Relativism, based on the word “relation,” has much to commend it in theology as in all else. It recognizes that things have to be set in relation, whether to other things or to the observer or speaker. Without it, historical judgment would be impossible. And without it we should be set in the hopeless conflict of warring absolutes.
A certain degree of relativism is necessary for a proper understanding of the Bible. The words of Scripture have to be seen in relation to their linguistic history and usage. In different passages they can have varying senses or nuances that can be determined only by study of the “relations.” Doctrines, too, must be viewed with a degree of relativism. One must study the development of Christology, for example, in its various inner and outer relations if he is to gain a comprehensive and accurate picture. Similarly, the biblical happenings are in a real sense relative to the general historical background against which they take place.
Relativism will also play a proper part in the presentation of the Gospel by theologians and especially by preachers. This is partly a matter of communication, the finding of intelligible words for today; often these are not the words of Scripture itself. It is also a matter of apprehension. If Paul saw in a glass darkly, so do all other writers and speakers. Not enjoying, as the biblical authors did, a special inspiration of God, they can present truth only to the best of their understanding and ability. At this level, then, the exposition will be relative to the expositor. The Reformation insistence that subsidiary standards are reformable rests on this.
The value of the principle of relativism is excellently illustrated in the modern renewal movement in Roman Catholicism. ...1
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