The Challenge of Relativism: How Christians Should Respond
One of the greatest challenge for the 21st century Christian is that of relativism. To illustrate this point consider the following scenario: You are at Bible study. You hear someone “share” their thoughts on a passage. They don’t focus on what the author of the text says, but rather on “I feel this passage says” with the end result of an appeal to emotions rather than biblical truth or fact. Now don’t get me wrong as there is a place for sharing feelings. Yet there is a difference between sharing feelings and interpreting the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word. When we come to the Bible only to share our thoughts about what it says, we run the risk of committing one of the most egregious errors of our age, namely to base what we believe on our feelings rather than in the timeless objective truth of God’s holy Word.
I spent a number of years when I lived in Seattle walking the streets ministering to homeless people in downtown Seattle. Now that I don’t live in Seattle, I often engage in conversations in coffee shops for the purpose of sharing Christ with people. What I have seen over the course of my time trying to reach non-Christians is they often lead with “I feel” this or that. They may not say, “I feel” or they may begin with “I think this” and then state what they believe. The problems with this are many and while everyone in a sense leads with “I feel” statements, the issue with this is Christians are not to ground their faith in feelings nor communicate that their faith is based on feelings.
Christians have an objective Word that confronts a subjective world. The Word of God provides the authoritative foundation for the Christians faith and practice. This means that their entire world is confronted by the reality of God’s presence and work in and through His Word and His Son Jesus. This is precisely why relativism is a challenge because you may hear someone state, “I feel that this means this” and nobody wants to come close to being perceived as mean-spirited by stating, “I don’t care how you feel”. This begs the question as to how Christians should respond to this challenge.
Christians should respond to the challenge of relativism by undegirding their efforts in the Word of God by proclaiming the superiority of the biblical worldview to that of relativism. Christians can engage people where they are even if they don’t have all the answers to people’s objections to biblical Christianity. When Christians minister to the lost and broken, they do so out of the conviction that they are to love God and our neighbor. What better way to show your non-Christian neighbor you love them than by engaging them as to why they have their particular worldview and how they came to that belief. Such an approach efforts to respond to relativism by treating people as created in the image of God and needing the redemption that Christ offers.
People today are interested in spiritual matters but not in the same way as they were in the past. In today’s society, most people want to know you care about them on a personal level, with the understanding that your conversation with them is based on a concern about who they are and where they are at in life rather than simply trying to win them over to a certain position or belief. In my experience, what non-Christians want to see from Christians is that they truly do love God and love their neighbor. This is the very thing Jesus said sums up all of Scripture and thus to truly follow God’s Word means loving our neighbor. Demonstrating care and concern for non-Christians as people in need of God’s love is to show that we believe what Jesus has said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Christians today is Christians themselves. We often think that our position is the only one that matters. Jesus taught that He is the Way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), a statement that provides the framework for why Christians hang their hats on Jesus’ perfectly sufficient and finished work in His death, burial and resurrection. Yet at the same time, many Christians would rather not ask hard questions about what they believe what they do and why what they believe matters. When confronted with difficult questions, some if not most Christians tend to make excuses for why they don’t know the answers rather than be honest and transparent about what they do and do not know. By taking this approach, Christians communicate to non-Christians that they aren’t concern to know what they believe and how that belief should inform the way they live their Christian life. The Gospel is the power of God. Yet, how Christians communicate the Gospel often times undermines the very message we claim to believe. With that said, despite our foibles, God uses the foolishness of His people’s efforts for His glory to expand His Kingdom.
The Bible has much to say about how Christians are communicate their faith. For example, Christians are called to be a people who control their tongue (James 3) and who speak to one another with words seasoned by grace (Colossians 4:6). So how does that relate to the challenge of relativism? Since Christians are called to proclaim a message that confronts the “I feel” attitude, we need to be careful to proclaim what we believe and why it matters to a watching world in a way that honors God and brings Him glory. We do this by communicating the truth of God’s objective truth from His Word by saying, “This is what God has said” rather than “I feel this means this or states this because of…” The Christian is called to proclaim the authoritative Word that confronts the proud and calls sinners to become saints and rebels, servants of His grace. The sad truth is at the end of the day, many people will not be persuaded by the Gospel. Instead of coming to Christ non-Christians would rather continue living under the banner of their feelings than base their thoughts and lives on the authoritative Word of God.
Proclaiming the Gospel and confronting the challenge of relativism requires great care not only in how we handle the Word of God, but also in how the Gospel is proclaimed to the people we are preaching to. Jesus calls His people to love Him and their neighbor. I challenge you to love Jesus by grounding your whole life in the Word of God which contains the Gospel, for the purpose of loving your neighbor with the Word and the message of the Gospel. By taking this approach, you will be able to respond to the challenge of relativism with both your life and the Gospel message which are to increasingly reflect the message of the Gospel. In conclusion, the best way ultimately to deal with and respond to the challenge of relativism in the 21st century is with a life that mirrors the Word of God by the grace of God to the glory of God.