The challenge of naturalism and relativism
The book of Hebrews speaks to our contemporary context concerning philosophies that have made great inroads to the church itself. A fundamental aspect of modernity, and an aspect that still holds profound influence even as our culture is shifting to a postmodern orientation, is naturalism. Naturalism holds that nature constitutes the totality of reality. There is no “supernature” that stands outside the cause-and-effect natural process of the universe. Therefore, all your thoughts, all your feelings, every event you ever experienced (including what you would classify as “religious experiences”), can all be attributed to nature.
Thus, religion becomes a process “from the bottom up,” consisting of human reflections on a concept called “god.” That is, religion originates in the minds of people. There is no such thing as revelation, since there is no god standing above or outside of nature to act upon it. For some modern theologians and biblical critics, this philosophy is a basic assumption.
However, the Book of Hebrews boldly proclaims a perspective diametrically opposed to naturalism. God stands above the natural processes of this world (since He created them) and speaks to humanity. For Hebrews religion works “from top down”; that is, God reveals His truth and His will. His revelation is coherent, consistent and authoritative, and we are obliged both to listen to it and obey it.
This brings us to the problem of relativism for the modern church. This “ism” is much more inherent to postmodernism, the philosophical climate that dominates Western culture as we move into the twenty-first century. Modernism, committed to the absence of anything supernatural, proposed that individual minds, guided by scientific investigation, were the means to arrive at truth and thus to obtain instruction for life. Postmodernism, on the other hand, suggests that “truth” and “reality” are merely perceptions dictated by one’s particular worldview. Since truth is merely a social construct everyone’s “truth” (scientific or otherwise) becomes equally valid. Thus, acceptance (i.e. reckoning all views as equally valid) becomes the most important social norm.
Some currents in postmodernism, especially as expressed at the popular level, are more open to the supernatural than is thoroughgoing modernism. However, the “god” to which some postmodernists are open is a god both ill-defined and tolerant of all expressions of religion. He/she is the mother/father-god of the universe, who welcomes all his/her world children regardless of their belief systems. Since relativism offers no specific god, however, it also offers no specific help personally or socially.
Postmodernism leads, therefore, to devastating moral confusion. As the culture around us, and many within the church, bow to the relativism of postmodernity and as the culture plummets to deeper and deeper levels of social bewilderment and crisis, those who take seriously the biblical witness to the Son as the ultimate Word of God must stand with the Hebrews in stating categorically, “God has spoken.” This proposition not only lays the foundation for Christian preaching but also offers hope for all modern people, providing them with a stable point of reference for life.