I am the Way, the Truth, an the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me (John 14:6).
If you’re a word nerd – or if you play Scrabble – you can’t live without the dictionary.
And you’ll be glad to know that the Oxford Dictionary offers its readers an invaluable service (?) by each year selecting a trendy term, reflecting the mood of the culture as its Word of the Year.
You can viscerally sense the momentous societal impact of this event by reviewing the selections of past years, without which contemporary English just wouldn’t be English:
2014: vape (inhaling and exhaling an electronic cigarette).
2015: a bit of a hiccup, because it’s not even a word, but the emoticon of “face with tears of joy”! (The emoji beat out other short-listed terms: refugee, Brexit, and on fleek meaning extremely good, attractive, or stylish).
After all, Oxford’s is the foremost curator of English vocabulary so what they announce carries some weight, some significance.
The choice for 2016: post-truth.
What on earth, you may ask, does that possibly mean?
The Oxford official website indicates that choice was arrived at only “after much discussion, debate, and research”.
Here’s what it means: “post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’”.
What? Have we degenerated that far?
Who knew that the “information age” had evolved to the point where objective facts are discarded, replaced rather by that which is subjective, sensual, and personally appealing.
But then, as if to confirm the concept that objective truth is an increasingly vague concept a senior advisor to the President of the United States, when debating the critical issue of crowd size at the Inauguration event, disputed attendance numbers with the rebuttal of alternate facts.
Has it really come to that?
Are we living in an era of parallel universes where you can have your truth based on post-truth, or how you feel; and I can have mine based on a set of alternate facts?
Five decades ago, Dr. Francis Schaeffer coined the term true truth to differentiate that which aligned with reality from relativistic imposters.
But in an era of fake news, bathroom wars, and allegations that the Russians hi-jacked the US election, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.
The prevailing worldview in our era is pluralism. And we are called to embrace her close cousin, relativism.
Pluralism leaves room for different answers to the same question.
#1 Which team will win the Super Bowl in February?
#2 Was Donald Trump a good choice for President of the US?
#3 What is the best type of winter weather?
Each is a matter of future prediction and is therefore unknown or unknowable, at least at this time (#1&2), or of personal preference (#2&3).
The first question will be answered definitively – but not until February 5th.
The question on the Trump presidency will likely be debated for years to come and will always be subjective in conclusion.
Some folks hate winter, others love it, and most of us are somewhere along that spectrum in between.
Answers will be different, and probably contradictory – even mutually exclusive.
But pluralism leaves room for different answers to the same question, because there is no objectively right answer, or because we don’t yet know.
However, relativism goes further. Relativism says every answer is right for someone. This current thinking says I need to be open to variant responses to the same simple question, because there are multiple paths to truth; and maybe all paths – even those that are contradictory on matter of fact – lead to truth for someone. (I’m convinced my high school teachers were neither pluralists or relativists. My exam results are sufficient proof.)
That’s clearly erroneous. Even illogical, incoherent.
And nobody practices relativism when crossing the street. An oncoming bus is to be avoided, no matter what your stated philosophical disposition.
Pluralism and relativism might work when it comes to matters of future prediction and preference.
But not when it comes to matters of fact or principle. And never in issues of eternal consequence.
Jesus talked about narrow and broad gates and roads in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7). He called for His followers, those committed to eternal truth – to enter through the narrow gate.
The majority position is clear: For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it (v.13).
But those moving through that gate and down that road aren’t intentionally rushing to be destroyed. They’ve convinced themselves – confused themselves – that pluralism and relativism work with issues of eternal principle.
Jesus said they don’t.
And the unhappy fallout of being wrong is forever.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (v.14).
Later in that sermon He declared, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
To embrace objective truth as that which alone corresponds with reality is in our current culture, to swim against the current.
And that current is gaining in intensity.
One contemporary observer notes, “We have plunged ourselves into a whirlpool of relativism and we’re spiralling down the drain.”*
Increasingly, the followers of Christ need to inoculate themselves against the pervasive, sloppy thinking of our era. We do that by committing to a diet of God’s Word as our strongest protection against an errant, undiscerning worldview.
*Dr.Stephen Nicholls, A Time for Confidence; Trusting God in a post-Christian Culture, Reformation Trust.