Challenges to Apologetics, Part 1
The Loss of Meaning and Truth. One hundred years ago the development and expansion in industrialization promised a new technological world in which almost nothing would be impossible for the modern man. Advances in science and medicine only confirmed these hopes. The all encompassing vision of the Enlightenment was thought to provide a unified worldview that, with time, would outshine religious faith and usher in a secular utopia. For many, these hopes were crushed in the light of two World Wars. If the Enlightenment project has shown itself to be a dismal failure, how can we place our trust in my all-embracing vision of life? What if we’re all wrong? Who are we to claim we have the truth? And if there is no absolute Truth (with a capital “T”) then maybe we’re all free to create our own truths. From here it’s only a short jump to deny that truth or meaning can be conveyed through language (as many of the more radical deconstructionists have done).
I encountered this very problem during one encounter during my college days. It was the beginning of my junior year and I was in the library having a conversation with a new friend. A few minutes into our discussion in entered a familiar face from around campus, we’ll call him Jackie. I don’t recall how the discussion shifted, but soon all three of us were talking about philosophy and the power of language. It was then that Jackie expressed his belief that words aren’t a proper vehicle to carry meaning. At first I was a bit alarmed, though I tried not to let it show. I warned Jackie that if what he was saying turned out to be correct we could then interpret someone else’s words however we’d like, making them say whatever we wanted. To my surprise, Jackie was consistent, claiming that this was exactly his point; we can interpret texts and people in however manner we’d like to!
I found this entire episode ironic, especially considering all the words we were using! So I tried one last tactic. As our dialogue was coming near to its end, I thanked Jackie for sharing with us and told him hat I was relieved that we saw things eye to eye after all. To this he replied, “What do you mean?” I explained that we both agreed that words are an imperfect but sufficient vehicle to convey meaning and truth. “But I don’t believe that, that’s your view,” Jackie replied. He was now exactly where I wanted him. “If your position is right,” I said, “then I can use your words to say whatever I want to hear. And I’ve decided that you believe exactly what I believe. That is your position, correct?” Jackie wasn’t amused. I recall him taking off while muttering “You don’t understand…” under his breath. I thought my point had been made. No matter how loudly we protest to the opposite, we all assume that truth exists and language, to some measure, can sufficiently capture it.
Jackie’s case is not unique. What was particularly tragic in this case that we both attended a Christian college! For whatever the reason-and I’m not pointing fingers-he wasn’t hearing solid, Christian responses. In his own worlds he was receiving nothing but pat answers, slogans that really dismissed his struggles rather than addressing them directly. The loss of confidence in meaning and truth is a huge barrier from those who claim to know truth incarnate (cf. John 14:6).