One of the easy softballs to hit out of the park in Apologetics 101 training is when two people are role playing and the statement is made, “I think truth is relative. There are no absolute truths.”
The ridiculously easy response to this statement is, “Well, you just made an absolute truth statement!” Kaboom, the foolish non-Christian is just pummeled under their own faulty logic. They made an absolute statement when they said there are no absolute statements. Wow, what an intellectual lightweight. Now, when I share Jesus with this person they will know I have just conquered their worldview so they will be ready to adopt my worldview.
The problem with this very easy Apologetic talking point is it simply doesn’t work in many situations. Many times the young apologist has only left the relativist feeling frustrated, angry and demeaned. Sometimes I think the more appropriate response is, “I think truth & morality are also relative. Foucault was a pretty good observer of humanity.”
Michel Foucault (pronounced foo-ko) may be one of the most influential 20th century thinkers you’ve never heard of. He was interested in studying the development of ideas. How and why do we know what we know? He held a chair at Collège de France with the title, “History of Systems of Thought.” He wrote several books on diverse subjects such as: psychiatry; medicine; the human sciences; prison systems; as well as the history of human sexuality.
Foucault’s observations and skepticism challenged many long-standing ideas. His first book wondered why some people are considered crazy? What if these “crazy” people lived at a different time in a completely different culture? Would they still be considered crazy?
How about, for example, John the Baptist? His clothes were nasty. He lived out in the desert eating bugs. He yelled at people to repent. They responded by letting John hold them under water. In first century Israel John was viewed as one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. Transfer John the Baptist to New York City and he’d be locked up in a mental hospital. Craziness is relative.
In Foucault’s studies on sex he wondered why people seemed to possess differing ideas of sexual appropriateness. Why do women in certain developing countries walk around topless? Every person at that particular time and place believes topless women are normal. It is unimaginable to consider the same women walking around Victorian England. The sexual customs of these two cultures are worlds apart. Sexual morals appear to be relative.
Foucault believes periods of history have possessed specific underlying conditions of truth that constituted what he expresses as discourse (for example art, science, culture, etc.). Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period’s knowledge to another.
Different cultures have different ways of discussing and knowing reality. What is crazy? What is immoral? What is joy? Who is God? What is beautiful? Foucault shows how people answer these questions for themselves. There are no objective answers, knowing is relative.
I recently bought a new watch that is probably the best watch I’ve ever owned. It’s not waterproof. It’s not a smart watch, but I really love the simplicity and design of the watch. Now imagine how foolish I would sound if I said, “My watch is the absolute ideal watch for all people at all times throughout every place of history.” You would think I’m a simpleton to make such an absolute statement. Who am I to know for sure that my battery powered watch is the ultimate watch for someone living in the Nile valley in the 9th century? Who am I to presume that the numbers on the face of my watch will still be helpful symbols in 3,000 years? I must come to the humble realization my watch is relatively desirable. I’m not so foolish to believe it is the absolute watch for every human being. Foucault was right. The ascetic desirability of my watch is a product of the relativity of our world.
It may appear I’ve now become a liberal theologian stripping Christianity of all it’s power. I disagree. I think it is totally fine to let people know that you have a brain and agree with Foucault. What makes Jesus so powerful is that He is quite possibly the only Absolute Truth. I believe there is only one exception to Foucault’s observations, Jesus. I can agree with 99.9% of the world view of someone rejecting absolute truths. I’m there as well. I just think there is one exception. Jesus is the only Savior, the only Teacher, the only One existing for all people, at all times and all places. I actually think it is great to teach the relativity of our world because it makes the absolute of Jesus shine brightly against a dark backdrop.
Jesus is the only perfect Savior for the Nile River valley in the 9th century. Jesus is the only perfect Savior for the skeptic in the 21st century. He is the way, the Truth, the Life for the skeptical C.S. Lewis and the militant Apostle Paul. My watch lives in the realm of relativity. My Savior lives in the realm of “I Am.”
What do you think? Is it ok to teach relative truth?”