Recently I was talking with a friend of mine who was struggling when discussing his beliefs with his unsaved friends. As we were talking about the best ways to handle the arguments he was facing I realized something that has occurred to me several times before: Most of our arguments occur somewhere far removed from the realm of common authority. The premise from which Christians and the world are arguing is often left unchallenged while the debate over lesser things creates an ever widening gap between faith and reasoning.
A universal understanding of truth has never been achieved in a fallen society. Before secular humanism, general morality was determined by a mystical fear of some sort of deity. But even this gave a level of variance between how people interpreted or manipulated that fear. Outside of religion, truth is a very difficult thing to nail down. But one thing is certain to the secular humanist – those who appeal to religion or an outside source for truth are irrational.
For Christians, the universal standard for truth is God. But this can be a difficult position to argue from. Considering that not everyone believes in the God of the Bible and even less believe Him to be as He is described in Scripture, it can be difficult to defend what in reality is circular reasoning – God is the standard of truth, we know God from the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are true because they come from God.
An Argument for Truth
There is a major conflict within intellectual circles over the issues of truth, whether it is relative or objective. I believe that pure truth, is always objective (though it is biblically clear that we cannot know all truth). There must be a source, standard, and authority for truth. The notion that all truth can be subjective is preposterous because it makes truth relative to perception. This requires a great deal of mysticism because there is no logical explanation to the problems that occur: there is no God vs. there is a God. Obviously, there has to be an explanation to that premise because there can’t be two opposing ideas on something that is so concrete. God either exists or he doesn’t. There’s no third option.
There are, however, factors where the opposite can be said: Cake is good vs. Cake is bad. The reason this leads to relative answers is because the subject is being debated on two different authorities which disagree. Beyond that, there are too many factors which make the standards subjective.
This gets to be very complicated when we start to talk about morality, ethics, and religion. What makes murder wrong? Relativism and secular humanism fall short in answering this question. Apart from God, there is no unifying principle to create a foundational authority. If there is no God, then truth would have to be relative because there is no other exterior force that is consistent over all humanity.
So You Say You Believe in God…
Even with the basis of modernity, the scientific method, and the information age, the average person on the street today has not thoroughly thought out their position on everything they hold to be true. Chances are, they are relativists in some form or another and when confronted with truth, face to face, they would completely disregard it and remain intellectually unfazed. They may say that they believe in God, but their understanding is only marginally influenced by what they’ve been told in the drowsy-eyed mornings of their youth spent in Church, and predominately filled in like a Mad Libs frame of reference with what they’ve seen through various forms of media and chance encounters. As a result, the average person’s understanding of God is primarily influenced by their subjective notions on what truth is.
Philosophically, truth cannot be relative. It must be objective and appeal to standards. Therefore subjective truth is irrelevant when trying to get to an absolute standard for authority. However, practically speaking, truth is very much subjugated to our most base human elements – feelings and imaginations. Good luck trying to win an argument with a toddler that Brussels sprouts are objectively good. Especially when their father won’t even eat them. People function in the reality of relativism. As strange as that sounds, it’s key to understanding where our culture is today before proceeding to explain the gospel to them.
What Makes Your Truth Unique?
The chances are, if you attempt to create the most logical argument to the existence of God, most people will tune you out because they don’t see their subjective premise as flawed. Beyond that, I’d wager that most people wouldn’t even want to be shown that they were wrong, if that were the case. So by creating a well crafted argument to prove the existence of God the Christian is arguing against two insurmountable barriers: an allusion that there is nothing new to be learned and an innate desire to remain ignorant of any errors. (I’ll state here, to label myself, that I am presuppositional in my apologetic and not a classical evidentialist. If you don’t have a clue what that means, it might make for a helpful study.)
So, just because they say they believe in God, doesn’t mean that the God that they believe it is accurate or biblical. But arguing with them about the character of God probably won’t be very convincing. From their perspective, your understanding of God is relative to you, and their understanding of God is relative to them. What makes your truth unique?
I always tell people, “Your testimony and your experience is far more powerful than any argument you could ever use.” Truth be told, your experiences are completely relative to you. But that is what makes it unique. It is your truth. On a scale of what influences us psychologically, experience is right at the top. No one can argue with what you hold to be true.
A Profound Example
I’ve already told this story a million times, but it never grows old to me because it is a powerful experience that has bolstered my faith.
Years ago, while working at a Christian camp, I had a counselor who was struggling with one of his campers. The camper was an atheist and would argue with the counselor during the evening devotions in front of the other campers. The high school kid was so eloquent and smart that he was making the counselor look like an idiot and building a strong following among the other campers.
Halfway through the week, the counselor came to me for help. I sat down with the camper and started the conversation by asking him what he was doing at a Christian camp. He had been forced to come, but was enjoying the challenge of debating his atheistic views. Having been raised in the church, he had grown angry towards God after his father had passed away and he had only replaced that anger with a new found passion of arguing with Christians and making them look foolish.
I asked him where he wanted to begin the debate: the ontological, teleological, or cosmological arguments. I had studied them all and was well equipped in debating. He looked impressed that I was well educated and situated himself to start the discussion. But I stopped him before he could answer and I told him that we weren’t going to debate. Instead I told him my testimony – how Christ had made me a new person and I was confident in my salvation. It stunned him, but the only thing he could say in response (because my truth was apparently relative to my experience) was, “How are you so sure that what you believe is true?” I answered him, “You wouldn’t understand because you’re dead and you’re blind.” His response to that was, “Wow, no one has ever been that honest with me before.”
We left amicably and that was that. He went home at the end of the week and it seemed that I wouldn’t ever hear from him again. Then on that Monday I got a call. It was him. I asked him what was up – why he was calling. He told me, “I haven’t been able to eat or sleep since we last talked. It’s been driving me crazy. My friends invited me to church the other day and I figured I would go and heckle the pastor, which had been my routine. But something was different this time. I heard the gospel again and something happened to me – I got saved!” After rejoicing with him I asked him if he understood what I had meant in our previous conversation. His response has been engraved into my brain like it happened yesterday. He said, “You’re right, I would never have believed if I hadn’t been made alive in Christ.”
So there you go. It’s not a very thorough explanation of the difference between objective and subjective truth, but hopefully it will help you when conversing with you non-Christian friends, neighbors, and relatives. Just remember, that they are approaching the conversation thinking that your truth is relative and no different than their own. What is it that makes your truth so unique?