What is relativism?
Relativism is defined as the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.
Let’s break that down into easier terms. If one person were to say a car were heavy, most people would agree because they are comparing the car to something of considerably less weight.
If, however the scale changed and the car were compared to say a truck and trailer (18-wheeler), then a car isn’t nearly as heavy in comparison. Now this is not necessarily relativism, but it does display how changing viewpoints changes the answer of whether the car is heavy.
Now, move this viewpoint to any number of hot topic issues today, and we can more accurately describe relativism. Homosexuality, premarital sex, co-habitation, abortion, you name the issue and it usually boils down to a relative view of truth.
The idea that truth is relative based on how a person feels or believes on a subject is the root of the relativism movement. It is a movement which has invaded churches and communities of believers. It is pervasive among young believers everywhere, and it is a most dangerous belief.
Jesus Confronts Relativism
“When He entered the temple complex, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?’
Jesus answered them, ‘I will also ask you one question, and if you answer it for Me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?’
They began to argue among themselves, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say to us, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” we’re afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought John was a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’
And He said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.'”Matthew 21:23-27
Now, the chief priests and elders did not use full relativism here, but rather sowed the seeds of relativism. Essentially, they chose not to answer Jesus because they did not want the consequence of answering either way. If they said John’s baptism came from Heaven, they would lose face. If they answered that it wasn’t from Heaven, they were afraid of the mob who did believe, so they chose not to answer.
Jesus answers them by not giving them the satisfaction of a discussion. He basically says if you don’t want to get serious with me, I am not going to entertain your questions.
The Standard of Truth
To say that truth is relative to each person is arrogant. It denies that God is the creator of all and that he alone declares truth. Relativism removes God from the world and puts each person in His place. It gives the authority of discerning truth to the individual.
But those who claim belief in relativism are themselves hypocritical. If they truly believed in it, they would not believe in contracts. What would be true to one party would not necessarily hold true for the other. Why get married, purchase property, or even take an employment position?
It’s not about truth, but convenience. People who claim relativism want a convenient answer, not a truthful answer. Whatever allows the person to think or do something they want without consequence is “truth” to them.
Holding Truth Against Relativism
John Piper proposes that there are 7 evil and destructive effects of relativism. They are: it commits treason, creates duplicity, conceals doctrinal defection, cloaks greed with flattery, cloaks pride with the guise of humility, enslaves people, and leads to brutal totalitarianism.
I strongly suggest you read the article linked above about each of these evils. It will help those you wish to reach about relativism with the Truth of God. Ultimately our calling and our mission is to reach the lost no matter what they are lost in.
We are to trust in Christ no matter the consequence of the truthful answer. He will provide for us when we answer relativism with Truth in a kind, loving, and patient manner. It is my hope and prayer that you are emboldened to face relativism with Truth and grace which flows from God.