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Tuesday
Jul152014

Theological Term of the Week

relativism
“[T]he view that “there is no objective truth,” but rather, what is called truth “is always relative to something else”;1 

  • Scripture that argues against relativism: 

    “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45 ESV) (God is the objective standard of what is morally right or holy—or the objective standard of moral truth.)

    Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-13 ESV) (There is one judgment for everyone and everyone will be judged by the same objective standard of moral truth.)

    There are basically two kinds of Relativist. The first kind—the Subjectivist—claims that truth is always relative to the individual person. So the Subjectivist talks about what’s “true for me” and what’s “true for you”—and these “truths” needn’t be the same. For example, while it may be true for me that the universe has meaning and purpose it might not be true for you. 

    The second kind of Relativist—the Cultural Relativist—doesn’t claim that truth is relative to the individual person, but he does claim that is is relative to that person’s culture or society. So the Cultural Relativist might talk about what was “true for the ancient Greeks” as opposed to what is “true for modern Americans”—and those two truths needn’t be the same. Or he might talk about what is true for people in different religious communities. For example, while it may be “true for Christians” that Jesus is God, it isn’t “true for Buddhists.”

    It’s important to understand that Relativism (of both kinds) isn’t saying only that people have different beliefs or ideas… . Relativists are making a far more radical and controversial claim, namely, that truth itself varies from person to person or from culture to culture. 

Learn more:

  1. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: What is relativism?
  2. GotQuestions.org: What is moral relativism? and What is cultural relativism?
  3. Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Relativism
  4. Francis Beckwith: Philosophical Problems With Moral Relativism
  5. Robin Shumacher: The Problems with Moral Relativism
  6. Greg Koukl: Moral Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair (video)

Related terms:

Filed under Worldviews

1Quoting from What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James N. Anderson.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on Theological Terms in the navigation bar above will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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