Art Lindsley is a senior fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute who believes we need to defend absolute truth in a relativistic world. Lindsley is most recently the author of True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World. He has served at the C.S. Lewis Institute since 1987 and was Director of Educational Ministries at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, and Staff Specialist with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. He co-authored Classical Apologetics with R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner. Lindsley has an M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh.
In what sense is truth the decisive issue of our time?
If you give up the idea that there is any truth, as some people are doing, then you don't have any basis for anything in terms of ideas for culture, for morality, for religious belief. In all these arenas if you shift the view of truth, then you have no basis to maintain anything.
If you had to summarize to somebody what you're trying to establish in True Truth as it relates to both modernism and post-modernism, what would it be?
The first half of the book tries to deal with the basic psychological objection of post-modernism, which is that any kind of grand story or meta-narrative will automatically produce oppression. So that whenever you speak about truth or absolutes, many people automatically hear it as intolerance and closed-mindedness and self-righteousness. In other words, they hear a different message than what you may be saying.
Where was modernism flawed?
It placed too much accent on reason, that reason was the definitive and only way you could know things. I don't see how any believer could be a modernist because we need revelation in order to know the answers to some of the deepest things. Anybody who would say we need revelation can't say that reason is omnipotent. And I would say we can place a lot of emphasis on imagination and on mystery.
You say young people are loathe to look at their friend and say, "your position is untrue." What's going on in our need to communicate truth but do it without arrogance, and yet believe that we're talking about the truth?
I work with a group of interns that come out of secular colleges. These are very committed believers. They're the cream of the crop. I find they don't have any difficulty saying that something is true, but only with great difficulty can they say something else is false. It's inbred in them by their educational system that to make any such claim is arrogant and impossible. If you even mention the idea of truth or give reasons against post-modernism, you find a strong emotion arising that even goes against any argument. I remember one young man after class came up to me and said, "I really appreciate what you're telling us, but as soon as you mention giving reasons for faith, I have a strong reaction that rises from my gut." I did a poll the next day and found that about two-thirds of the class of these very committed believers felt the same thing.
People need to understand that relativism has massive negative consequences. What are some of the most severe negative consequences of relativism?
C.S. Lewis made a comment to this effect. It has great dangers because he's never seen any instance in history of anyone that's relativistic, and then given absolute power, who uses it for a benevolent end. The danger is if that were to become a predominant influence in culture, or be at the highest levels of government and society, then there would be no checks and balances for anything.
Another weakness within relativism is its inability to define or deal with evil.
I would say that post-modernism, on the one hand, says that there are no absolutes and therefore, no truth at all. Yet they deeply struggle with problems. For instance, one of the examples I came across recently is Michael Foucault, one of the post-modern philosophers who really struggled with the idea that rape was wrong. His philosophy really wanted to break all rules and boundaries and he equated all law with oppression. Therefore, lawlessness meant freedom. To make a law against rape was against his principles, yet deep down in his gut he knew that it was wrong, and it needed to be stopped.
Richard Rorty says that there's no neutral ground on which you can condemn the Holocaust. Now, he wouldn't prefer that kind of thing, but on the other hand there's no grounds on which you can stop it. And he's very glad he lives in a Christian nation where Judeo-Christian values, are all over the culture. And he's glad he's at this time and at this place, but there's no grounds on which he can condemn anything else.
C.S. Lewis had an interesting connection that he made between meaning and imagination, and it has a lot of importance for how we do apologetics today.
One of the reasons that C.S. Lewis is still so popular and still speaks to people in this age is that he dealt with both reason and imagination. And he said at one point in his writings that "Reason is the natural organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of meaning." He argued, in a variety of places, that the only way you really understand any idea or set of ideas, is if you can get an image in your imagination with which to connect it. Of course, that was where he was so good. In his philosophical writings he had great pictures and metaphors that would make his point. And he could also communicate just as well in fiction. The Narnia Chronicles, or in the Space Trilogy, or Til We Have Faces communicate his philosophical ideas in a way that deeply impacts people's imagination.
How did Lewis's conversion illustrate the importance of imagination in relationship with reason?
His first step in coming back from the atheism in which he was rooted at that time, was that he picked up a little book in a bookstore. It was George MacDonald's book, Phantastes. He said something happened to him, something jumped off the page and baptized his imagination. He was never quite the same afterwards. It gave him a vision for what he later described as holiness. He said it took awhile for the rest of him to catch up with that, and he had issues related to his reason that had to be addressed. And then finally, after those were addressed, he had to deal with the matter of the will. And he said he finally submitted to God as "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England."
You also underscore the importance of love, that we want to have right thinking, right practices, but we've also got to have right attitudes.
If we communicate what we believe or our ethical positions without the right attitude, then we're not likely to be heard. I've found that in many cases love itself is one of the greatest apologetics, one of the greatest reasons for faith. Tal Brooke, who is the president of Spiritual Counterfeits Project, talks about living and learning under Sai Baba in India, and he met this missionary couple that spoke to him about arguments for faith. He tried to convert them to Hinduism, but what really made the difference for him was the agape love that they showed him. He realized that that was not present in the Hindu disciples around him and, above all, in Sai Baba, the guru of gurus in India. This other-centered agape love was a self-sacrificial love.
When I heard him tell his story it really impacted me because I thought of the passage in John 13 where it says, "How will they know that they are my disciples? They will know them by their love." There's something about that unique, other-centered agape love that's unique to faith in Christ.
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True Truth is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
More information about Art Lindsley is available from the C.S. Lewis Institute.
More information about True Truth is available from the publisher.
Dick Staub is president of the Center for Faith and Culture, which examines intersections between popular culture and religious belief. Complete transcripts and audio versions of Dick Staub Interviews can be found at dickstaub.com. Recent Dick Staub Interviews for Christianity Today include:
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