FoucaultOne 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.

watchI 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?”

    17 replies to "I think it’s ok to teach Relative Truth"

    • Dave Moser

      I think the underlying assumption in this conversation is a conflation of truth and social more. Is a bikini appropriate attire? That depends, perhaps, on the cultural context. Is it wrong to murder your neighbor to steal his possessions? Always.
      I’d rather ask that person to explain what they mean by truth in that statement before I’d be comfortable answering one way or another. If they think cultural norms are malleable, I’d agree and ask them to think of social customs in a different light from truths. But if they mean there’s no such thing as absolute truth, I’d ask them to consider the self-defeating nature of such a statement.
      Thanks for making us think about it though!

    • Daniel McCarthy

      Hi Tim,

      I have a few points to make. First, I appreciate your insecting with Foucault. Second, I think your understanding of relativism is not well thought out.

      Therefore, let me interact with a few of your points. John the Baptist was respected in his Culture because he was preaching an absolute truth. How he delivered that absolute truth was based upon what worked at that time culturally. If he were dropped into New York, he would probably not be thrown out as if he were insane. Most likely he would be ignored or get a reality show. What God did was understand what would work for the culture and dropped him into that culture. His acts were relative to his culture, the message was not. Humans get caught up in appearances rather than caught up in the truth being taught. This is why Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their long tassles and the like.

      Second, women walking around topless is not a sexual expression. It is a cultural expression. Seeing a womans breast is not sex. As CS Lewis has said multiple times, people have a standard of behaviour they cannot help but aspire too. They may express it in different ways, like burning a widow at the stake to show her devotion and love to her husband in India versus honoring your husband by never getting married again or having sex again if you are a widow, but they both point to the exact same thing. One culture may sexualize breasts or making waling around taboo and one may not. That does not make sexual mores relative.


    • Tim Kimberley

      When discussing consistent morals, however, would you not say those could still be coming completely from Jesus. If He is the Way, the Truth and the Life…low denominator morality can be coming from the imago dei in humanity.

    • QiYun


      This is just a clarifying comment. I would prefer if it not be posted up. But if you really want to publish it, I think it’s okay too 🙂

      If you preach the truth that Jesus is the Truth, then it is no longer merely an opinion, nor a personal preference, isn’t it? In that case would your view of Truth then be relative? Personal taste and preferences can be relative, but that doesn’t mean truth and morality is. Just because a group of people engage in certain activities, doesn’t mean it’s right. If let’s say, I exist within a group of robbers, and the robbers form a major part of my society, does this mean robbing is right?
      Just trying to explore these areas of thought here.

      The statement that “this watch is the best in all time, everywhere”, really depends on the definition of “best”. If the maker of that claim defines “best”, as “most accurate in keeping time”, then that is a truth claim, and can be tested out, isn’t it? Test it against all the possible watches and see if it is,indeed accurate. May not get 100% certainty, but one might still get a highly plausible conclusion.

      I understand the need to preach the truth in love, and I’m always torn between preaching in love, and preaching truth, because the truth can be really harsh at times, and it is my job to deliver is as gently and lovingly as possible.

      Do let me know your thoughts.


    • Shane Dodson

      Accpeting and adopting the atheists’s self-refuting nonsense is now a legitimate apologetic?

      but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
      (1Pe 3:15)

      I’m not going to dishonor my Lord by relegating Him to a possiblity.

      I would encourage you not to do that, either.

      – Shane

    • Ellis Wedel

      That is a nice watch. Where did you get it?

    • Caleb Smith

      @Shane, you seem to miss the entire point. Jesus was just claimed as the one true Absolute. So no one is “relegating Him to a possibility.”

    • Jim Kinnebrew

      Thanks for engaging our thought on this. I’ve never encountered this objection, but now I think I’m ready for it. I have to agree with Dave and Daniel above and say that your examples pointing to relative cultural mores do not negate the reality of absolute objective morals and truths. The 10 commandments, for example, derive from the absolute holy Nature of God. That does not change with times or cultures, so neither do the moral imperatives that reflect it. Your thoughts?

    • C Michael Patton

      Tim was just saying that there is a degree of relativity as to what constitutes a violation of said absolutes. Romans 14 teaches this well, I believe.

    • C Michael Patton

      It’s not unlike saying, “how does it feel in here?” Some say its cold, others sat its hot. The absolute is the temperature, say 70 degrees. But the perception is relative.

    • Shane Dodson


      “What makes Jesus so powerful is that He is quite possibly the only Absolute Truth.”

      The reason stated that the author doesn’t wish to proclaim absolute truth–which the atheist/agnostic/skeptic/freethinker adheres to daily but who will deny if asked about it–is that to point out the absurdity of the atheists’ worldview would–and I’m paraphrasing here–“make them feel bad.”

      Two observations:

      Answering a fool according to his folly (Prov 26:5) runs the risk of offending and/or annoying them, sure. The offense of absolute truth is directly related to the offense of the cross of Jesus Christ (which is–imagine this–an absolute truth), so their possibly offense is not only acceptable for me, but it’s to be expected (Matthew 10:22).

      Sin is supposed to make us feel bad. Sin is supposed to make us feel small, inadequate, unworthy, dirty, condemned. Praise GOD His Spirit convicts in such a way to bring men to Christ.

      “It’s not unlike saying, “how does it feel in here?”

      Perception is relative, but truth is not. The title of this article isn’t “it’s okay to teach relative perception.”

      Ask me what the speed limit is on Danforth Road, I might say “it could be 35 mph, but I’m not sure about that.” In other words, I don’t KNOW the speed limit of Danforth Road.

      When an atheists says that he/she could be wrong about everything he/she claims to know (a fundatmental denial of absolute truth), then he/she has given up knowledge.

      “But you said that atheists know things,” you say. Correct. They do. What they are saying is absurd because they are obviously suppressing the knowledge of God–without whom we cannot know anything.

      This needs to be lovingly pointed out to them. The author of this article seems to think there is no loving way to point out the absurdity of the atheists position and suggests that we somehow “meet him on his terms.”

      Nonsense. There IS a loving way to interact with sinners and show them the…

    • Shane Dodson

      …absurdity of their worldview. (sorry, I didn’t realize my post got cut off)

      It is absolutely true that unbelievers know that God exists are are actively suppressing that truth (Romans 1:18-20).

      They don’t perceive “no God.” They KNOW God, and their suppression of said truth is what will ultimately condemn them if they don’t repent and turn to the God they know exists.

      – Shane

    • Tim Kimberley


      I think I’m being misunderstood here. I am not advocating we change reality based on the feelings of non-believers. As an apologetic argument I’m saying if you try to teach absolute truth apart from the person of Jesus then I don’t think you’ll be communicating to non-believers. You’ll be talking but I’m not sure anyone will be listening. I’m advocating here that we can embrace Foucault and communicate with someone who is completely sold to a relative viewpoint. Then we can show them how from a point of relativism we can still get to Jesus…the message and messenger of Absolute Truth. The Creation doesn’t lead us to a philosophical position…it leads us to our Trinitarian God. Now with the illumination of our God we come to realize His Truth.

      I hope that at least clarifies a bit of my argument…


    • More problematic evidential apologetic type questions!

      And Creation itself does not lead us to the Triune God, per se, but only revelation and Holy Scripture…does “reveal” HIM! (Eph. 2: 18)…of course ‘In Christ’. Thus both the Jew and the so-called Muslim, as any, MUST come to the NT to see the Triune God! The Apostles Doctrine…Acts 2: 42/John 15: 26 ; 16: 13-15.

    • Shane Dodson

      “As an apologetic argument I’m saying if you try to teach absolute truth apart from the person of Jesus then I don’t think you’ll be communicating to non-believers.”

      I haven’t suggested doing so. I’m not trying to teach absolute truth to unbelievers. I’m exposing the fact that they believe in it and adhere to it. There are only two options for every person: Jesus Christ, or absurdity.

      Absurdity is borrowing from the Christian worldview in an attempt to debunk it.

      – Shane

    • cherylu


      I am trying to wrap my mind around what you are saying here accurately. Would the following be an accurate way to portray your thoughts on this subject?

      Without basing our beliefs on God/Jesus we have no absolute to go by, therefore everything can become relative?

      But when we realize that God/Jesus is absolute and ultimate truth, then we can be assured that everything He has told us in the Bible is also truth and is not at all relative?

      Or is that not what you meant by “the message and the messenger?” The more I have read here, the more I have not been certain I have been understanding your point.

    • David

      When Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life”, Jesus said the truth was subordinate to love. Truth may say we can never undo the damage we did to another, but love and bring repentance and forgiveness, not only from God but among humans.

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