Absolutism vs. Relativism: Is there Another Way?


Sorry.  I know this is lame.  But, I was organizing some of the files on my computer and I ran across this proposal I wrote last year to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture for an article.  It didn’t get accepted, so I never wrote the article.  I thought I’d go ahead and put it up though to see if you all have any thoughts on this topic, or if you’d like to see this article written anyway.  Feel free to leave some comments at the bottom of the post.

In the midst of the culture wars, deep philosophical shifts are challenging old ways of thinking. As a culture of post-modernity encroaches upon ground that was previously held by religion, the presuppositions of all faiths are being challenged by new, competing ideas. Religion charges post-modern culture with Relativism — a tenet that religion claims is unsustainable. This critique is not without validity: no philosophy can stand for long that admits its lack of foundation, and does not recognize a need for such epistemological certainty. The relativizing of post-modernity will surely collapse under a generation of those disillusioned by its inability to deliver that which it has no principle nor authority to deliver.

And yet, with equal vigor and voice, the culture of post-moderns counter-charges religion with an absolutizing which they feel has no principle nor authority to claim as certain. Regardless of post-modernity’s own merits, it has revealed, correctly I feel, lapses in the philosophical sustainability of the current presuppositions that religion, namely modern American Evangelicalism, are based upon. It has shown that the traditional defense of Evangelical authority to claim absolute truth is ultimately circular: that it itself is the absolute truth so it can declare that which is such. The truth of this statement notwithstanding, it is philosophically and practically untenable in a post-post-modern world. A new principle by which to understand religion’s place in a post-modern culture must be realized.

It is then my contention that a proper synthesis of Absolutism and Relativism must take place in the form of a principle of Contextualization. Surely this is how the Christian church, before Evangelicalism, functioned in its own right. How else could the church’s treatment of slavery, for example, shift from the apostle Paul to William Wilberforce, and yet theological orthodoxy remain the same all the while? How does the Christian faith evolve, playing off of the culture it finds itself in, while never changing the foundation upon which it stands? This paper will explore these questions and attempt to develop a principle where both faith and pragmatism may meet, and in the process, perhaps help bridge the battle lines of the culture wars forged in the name of truth.

UPDATE: I just realized that perhaps, in many ways, I may have already written this article without even knowing it.    The article “A Theology of Ethics, Truth, & Contemporary Applications” that I wrote for Reform & Revive magazine, in fact, may very well answer many of the questions I raised in this proposal.  If this piqued your interest, head on over there, read the article and see if it addresses things satisfactorily.

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One thought on “Absolutism vs. Relativism: Is there Another Way?

  1. Pingback: Debates with Atheists (And Good News for Them) | the long way home

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