Engaging a Relativistic World
by Paul Copan
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Paul Copan (Ph.D., Marquette
University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at
Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is the author or editor of various
books, including The
Rationality of Theism. Paul was a speaker at
the Awakening 2010 evangelism conference at Calvary Chapel of Costa
Mesa, CA and this essay was part of his presentation.
Part I: Problems with
- Relativism is
self-refuting: relativists believe their view is absolutely true for
- Defining relativism and truth
a. Relativism: A belief can be good or right for one person or culture
but not necessarily for another--the opposite of the absolute. Today's
university students (NAS/Zogby poll): "what is right and wrong depends
on differences in individual values and cultural diversity."1
b. Truth: A match-up with reality; we don't determine truth. Reality
confers truth and fantasy; reality is the "truth maker."
RELATIVISTS ARE ACTUALLY ABSOLUTISTS: They
believe lots of things are true for everyone!
tolerance and judging: Find out what
the relativist means by these terms. In fact, the relativist uses terms
he can't live up to himself.
a. Tolerance: Compare the standard definition vs. the revised
contemporary definition. Dorothy Sayers: "In the world it calls itself
Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of
the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes
nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with
nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in
nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is
nothing it would die for."2
b. Judging: Compare the biblical definition vs. the misused definition.
Contrast Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24. See Ephesians 4:15, "speaking the
truth in love."
selective: people are usually
relativists about God/religion and ethics.
- Relativism tends to be a lazy person's philosophy.
- Truth and knowledge are inescapable.
- Relativists are actually absolutists when it comes
to their rights and property.
Example #1: stealing stereos
Example #2: flunking relativists
- Relativism presupposes a certain orderliness and
basic moral decency in society, which makes a selective relativism
- The relativist's motivation is worth considering.
Part II: Reaching
- Ask WHY the
relativist holds the view he does. (He'll
likely give an absolute reason.)
- Relativists don't
need to have their views shot down
as self-contradictory or incoherent. Distinguish between (a) truth
attitude; and (b) persons and the beliefs they hold.
- God's authority and
commands aren't oppressive. But
God is for us and His commands are given so that we might flourish in
the way He's designed us.
"idolatry" as "building your identity on
anything other than God."
- Consider the five
relativists/postmoderns typically cross in their conversion experience:3
The move from distrust to trust.
The move from complacency to curiosity.
The move from resistance to openness to change in their
The move from meandering to seeking.
The move into the kingdom of God itself.
Relativists ultimately lead hollow lives without an
intellectual, moral, and spiritual compass. They need believers to
enter their lives and model a coherent, consistent, abundant life in
- See John Leo,
"Professors Who See No Evil," U.S. News & World Report (22 July
2002), page 14. See poll results at the NAS (National Association of
Scholars) website: http://www.nas.org/print/pressreleases/hqnas/releas_02jul02.htm
- Dorothy Sayers,
Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Erdmans,
1969), page 152.
- These steps are
taken from Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, I Once Was Lost: What
Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus (Downers Grove,
IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).