Hope Beyond Theological Relativism: In Christ

I just want to talk briefly about theological relativism. If you ever attend Bible College or Seminary (or both), one of the dangers that students are inevitably exposed to is becoming a theological relativist. Here’s how it sciencehappens: You start out as a wet behind the ears incoming freshman, you proceed through your Biblical Studies classes and Theology classes. Given the shared material, and its attendant overlap, students are invariably exposed to conflicting interpretations of the same material; whether that be direct exegesis of particular passages of Scripture, or whether that be similar topics dealt with in Systematic Theology. What begins to happen is any confidence the student had before entering this situation (i.e. confidence in what they believe), starts to go through an erosion process; some of this is good, it creates space for the student to begin to think more self-critically about their own beliefs, and the beliefs offered by other Christians in the past and present—so the learning process has started. Nevertheless, the inherent danger that attends this process is that students, as I already highlighted, are not given critical space, but there is also a tendency for the student to become confused, and and confidence or conviction of belief is eroded to the point of theological agnosticism and/or relativism. In other words, the student (and I heard this retort very often!) starts to take the attitude that says: “Well, this professor says this about this passage of Scripture, and this other professor says that, and then another professors says this plus that; so what am I supposed to believe, I mean they have their PhDs, and I’m just a lowly college or seminary student (some of this starts to fade—hopefully—by seminary, but I am finding it really doesn’t for most), so how can I ever come to a conviction of belief, if these brainiacks can’t even come to agreement?” So this is how it goes, and this attitude becomes absolutized for many a graduating student; who then gives up on engaging in any further academic or critical approach to the Bible or Theology, because they have adopted a defeatist attitude from an early formative stage (and then they teach this attitude to whomever they have contact with in the church context).

This is a sad situation! If we take a critical or theological realist approach, we won’t adopt this defeatist attitude. We will move forward with the conviction that there is something or someOne to know, and He has the capacity in Himself to more than adequately explain and Reveal fundamental things about the most important thing; i.e. “Who is God?” After this question is dealt with (at a basic level), then all other theologizing, subsequent to this, has a good orientation; one that finds its “absolute” orientation as an open-structured one as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is the objective reality of God’s own life revealed in Jesus Christ that gives us hope, and provides a way past the impasse of theological relativism and agnosticism.

Like I said, this is a short one; I need to say more.

PS. I will respond to the good comments made by Cal, Jerome, and Steve, hopefully, tomorrow (in re. to the post before this one).

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4 comments

  1. Personally I enjoyed having professors who came at things from completely different perspectives. If you didn’t like a particular lecture you just told your prof what the other prof said about such and such passage and he would spend the rest of the class explaining why the other prof was wrong! It was fun to watch.

    But I understand you completely here (for a change 🙂 ) You ought to be learning that godly men can come to different conclusions without having to throw the word “heretic” around.

    Pick the prof you agree with the most, or better yet learn to appreciate the differences and spend the rest of your life working through these tensions so’s ya don’t end up a clone :^)

    That after all (the constant searching and desire to learn) is what led me here!

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  2. Greetings,

    My first time commenting here. Well I have never attended seminary, Bible college, or any college, for that matter, however it seems to me, a lot of churches today are theologically relative. In other words, the church does a good job of pointing out the relativism in the world, and demonstrating there is absolute truth. With that being said, it seems as though, if you claim to be a Christian, you can believe, and espouse whatever you feel and it is excepted, and it is only those who attempt to point out error that are looked upon as heretics.

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  3. Hi Jack,

    You might have a point, but it is a different one than what I am driving at in the post. In other words, this post is not about relativism in general, but about a certain expression it takes within Christian higher education.

    But I do agree that people (Christians) are not fond of folk who attempt to be people of the truth and not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine that blows through.

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