Saturday, May 11, 2013

Absolutism/relativism



It is not easy to resist the contemporary tide of thinking and feeling which seems to sweep us irresistibly in the direction of an acceptance of religious pluralism, and away from any confident affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It is not easy to challenge the reigning plausibility structure. It is much easier to conform. The overwhelming dominance of relativism in contemporary culture makes any firm confession of belief suspect. To the affirmation which Christians make about Jesus, the reply is, "Yes, but others make similar affirmations about the symbols of their faith; why Jesus and not someone or something else?" Thus a reluctance to believe in something leads to a state of mind in which the Zeitgeist becomes the only ruling force. The true statement that none of us can grasp the whole truth is made an excuse for disqualifying any claim to have a valid clue for at least the beginnings of understanding. There is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth it is in fact an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to the knowledge which is available to fallible human beings. We have to ask, "How do you know that the truth about God is greater than what is revealed to us in Jesus?" When Samartha and others ask us, "What grounds can you show for regarding the Bible as uniquely authoritative when other religions also have their sacred books?" we have to ask in turn, "What is the vantage ground from which you claim to be able to relativize all the absolute claims which these different scriptures make? What higher truth do you have which enables you to reconcile the diametrically opposite statements of the Bible and the Qur'an about Jesus? Or are you in effect advising that it is better not to believe in anything?" When the answer is, "We want the unity of humankind so that we may be saved from disaster," the answer must be, "We also want that unity, and therefore seek the truth by which alone humankind can become one." That truth is not a doctrine or a worldview or even a religious experience; it is certainly not to be found by repeating abstract nouns like justice and love; it is the man Jesus Christ in whom God was reconciling the world. The truth is personal, concrete, historical.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 169-170
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