It is an extraordinary claim. As Jesus stood trial before the most powerful person in Judea, the Caesar-appointed procurator Pontius Pilate, he states his reason for coming into this world. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). It is to this claim that Pilate, unsettled by Jesus’ statement, asks the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate questions the very nature of truth, seemingly dismissive and blind to the presence of truth standing before him (see John 14:6). As this question reverberates from the mouth of Pilate through the corridors of time, each generation attempts to provide an answer. Is truth subjective or objective? Does truth apply universally or is it bound by culture? Is it relative or absolute? What is truth and can we trust the claim Jesus makes?

The CSB Apologetics Study Bible is geared toward providing Christians with answers to these types of questions. With over 130 articles addressing apologetic issues, introductions to each book of the Bible, profiles of key apologists from Church history, and dozens of examples of how different religions twist the Scriptures, the CSB Apologetics Study Bible can help strengthen and defend your faith from all opposition.

Here is an article adapted from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible on the topic of relativism by author, apologist, and professor, Paul Copan.

Can Something Be True for You and Not for Me?

“It’s all relative.” “That’s true for you but not for me.” “That’s just your reality.” “Who are you to impose your values on others?” The relativist believes truth functions more like opinion or perspective and that truth depends upon your culture, context, or even personal choices. Thus evil actions by Nazis or terrorists are explained away (“We don’t like it, but they have their reasons”). Relativism, however, is seriously flawed.

Relativism cannot escape proclaiming a truth that corresponds to reality.

“The moon is made of cheese” is false because it does not match up with the way things are, with what is the case. As Christians, we claim the biblical story is true because it conforms to the actualities of God’s existence and his dealings with human beings. Truth is a relationship—a match-up with what is real or actual. An idea is false when it does not. But what of those making such claims as “Reality is like a wet lump of clay—we can shape it any way we want” (a relativistic idea known as antirealism)? We can rightly call such statements into question. After all, these persons believe that their view corresponds to the way things are. If you disagree with them, they believe you are wrong. Notice, too, that they believe there is at least one thing that is not subject to human manipulation—namely, the unshakable reality that reality is like a wet lump of clay that we can shape any way we want to! So we can ask: “Is that lump-of-clay idea something you made up?” If it applies to everyone, then the statement is incoherent. If it doesn’t, then it’s nothing more than one’s perspective. Why take it seriously? And if there’s no objective truth or reality, how do we know that our beliefs are not delusional?

Relativism is self-contradictory.

If someone claims to be a relativist, don’t believe it. A relativist will say that your belief is true for you but his is true for him; there is no objective truth that applies to all people. The only problem is that this statement itself is an objective truth that applies to all people! (Even when he says, “That’s true for you but not for me,” he believes his view applies to more than just one person!) To show the self-contradictory nature of relativism, we can simply preface relativistic assertions this way: “It’s objectively true that ‘That’s true for you but not for me’” or “It’s true that ‘There is no truth.’” The bold contradiction becomes apparent. Or what of the line that sincere belief makes something (Buddhism, Marxism, Christianity) true? We must ask, is this principle universal and absolute? Is it true even if I don’t sincerely believe it? That is, what if I sincerely believe that sincere belief does not make something real? Both views obviously cannot be true.

The basis and conclusion of relativism are objectively true.

Ask the relativist why she takes this view. She’ll probably say, “So many people believe so many different things.” The problem here is that she believes this to be universally true and beyond dispute. Furthermore, she believes that the logical conclusion to draw from the vast array of beliefs is that relativism must be the case. The relativist doesn’t believe that all these different beliefs are a matter of personal preference. The basis for relativism (the variety of beliefs), and the conclusion that relativism obviously follows from it, turn out to be logical and objectively true for all people, not just the relativist!

Relativism will always be selective.

People usually aren’t relativists about the law of gravity, drug prescription labels, or the stock index. They’re usually relativists when it comes to God’s existence, sexual morality, or cheating on exams. But try cutting in line in front of a relativist, helping yourself to his property, or taking a sledgehammer to his car, and you will find out that he believes his rights have been violated! Rights and relativism don’t mix. But if “it’s all relative,” why get mad at anyone?

Relativism is usually motivated by a personal agenda—the drive for self-control.

Atheist philosopher John Searle uncovers what’s behind relativism: “It satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the ‘real world.’” We want to be in charge. Now, pointing out one’s motivation is not an argument against relativism; still, it’s a noteworthy consideration. Truth often takes a backseat to freedom. But clearly, when a person shrugs off arguments for the inescapability of objective truth with “Whatever,” he has another agenda in mind. Relativism makes no personal demands upon us—to love God, to be people of integrity, to help improve society. Even if relativism is false, it is convenient.

Strengthen Your Faith with the CSB Apologetics Study Bible

The CSB Apologetics Study Bible is just the resource you need to equip yourself for standing strong against opposing objections to the truth (also available in the HCSB translation). Visit the store today and get your copy so that you may “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).

1 Comment

  1. J.Boakai Paasewe Reply

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