If you have not read my post: Roads To Nowhere, Pt1, (from last Friday) you should probably do that first. (For a very good representation and/or stereotype of the notion of “absolute truth” of which I speak in that post, click here.)
Regarding the concept of absolute truth mentioned in my previous post, I think that the word “absolute” is a great descriptor for God, but I’m not sure that it’s a great descriptor for truth. “Absolute” is such a strong, line-drawing, conflict-inducing word in our culture. When you say “absolute”, about anything, you are culturally saying in so many words, “What I think is right and what you think is wrong.” This is a cultural turn-off. I theoretically agree with the concept of absolute truth and when I hear you say it, I want to punch you in the face.
I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t Jesus say that he was the way, the truth, and the life? He didn’t say He was one of the ways, one of the truths and one of the lives, did He?”
Well, no, He didn’t include Himself as one option among many; but He did define truth by who He was, not who He was by truth. We don’t worship truth, we worship God.
Truth is not a person; a Person is truth.
Which brings us to the relativity of Jesus. In the last post I stated: “At the risk of gross oversimplification, relativism is essentially a philosophical belief that there is no definitive truth. Knowledge, truth, and morality are expressed only in the ways they are related to culture, perspective and history. Therefore, truth is relative in that every person has unique culture, perspective and history so truth can’t be strictly or strongly defined. What is right for me may not be right for you, and vice versa.”
What about the ways that Jesus handled supposedly absolute truth, though?
In John 4, Jesus begins a conversation with the town tramp about how to quench spiritual thirst forever. In their subsequent discusssions, He lays the truth down for her, “I who speak to you am He.” There it was. Jesus said He was the Messiah and it didn’t matter where you worshipped or what you drank, He alone was worthy of worship and He alone could satisfy. That is absolute truth served up the way Evangelicals like it.
But what about another passage in Matthew 19 where a rich, young man approaches Jesus and asks Him utopian question of modern evangelism, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The absolute truth answer here is “Put your faith in Christ alone for salvation.” Our systematic theologies teach us that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works. The absolute truth of the Gospel.
But that is not what Jesus said.
First, Jesus told this rich, young man to keep the commandments. The rich, young man said that he had kept all of them from his youth. Jesus then told him to sell all his goods and give the proceeds to the poor. This was the path that the Son of God outlined for this young man to inherit eternal life.
Whoa…what happened to absolute truth? Where did I-who-speak-to-you-am-He go? What happened to faith in Christ as the sole means to eternal life? By grace through faith? Where was Jesus’ theology rooted in this evangelistic endeavor?
Jesus’ disregard for His own absolute truth is all over the Gospels. He does it again in Luke 10 when a Pharisee asks the same question as the rich, young man. And again, Jesus responds by directing him to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life.
In Mark 2, four men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. Because of the huge crowds, they cannot get into the house where Jesus was. So they went up on the roof, punched a hole in it, and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus with ropes. Jesus is so impressed with their faith (the faith of the friends, not the faith of the paralytic) that he forgives the paralytic’s sins. Note: He does not heal the paralyzed man initially. Jesus forgives him of his sins because of the faith of the paralyzed man’s friends. Then after the religious leaders — in their hearts — question the Son of God, He reads their mail and then heals the paralyzed man so he can walk.
So much for the absolute truth of the way to salvation. The paralyzed guy never believed for himself at all. What the heck, Jesus?
To repeat: truth is a Person, a Person is not truth.
Truth does not deserve a capital letter. We will not call God “Truth” when we see Him, we will call Him YHWH, for that is His name. Absolutely, God is absolute. Truth though, that seems to be up to Him.
In our evangelism and apologetics, it is important that we bring people to God, not to a system of thought. God is a person and He deals with humanity personally. God is not hemmed in by rules. He willingly and often breaks His “laws” (even natural laws) in order to engage a human with Himself. And He is truth.
I’m not willing to say that truth is relative, but I will say that God as truth relates Himself to humanity. He is absolutely relative to every human in exactly the way that man/woman, boy/girl requires, and lovingly woos them to Himself. He is absolutely personal, incarnational and real.
Absolute truth? Maybe…
Absolute God? Definitely.
So arguing absolute truth is unhelpful. It is a Road To Nowhere. The reason it is a Road To Nowhere is because it is a conversation that is not about God; it is a conversation about truth. Epistemology is definable and efficacious only as it relates to God, comes from God and points to God. So Christians should avoid arguments and empty talk that is about truth without being about God.
In my experience, conversation about God goes somewhere. Conversations about Jesus as the Source of truth go somewhere. Apologetic conversation about absolute truth vs relativistic philosophy is a Road To Nowhere, because it is a conversation that is not about God.
When “all things were created through Him and for Him, and He is before all things and in Him all things hold together”, then we should really keep the conversation about Him.