Monday, August 20, 2007

Moral Relativism and the Decline of Doctrine

During the riots following the OJ Simpson verdict in 1992, Rodney King made an appearance before news cameras and uttered “Can we all just get along.” And a new day dawned for moral relativism in America, ushering in an era where truth depends on your point of view. This relativistic thinking has now infiltrated the Christian arena and people are now saying things like “Can’t we just talk about Jesus?” The answer is an emphatic no!

Disregarding proper doctrine is not only foolish, it can be fatal. If you do not have a right understanding of the person and work of Christ, you will end up on the same road with the JW and LDS, who talk about Jesus also, but their Jesus is impotent, he cannot save anyone, and that road leads to hell.

Moral relativism makes claims along the lines of “True for you, but not for me.” “That’s just your interpretation.” And “There are no absolutes.” Moral relativists believe they are being tolerant, but nothing could be further from the truth. They say there are no absolutes while holding this statement as an absolute. So right from the start the system is contradictory. There are seven fatal flaws in relativism, they are:

  1. Relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing-If you believe morality is a matter of personal definition, then you surrender the possibility of making moral judgments about others’ actions.
  2. Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil-Evil can’t be real if morals are relative to the subject.
  3. Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise-No external standard of measurement defines what should be applauded or condemned.
  4. Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice-Both concepts dictate that people receive equal treatment based on an external standard.
  5. Relativists can’t improve their morality-Moral reform implies an objective rule of conduct as the standard to which we ought to aspire.
  6. Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions-A meaningful ethical dialogue can be held only when moral principles are seen as universal action guides.
  7. Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance-If there are no moral rules there can be no rule that requires tolerance as a moral principle that applies equally to all.

Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl summed it up in their book Relativism-Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air by saying:

What kind of world would it be if relativism were true? It would be a world in which nothing is wrong—nothing is considered evil or good, nothing worthy of praise or blame. It would be a world in which justice and fairness are meaningless concepts, in which there would be no accountability, no possibility of moral improvement, no moral discourse. And it would be a world in which there is no tolerance.

Truth is that which corresponds to reality. And reality is objective. If someone says to you that reality is created by each person, he has already contradicted himself, for he assumes that his statement, at least, is universal and applies to everyone universally; therefore his statement is self refuting and cannot be true.

So moral relativism is self defeating and unlivable. This has not stopped it from being embraced by the Christian community however.

Modern church leaders seem obsessed with methodology, psychology, pragmatics, attendance figures, felt needs, popularity polls, and the like—all to the detriment of biblical doctrine. And when doctrinal understanding declines, real discernment becomes impossible.

Today it seems that anyone concerned with doctrine is looked upon as pharisaical. The biblical condemnation of pharisaical legalism is misread as a denunciation of doctrinal clarity.

Today Christians are content to gloss over the surface of biblical truth and not go any deeper. They justify their indifference as a refusal to be legalistic. They dismiss as pharisaical narrow-mindedness any attempt to declare truth authoritatively. Doctrine divides therefore any concern for doctrinal matters is seen as unchristian.

As doctrine has been deemphasized, the church has moved from preaching the Word to other activities: drama, music, entertainment—things designed to evoke an emotional response rather than enlighten the mind. Some movements have supplanted doctrine with experience. Psychology has elevated “felt” needs over real needs and behavioral theory over revealed truth. All this has accelerated the move away from doctrine and focused the pulpit message on everything but the objective truth of Scripture. Preachers have become comedians, storytellers, therapists, showmen, and entertainers rather than powerful envoys of divine truth.

The secular culture has pulled the Christian community into a mindset where feelings and senses have become our determiners of truth. But this too is a dangerous road. Who amongst us has not fallen in love only to have the relationship end and find out our feelings have been wrong? So we see our feelings can mislead us. Look at a piece of paper with a circle drawn on it, what do you see? A circle. Now hold the paper horizontally, what do you see? An oval, so our senses can deceive us as well. Where does that leave us? With reason. Our thinking is what we can rely on as long as we think critically. As long as we follow the rules of logic and critical thinking, we will discover the truth.

The Bible gives many examples of Christian reasoning; here are a couple:
Acts 17:2 says:

And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

And Acts 18:9 says:

They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

So now we understand faulty thinking and how to arrive at the truth, what do we do now?

Scripture teaches us this as well. 1st Thes 5:21 says:

but test everything; hold fast what is good.

And Titus 1:9 says:

holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

Understanding doctrine will also lead to the truth, but not just doctrine, right doctrine. Scripture warns us that we will be lead astray, grabbing on to what sounds good to us. We cannot let this happen. No matter how good something sounds to you, you must test it in light of scripture and be sure it is true. 2 Tim 4:3 tells us what will happen:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires

So we have seen the flaws of the modern relativist thinking, how it has infiltrated the church, and how to refute it. Now I call you all to make sure you have the truth, and be prepared to dismantle error. Our job as Christians is to be so familiar with the truth, when error looms on the horizon we see it coming miles away.

1 Peter 3:15 says:

but  sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Well written. Well thought out. I'll be recommending this post to Christians in my circle of influence.