“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.
“If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: They will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4.”
“The danger university students have been taught to fear from any kind of absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism (they believe) is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.”
“Openness — and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and the various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger.”
“The study of history and culture teaches that …men always thought they were right and that led to wars, persecution, slavery, xenophobia (fear of foreigners or strangers), racism and chauvinism. The point (made about this view of history) is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are ever right at all” (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 25-26).
Belief in a creative force
Interestingly most college students today accept the idea that some creative force is behind the existence of the universe. Yet, as Professor Daniel Liechty (Illinois State University) noted, “What is a debated topic is how you move from this rather impersonal force to the beliefs of a particular religious tradition, and especially whether in affirming the truth-reliability of one path, you must stand against the truth-reliability of all other paths.”
The tension is not about belief in a Creator but whether or not it is safe to believe in one absolute God — especially if one’s beliefs discredit the beliefs of others.
What kind of challenge does this present for Christian witness?
“The Christian faith is based upon the conviction that God has revealed truth about himself and humankind — truth centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ that needs to be both believed and acted upon if sinful human beings are to be restored to a proper relationship with their Creator.”
“The Christian gospel thus has elements of both universality and particularity at its core: universality in that all humankind (including sincere adherents of other religions) are sinners and in need of redemption by God’s grace, and in that God desires the salvation of all irrespective of ethnicity, culture or religion; and particularity in that God’s salvation comes to us through a particular person, Jesus Christ the utterly unique incarnation of God who took upon himself the sins of the world.”
Three basic truths
“However we arrange the various factors involved in belief or unbelief, we must not lose sight of three basic truths: (1) that the faith that brings salvation is itself a gift of God’s grace, given at God’s initiative, (2) that sinful human beings are being invited, indeed commanded, to repent and accept the gospel, and (3) that both God’s invitation and our response are mediated through social and cultural contexts in which we find ourselves” (Harold Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission, IVP, 2001).
When you feel marginalized
It’s tempting to feel marginalized but, like the first followers of Christ, we must not diminish the message of salvation. The apostles testified about Jesus in a fiercely pluralistic and polytheistic society. Yet they boldly announced that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They did not proclaim this as a opinion among many equally valid options.
Of course, they simply echoed the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me’” (John 14:6; cf. Acts 4:12; see also: 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2).
Given the widespread hesitation toward absolute truth, it’s wise to emphasize the inclusive aspects of our message. The good news of salvation is meant for all people. At least seven truths related to the gospel apply to all people – without exception.
- God has demonstrated his love for all people (John 3:16).
- God desires the salvation of all people (I Timothy 2:3-4).
- God has made provision for the salvation of all people (I John 2:2).
- God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
- God will hold all people accountable for their response (Acts 17:31).
- God takes no pleasure in anyone’s rejection of his provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
- God will save all people who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).