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Relativism, Tolerance, & Christian Truth

An Interview with Richard B. Keyes

This month we continue a three-part series of never-before-published interviews with AIIA’s three Resource Associates, each of whom have training, experience, and expertise in a particular area of apologetics. Richard Keyes is the director of L’Abri in Southborough, Massachusetts (49 Lynbrook Rd 01772 508-481-9101), which he and his wife, Mardi, founded in 1979. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has authored Beyond Identity and is one of a number of contributors to Os Guinness’ 1992 text, No God But God. The Keyeses have three grown sons.

AIIA: Why isn’t relativism a viable worldview?

KEYES: Religious relativism is not an intellectually viable world view because it claims to free us from the arrogant position of claiming to know absolute truth. Yet relativism itself is just one possible position among many claims to ultimate truth. To be a relativist is to claim the privileged position of being able to under-stand and interpret correctly everybody else’s truth claims-the very thing the relativist scorns when any-one else does it. Everybody in the world who has even thought about ultimate truth believes that most of the people in the world are wrong. This is to say that all thinking people make absolute knowledge claims; some of us admit it. The relativist believes that all those who believe in absolutes are wrong for believing in absolutes. That makes a lot of people wrong.

AIIA: How are Christians objectively able to claim that Christianity is true?

KEYES: God alone has complete objectivity. The Christian’s confidence in objective knowledge is to the extent that his or her knowledge is close to God’s. This pushes the discussion back a step, to how we know that God is objectively there and true. God gives us an intern-al sense of certainty in his objective truth in countless different ways with different people. My own experience has been that it comes through seeing the many different arguments, indicators, discussions, and issues that point to the truth of the Bible as the ultimate explanation of what is. It is dangerous to try to pin everything on one master argument. It gives one a greater sense of certainty to draw on many different areas, all of which point to God’s truth. If we find this to be the case, it becomes far less likely that God is a figment of our imaginations or traditions.

AIIA: Didn’t Jesus teach His followers to be tolerant of other people’s views and lifestyles?

KEYES: Jesus taught his followers to be tolerant of people, not of wrong ideas and destructive ways of living. Modern secular tolerance focuses on being tolerant of all ideas and lifestyles, but of course it is not able to do this. It is highly intolerant of differing ideas …and of many kinds of behavior, e.g. rape, racism.

AIIA: What is the future for America and the world?

KEYES: Though not a prophet, I see America as basic-ally in decline. This will continue either faster or slower depending on thousands of factors. If there is no revival and reformation…our idols…will destroy us.

AIIA: Name 5 resources for someone trying to “discover” themselves and truth.

KEYES: This depends entirely on where someone is “at”. A few books: C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is still valuable; John Alexander’s Secular Squeeze deals with more contemporary issues with… real understanding; Kelly Monroe’s Finding God at Harvard is about 40 chapters by different people associated with Harvard (myself included) which gives a wonderful breadth of the truth and relevance of Christ. My own book, Beyond Identity, will soon be coming back into print, dealing with issues of self discovery and personal identity from a Biblical context. Lastly, come to L’Abri.

AIIA: How can anyone be sure about anything? Don’t you ever have doubts about your faith?

KEYES: As Os Guinness has written, doubt is not a Christian problem, it is a human problem. Most Christians have doubts, but that is not the end of the world. They must be admitted, faced, and worked on. We must be part of Christian communities which encourage this rather than denying doubt or shaming those who admit doubts. My own doubts used to be¬† intense and catastrophic (“It is all untrue and a hoax!”), but they have gotten old. I have been there before and resolved them before so they are less powerful and disorienting. There are many Biblical examples of doubt which should reassure us that it is safe to doubt, but also encourage us that doubts can be resolved.