philosophy 101: post-modernism, pragmatism, and 1 peter

philosophy 101

This is a continuation of a series on Christian Apologetics. For more posts like this, click here, here, and here.

“And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-16, HCSB)

Peter is urging the early church to live by the grace of God in every situation, by pursuing goodness and truth, and to allow the chips fall where they may. He does not promise an easy ride or even peace with neighbors, but he does remind them that even if they face suffering or threats for living by the Christian way, they “are blessed.” For Peter, to “honor the Messiah as Lord” means to have the right heart position, one of humility, gentleness, respect, and preparedness. There is also an inherent premise to honoring the Messiah as Lord, which is to recognize that Christ is truth, and we are not. In other words, for the Christian to even begin to give a right defense of the faith (or, “a reason for the hope”), we must first acknowledge and submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Truth.

But our culture just doesn’t like to concede to the idea of objective truth, does it?

Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and zoologist (and brazenly anti-God), said, “Science is the disinterested search for the objective truth about the material world.” Even this quote, from the modern patron saint of Darwinian theory, claims that objective truth can be found, but only as is limited to material/physical evidence. As much as cultural progressives want to embrace science, they can really only accept what is palatable for their post-modern sensibilities (exemplified by the Pinterest vs. Live Action expose recently)…which inevitably poses the question: is “truth a matter of perspective only” or can an objective truth be found? [1]

Post-modernism has worked tirelessly to disassociate itself from any form of empirical knowledge and/or natural theology and has left the Millennial Christian in its wake. For my generation, born after 1982, knowledge is king, but truth is a matter of taste. Knowledge is available to us, via the internet, at any time of the day or night, but truth is something we bend at will. For a generation founded on post-modern ideals, truth is not about reality, but about how we feel, the way we communicate, and what it can do for me right now.

Additionally, there are those who say that truth is only relevant if it produces a good result, otherwise known as pragmatism.[2] Many young Christians fall into this camp, claiming that the very purpose of our belief is the result it produces, or the “good” it accomplishes in our communities. There are two problems with this: first, the definition of pragmatism contains a value claim in the descriptive “good.” How can one know what is good or evil without an objective standard? Does this, too, depend on the result it garners? To say that something is “good” without a standard outside of the claim is completely meaningless. The reasoning becomes circular and the terms hold no real significance. The second problem is that to live by pragmatic truth means that we must know the results of our decisions and claims…the full results. How can anyone know the complete implications of a belief without an objective, timeless perspective? (Now might be a good time to look up the phrase “unintended consequences.”) The risk that pragmatism poses is that I may have a “good” (relatively speaking) result now, but then garner a terrible one down the line. Only someone completely outside of the situation and full of all wisdom can truly make an objective assessment like this. Sound familiar?

Neither the relativism of post-modern thought nor the pragmatic approach can lead to the prize of truth because neither of these paths lead outside of ourselves. If we manipulate ideas about what is “good” or “bad” without truth as the plumbline, we will succumb to a lifestyle of situational ethics where feelings always trump fact. On the other hand, if we try and make decisions about what we believe based on a guess of what the result may be, we make ourselves the all-knowing god (although, a god with extremely limited abilities who is subject to the cultural whims of the day.)

In his letter to the young church, Peter knew that they would face similar faulty lines of thinking and he was addressing it head-on. He exhorts the people to not give way to fear, despite the hostility they may face, but to do the very thing that will guard them from bad thinking—to honor, or give their hearts entirely over to, the Messiah as Lord. He is the only one able to provide true objectivity in a world gone crazy. He is the only one who defines goodness, worthiness, and righteousness. He is, in fact, truth embodied. Jesus said about himself, “I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” [3]

Peter knew that our reasoning as Christians must be anchored in the truth of Christ dwelling inwardly—not our own ideas or society’s guesses about it all. If we claim to be followers of the Way, then even our logic will flow from the center of truth, from Christ himself. Let’s ask the Spirit of God to “lead us into all truth.” [4]

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[1] Groothius, 119
[2] Groothius, 133
[3] John 14:6 AMP
[4] John 16:13 HCSB

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