That’s how my friend responded to my gospel assertion. “How can you be so absolute?” he continued. “There are no absolutes.” His pluralistic confession came as we sat on the concrete chatting in the car park after a long day’s work.
Without getting too philosophical, pluralism which is similar in many respects to relativism, is based on the word plural (as opposed to singular) and refers to an epistemological system (a conception of the nature/structure of truth) in which two or more systems of truth can be true in spite of the fact that they make mutually exclusive truth claims. In relativism, if I believe in God, that can be true. And at the same time, if you don’t believe in God, that can be true as well.
Breaking through with a pluralist
How do you get through to a pluralist? They’re happy for you to believe what you believe as long as you don’t dis what they believe or make absolute truth claims—something that the gospel inherently does. So how do you get through to a pluralist?
The short answer is “you can’t.” God must open their eyes to the truth, just like everyone else (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). Our job is to preach Christ and beg God to open eyes to his glory.
That said, there is certainly a place for offering reasons and explanations for a Christian world view. Especially when the person you are talking to is genuinely open to hearing what you have to say (rather than just wanting to argue). So when my friend in the car park made the assertion “there are no absolutes,” I responded with a simple question: “Is that absolutely true?”
What else can we do?
While offering reasonable arguments is appropriate under the right circumstances, the ultimate fulfilment of our mission is not in winning philosophical arguments, but in preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Part of why this approach is appropriate is found in what philosopher and apologist Francis Schaeffer called the mannishness of man (He does not intend it to be gender specific. It could perhaps be called the humanness of humankind).
The mannishness of man refers to the fact that no matter how much a person may believe in moral relativism, he feels guilt when he does wrong. That no matter how firmly entrenched his atheism may be, he must worship. That all the naturalism in the world cannot expunge his thirst for the transcendent. In other words, while he denies that he was created by God in a certain way, he was indeed created by God in that certain way and is therefore susceptible in all the ways we would expect someone created in that particular way to be.
I’ll put it yet another way. God made man in his own image, with a soul and a conscience and a “God-shaped vacuum in [his] heart” (Blaise Pascal). That is man as God made him. And no matter how hard man tries to deny his createdness and to not to be that man, in the normal course of life, whether he admits it or not, he is profoundly mannish. He longs to worship. He loves and is loved in ways naturalism cannot account for. He finds himself transcending animal life. He is creative. He loves art. He is deeply, profoundly, and pointedly mannish. He is exactly as God says he is.
We preach Christ!
That is why we must preach Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men. We must preach Christ in the context of righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgement just as Paul did in Acts 24:25. Why? Because these are themes that resonate in the hearts of mankind—even pluralistic mankind who may even resent the mannishness within that bears existential testimony to God’s power and Godhead (Romans 1:20)!
We preach Christ. God’s Spirit uses the preached word to germinate faith in the heart—even the heart of a pluralist!
Grace to you.