Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Responding to Cultural Buzzwords: Tolerance, Multiculturalism, and Relativism

Have you ever been placed in a situation where you have pointed out particular problems in our culture, only to have someone respond back with "Judge not, lest you be judged..."? In that encounter were you ever given the chance to finish it for them? In many cases, Christians are not given a chance. It is because we are told that "toleration" in a pluralistic, multicultural society is the "new edict."

Tolerance and multiculturalism are two of the catchwords of our time, but what do they really mean -- especially for Christians? Over the last twenty years we have seen an trap being set by the secular city to weaken of our biblical stand. We try to adapt in a culture that is so humanly indulgent, but it is of no spiritual good. Without sounding pessimistic, we are definitely offered challenges to share the truth with those cozy with the cultural norms.

At the same time many of us are aware that we have to be extremely discerning about the values and ideas championed by the media and the society as a whole. Let's face it folks, we are living in what is often called a "post-Christian" culture. That is why it is so important for us to examine the meanings of the pop culture's use of what is meant by tolerance and multiculturalism. These words do not mean what we have been to think in the government schools. How they are used today is so foreign to their original meanings.

In fact they are governed by a philosophical relativism which generates most of the cultural thinking today; and the prominence of relativism coincides with the decline of meaning of what we call "absolute truth".[1] However, for the Christ, it is vital to realize that the anchor of truth is found in Jesus Christ, who is revealed in the Scriptures (John 14:6).

There is an old saying, "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." The Christian who falls for the relativism of modern culture will lose the strength that comes with a firm stand for the truths of the Word of God.

It might be a good idea here to set forth the meaning of these cultural poltergeists: tolerance, multiculturalism and relativism. What I hope to do is to put forth the original meanings, and then contrast them with with how they are applied in the culture.

First off let's look at tolerance. The concept of tolerance has its original foundations in the Old Testament. The Jews were commanded to be tolerant of strangers in their midst and to show them hospitality and care for their needs. They followed God's standard, despite the standard that the "alien" (not in the spacey sense) embraced. However in today's culture, tolerance has taken on a different meaning. It includes more than simply treating others with a certain amount of respect.

Today tolerance demands the affirming and accepting the differences between people, even theological differences, making it a primary goal not to offend anyone. In practical terms, this means people who believe under the standard of an absolute truth claim should must keep quiet about their convictions; keep them within the four walls of the church or their homes so as to avoid offending others. Sound familiar?[2]

The second term is multiculturalism. This concept has its foundations in the fact that God is no respector of persons (Acts 10:34). But it too has been adjusted to fit the relativistic culture, particularly over the last couple to three decades. In the secular city, it means that we should be embracing all peoples and all beliefs no matter the differences, all things are equal including ideas.

Multiculturalism is good when it comes to dress, food, and other cultural fancies.[3] The problem is one cannot embrace a biblical worldview and a worldview that is at odds with it. Both worldviews cannot be true. In logic this is called the violation of the law of noncontradiction. One of them is true and the other is false. To say that both are true is to stir a pot of chaos.

Thirdly and finally there is relativism, the overarching umbrella of the two aforementioned terms. Have you ever heard someone say "there is no such thing as absolute truth . . .truth is relative!"? This is the major philosophical underpinning for much of the chaos we see in America today, even for the hate crimes cases that are cropping up around the country.

There are some good books that have come out in recent years on this subject.  Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith's book Relativism, Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air and Paul Copan's book True for You but Not for Me are a couple of must reads on this subject.  I also have a power point presentation on this subject responding from several different angles taken by those who say that we cannot hold to absolute truth.[4]

Why is this so popular today?  Many of us have heard that the more you say something, the more people will begin to believe it.  The next time you hear someone say, "it's all relative", ask them "are you absolutely sure about that?" and watch what happens.  You may get the "deer caught in the headlights look" or you could get challenged to defend your position.  Be ready. This ideology has become so popular that it does not require a whole lot of intelligence to believe such nonsense.  As an ambassador for Christ, you and I need to have a listening ear, and make sure that our "baloney detectors" are tweaked to zero in on and lovingly and graciously respond.


I first wrote this article, when I was living in Upstate NY for a newsletter that I used to put out. Let me apologize to those who were fortunate/unfortunate to read that article for a lot of the run on rambling sentences and bad grammar. This article is the revision of that one, and is due to my dialogues with people and continually researching this subject. As we move forward, and Christ tarries His coming, I believe this issue along with the subject of religious pluralism are going to be watershed issues, if they aren't already.

Let me conclude with this, if one says that truth is not knowable, they are saying something they "know" to be true. If someone says, that all truth is relative, then that statement is relative too and it is unlivable. We live in a time, an exciting time, to be trained up so that we can engage the settings in which we live with God's absolute truth. Did you ever think that logic starts with God? Despite the supernatural nature of the Bible, it is logical as well.

Living life under the umbrella is unlivable. We have a message that brings life. Go out and be His ambassador and share His message with grace.


[1] I had someone respond to a video I did tell me that he believed that absolute truth was systemic. On what system is truth determined? Science? Feelings? Experience?

[2] We might see some hints of the last twenty years leading to where we are today with "hate crime legislation." Today's tolerance watchdogs seem not to care whether they are intolerant of those they claim are intolerant, while being intolerant themselves. While demanding tolerance, they are intolerant of anyone they deem intolerant of them. Did you follow all of that?

[3] I enjoyed going over to the Republic of Moldova, a communist country that broke away from the former Soviet Socialist Republic. I fell in love with the people, their food, their simplicity in life, their worship, their love for the Word of God. All of those things. But I do not like the government ideology of communism. You want to know another thing? Neither do the biblically like-minded brothers and sisters in the faith.

[4] If you would like more information regarding seminars and workshops, please feel free to contact me at 540.424.2305 or go to my website at http://www.roblundberg.org/contact.html.


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Rob said...

We are on Facebook particularly on our Stand4Truth.Net Fan page. Thank you for your compliments.