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The Truth of Absolutes

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One of the most prominent Christian apologists of our day, Ravi Zacharias, has referred to C.S. Lewis as “probably the greatest Christian apologist in recent memory.”[1] While I agree with Ravi Zacharias in his observation, I probably don’t agree for the same reasons. Although Lewis was certainly a brilliant, articulate, and gifted thinker, writer, and teacher, he was not primarily an apologist for the Christian faith. Lewis, like so many of the writers that stand the test of time, wrote about what he knew. And C.S. Lewis knew literature; he understood the power of stories and narrative. In fact, most of his writings—fiction and non-fiction alike—relied on the solid foundation of storytelling. It is for this very reason that Lewis’s writings are both memorable and practical, even more than 50 years later.

One of Lewis’s most famous and heavily repeated quotes comes from a speech entitled “Is Theology Poetry?” He closed his speech with these words: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[2]C.S. Lewis realized that the Christian worldview was not some “on again/off again” belief system that should be brought out only when people want to begin swapping ideas about religion and metaphysics. He understood that Christianity claims exclusivity and supremacy over everything else. Christianity is, first and foremost, The Truth. Lewis reminds us that far from being only a belief system about certain propositions, Christianity is the filter that all other ideas and thoughts need to be strained through. If you don’t think God’s thoughts after Him, Lewis is saying, you will end up with wrong conclusions about the way the world works.

The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe. They can’t both be right. The one who is wrong will act in a way which simply doesn’t fit the real universe. Consequently, with the best will [intentions] in the world, he will be helping his fellow creatures to their destruction.[3]

Lewis makes the case that neutrality is impossible. There is no middle ground, partway between truth and error. Either it is true or it isn’t. In logic, this is known as the law of non-contradiction. Something cannot be A and not A in the same respect and relationship. Christianity cannot be true and not true at the same time. Scripture itself makes this very point time and time again. “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21). “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). One of the great side-benefits (looking backwards at least) of the scientific revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries was the rise of modernism. Although it had its own set of problems—strict materialism being one of them—modernism was, at the very least, a confession of the law of non-contradiction. Scientists understood this principle very well because without it science itself is impossible. Although some modernists eventually took this to the extreme of denying everything that was not falsifiable (i.e. metaphysics and any notion of a “god”), they were at least willing to agree that non-contradiction was not only valid it was necessary.

Modern times, however, find us in a “postmodern” era of thought. The absolutes of the modernist have been tossed aside for the elasticity of the postmods. Denying the law of non-contradiction as “western logic,” the postmods have declared themselves free of societal constraints and are willing to embrace contradiction and absurdity in the name of tolerance. It is only due to the rise of postmodernism that something as moronic as “that may be true for you, but not for me” can even be stated. Even a staunch atheist like Richard Dawkins cannot stand for such silliness:

In an interview on The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly made precisely this [postmodern] miscalculation of Dawkins (and of Catholic dogma) when he said, “My religion of Roman Catholicism...it’s true for me.” Dawkins shot back scornfully, “How can something be true for you? Something’s either got to be true or not true.”[4]

Many modern Christians have found themselves retreating into the Bill O’Reilly mindset and agreeing with the postmodernists in order to avoid having to put their Christianity out in the open for a mental examination. These postmod Christians want to have absolute truth for themselves and personal truth for everyone else. The problem is—as Lewis and Dawkins have both pointed out—if it is not true for others, it is not true for you either. Christians have the greatest weapon on their side—The Truth—and if they continue to deny this with meaningless statements of subjective truth then apologetics can no longer be done. Subjective truth eliminates the need of “having an answer.” This antithesis will be explored more fully next week. 

Footnotes:
[1] Ravi Zacharias, “An Apologetic for Apologetics,” in Ravi Zacharias (Ed.), Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xii
[2] C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 165.
[3]
C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 110.
[4]
Larry Taunton, “Richard Dawkins: The Atheist Evangelist,” By Faith Magazine, December 2007-January 2008, 18.

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