Christians Are Against Relativism, Right?
Several months ago I was listening to a lecture by Ken Myers about music. In the lecture Myers brought up the concept of “relativism” and made quite an astute point about a glaring inconsistency in the thought of many modern Christians.
Most conservative, “Bible-believing” Christians cringe at the popular dictum “What’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me.” This sort of statement usually surfaces in conversations about morality or ethics. Go and have a discussion about ethics with a consistent atheist and you are sure to run across this relativism pretty quickly. The basic jist is this: “I wanna live my life how I see fit and who are you to tell me otherwise”: relativism.
For a long time Christians have been pushing back on this tide of moral relativism. Authors like Francis Schaeffer come to my mind. For over a hundred years Christians have been pushing back against this concept of relativism by exclaiming, “Truth is truth whether you agree with it or not.” If you belong to a solid church then this sort of language should not be new to you. But what perhaps might be new to you is what Ken Myers brought up in that lecture I mentioned above.
Myers pointed out the glaring inconsistency that many Christians hold to over the reality of relativism. As, I’ve shown, Christians, in large part, have stood against the rising tide of moral relativism that has taken the western world by force. Yet, at the same time, Christians have accepted another form of relativism that they seem almost entirely blind to: aesthetic relativism.
While Christians have staunchly defended the objective nature of what is “true” and what is “good” they have given little thought over objective “beauty.” This can be most clearly seen in contemporary styles of Christian worship. Perhaps it can be more clearly seen in discussions about contemporary styles of Christian worship.
In one moment you can be agreeing fervently with a fellow believer about the objective reality of truth and moral standards. In the next moment the same believer can be arguing fervently why worship style doesn’t matter: relativism. What is so tragic about this reality is that it is the realm of aesthetics that actually captures the heart. There is a famous adage that says:
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.
It is in the realm of aesthetics and "beauty" where the heart is captured. This is why it is so dangerous and foolish for Christians to take a stance of aesthetic relativism, even if they are are holding to object standards morally and ethically. The reason for this is that you will be asserting one thing in the realm of morality and ethics but your aesthetics will be telling a very different story. Furthermore, the story your aesthetics are telling are, more than likely, going to be offering a much more powerful tug on your audiences heart than the objective moral assertions you're making.
One quick example can be seen in the way that popular styles of music are incorporated into Christian worship. Popular culture is characterized by quick and easy consumption. By it's very nature, popular culture is opposed to self-denial and contemplation. When a church's service of worship is characterized by an aesthetic of popular culture then the hearts of the congregation are going to be encouraged in their course of easy consumption. This is even the case if the sermon is on Matthew 16:24.
Goodness, truth, and beauty must work together. But many modern Christians have ceded the realm of beauty to modernist ideal of relativism: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Christians need to be more consistent in their defence of an objective reality. We should continue to contend for objectivity in the realms of goodness and truth, but we should also contend that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Rather, we should contend that beauty is found in Christ, and, as such, we can seek out beauty in the world in a more secure manner because we live in a world that is upheld by the Word of Christ.
Food for thought.