The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Agreeing to Disagree?

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Recently, a friend of mine shared a situation that occurred at a lunch meeting. The participants were mostly limited government, libertarian-types; the kind of people who believe that conservative, traditional values are simply “common-sense.” But when my friend tried to push them and get them to admit that they were presupposing a transcendent, absolute and sovereign Lawgiver in order to make their value judgments of right, wrong and should or should not, they simply disagreed. They took his rock solid and accurate assessment and decimated it by denying that it held any value. My friend was finished…or was he?

Our postmodern (or is it now post-postmodern?) culture instills this sort of reasoning (or lack thereof) into people without much effort. Essentially disagreeing with someone who disagrees with you is the equivalent of ending the argument. Postmodernism is only as good as the common ground between debate participants. This is why modern political rhetoric is such a waste of time and breath. The red state/blue state split represents much more than the fact that liberals are cold-blooded (blue) and conservatives are warm-blooded (red). Both sides begin with radically different beginning points, so their final destination and points along the way are also radically different. The ultimate compliment in our modern political, social, or academic culture is that we can “agree to disagree.” Or in other words, “We just wasted the last however many hours and brain cells to arrive back where we started.”

My friend in the opening paragraph experienced this very same thing. His fellow lunch-partakers were not prepared to think beyond their little “common-sense” boxes. When a non-Christian steals building material from the Christian to construct his own “common-sense” view of the world, the Christian has every right to call the security dogs to the scene of the crime. The thief may deny stealing anything, but the chief investigator must use different questioning tactics to get to the bottom of the case. My friend had every right to disagree right back (you disagree with me, well I disagree with you, so there) and bring the point right back to the table. Disagreeing or denying something presupposes a certain standard. If I tell you that I disagree with abortion, I am telling you in unspoken terms that I have a valid reason for believing that abortion is wrong. My reason may be as baseless as not liking Margaret Sanger’s writing abilities, but I am claiming a reason nonetheless. Disagreement, by definition, implies a higher standard of some sort and we, as Christians, need to push this issue.

[When] Ravi Zacharias visited Columbus to speak at The Ohio State University, his hosts took him to visit the Wexner Center for the Arts. The Wexner Center is a citadel of postmodern architecture. It has stairways leading nowhere, columns that come down but never touch the floor, beams and galleries going everywhere, and a crazy-looking exposed girder system over most of the outside…Zacharias looked at the building and cocked his head. With a grin he asked, “I wonder if they used the same techniques when they laid the foundation?”[1]

Ravi Zacharias understood that postmodernism (or modernism, or post-postmodernism, or,…you get the idea) cannot stand under its own weight. Any –ism, outside of Biblical Theism, will eventually come to the point where it cannot stand under its own assumptions. Just as the Wexner Center needed absolutes in order to ensure its foundation would be strong and stable enough to hold its mocking of absolutes, the non-Christian stands on a firm foundation of Christian presumptions (which he naively calls “common-sense) in order to mock Christianity and its “antiquated, backward view of the world.” Something must be true for all of us, if something is to be false for all of us. The postmodern mantra of “true for you, but not for me” simply doesn’t work.

Relativism misses on a crucial test of internal consistency. “Something can be true for one person but false for another” fails to meet its own criterion for truth. Think about it: While a worldview can be internally consistent or logical yet still be false, no worldview can be true if it contradicts itself.[2]

A simple and completely legitimate question for my friend to have asked of his disagreeing lunch companions would have been: “Why?” That is, “OK, you disagree with me when I claim that your value judgments are presupposing a transcendent God who makes the rules and determines right and wrong. Fine. Just give me the justification for your disagreement. Show me your common-sense. Is it written down somewhere? Is it binding on all people? How do you know this?” Or as Rod Tidwell put it in Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!” My friend had taken his lunch libertarians to the edge of their worldview and asked them to look out past the borders, and they didn’t like what they saw. But, instead of facing the limitations of their worldview, they chose to deny what they saw. They didn’t like the logical conclusion of common-sense, so they chose non-sense. The modern is no different than the ancient in this regard. Israel had the same problem when they rejected absolute standards, as the final verse in the book of Judges informs us: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Each man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Endnotes:

[1] Dennis McCallum, “Practical Communication Ideas,” The Death of Truth (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996), 262.
[2] Paul Copan, True For You, But Not For Me (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 24.

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