The practice of Christian apologetics faces a new and mostly unrecognized hurdle. Although this hurdle’s pieces and parts are familiar to apologists and worldview thinkers, few have recognized their full implications. It is the new fundamental obstacle to listeners’ and readers’ saying “yes” to Jesus Christ and to Christianity, so much so that for many it stands as a strong barrier against their hearing anything we say. For that reason, addressing it has become essential as a prologue to all apologetics.
For years, apologists have dealt with widespread confusion surrounding the word “truth.” We know that we have to lay a certain groundwork before we can identify and defend the truth of Christianity. We have to explain what we mean by the word truth, so we can effectively persuade others that there is one God revealed uniquely in Christ, whose way of life and salvation is for all persons at all times everywhere.
What we have not grappled with (as far as I have been able to discover) is the quandary this puts our listeners in. We know how to deal with the logical questions of absolute truth, but we have hardly noticed the moral questions attached to it. Maybe that’s because we know that objectively there is no moral difficulty there. The problem is, our listeners don’t know it.
Our listeners are deeply inculcated with the morality of relativism. I am not speaking of moral relativism, but rather the morality of relativism, which is (for our culture) as absolute as it could possibly be. It is the belief that virtue consists in holding all beliefs as equal, and that the one who holds to an absolute truth is arrogant, intolerant, and generally a bad person. When we tell some audience that Christ is the unique and only Truth, and when we amass arguments in support of that, our listeners might agree to our evidences and reasons. But there’s something else going on in their minds at the same time:
I am being asked to believe there is one truth that applies to all persons at all times, regardless of whether they agree with it or not. All my life, though, I’ve been persuaded that to believe in one truth that way is to be a bad person. Therefore I perceive that this speaker/writer/teacher is asking me to become a bad person.
Is that wrong thinking? Sure. But it’s pervasive. We can address it, and we have to.
Four times in the past two months I’ve given my talk titled The Truth Holds Us. (It’s an adaptation of my blog’s theme post, also called “The Truth Holds Us,” with material also included from “Not One of the Universe’s Nice Ideas.”) At the end of that recorded talk I asked, “Was this helpful?” and you can hear someone emphatically answer “yes!” I asked a similar question another time, and one person said, “This is refreshing!”
(Update 1/6/2011: The full-length (28-minute) version of that talk.)
What’s so helpful about it? It shows that it’s morally okay to believe in Christ as the one truth; that we can be Christians and we don’t have to worry about it making us bad people. Imagine not knowing that! Imagine how hard it would be to say yes to Christ while thinking it’s going to make you an immoral person. Imagine the sense of freedom when you finally understand it’s not that way!
You can consider this a plug for my talk if you like. I would be glad to come share it with your conference, class, church, or other group (click the “Speaking” link above).
Beyond that, though, I’m speaking to other apologists. The basics of what I’ve shared here are very familiar to you, and you could easily develop your own message on this topic. By all means, take the idea and run with it! And if you’ve already been speaking or writing on this topic, I would be grateful to hear about it.
“Engaging … exhilarating! … This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year.” — Lee Strobel
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