.

5 keep in mind that many people who claim to be relativists do so in order to justify behavior that temporarily brings pleasure but feels wrong to their conscience. Relativistic thought blinds relativists from the light of Gods Word. Peter Kreeft wrote that addicts cannot see objective truth clearly.9 Even so, Christians must practice Incarnational Apologetics, must logically confront the self-refuting nature of a relativistic worldview, and must consistently deal specifically rather than generally with individual objections to the Christian faith with hope that relativists will trust in the objective truth of Gods Word and believe in the Gospel (Rom 10:17; Eph 4:20-21). By understanding the flaws of a relativistic belief system and knowing how to share the Gospel with relativists, a Christian will be able to share the truth of Gods Word effectively with the many people in modern society who hold relativistic worldviews.

To further study relativism, please consult the academic resources listed in the Selected Bibliography at the end of this paper.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 383.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY Beckwith, Francis J., and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998. Caner, Ergun, and Ed Hinson, eds. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008. Geisler, Norman L., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999. Kreft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. Relativism. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/relativism (accessed: October 02, 2010). Soldiers of Jah Army. 2006. Get Wiser. Cant Tell Me. ASIN: B000ERI8AS. DMV Records. (CD).