Book Club Discussion: It's all relative!

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

It’s Monday! Time for the final post on March’s book club selection- How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith by Crystal Downing. 

In Chapter 7, Downing examines a variety of approaches to relativism, arguing that what she calls “building relativism” is favorable to Christianity. This kind of relativism allows for absolute truth, while maintaining many of the epistemological ideas associated with postmodernism. In in, “truth meets human beings on their own ground…Truth, then is relative to each; all come to the light differently. Nevertheless, it is the same Truth they come to: Jesus is the way, the truth and the light.” Through Jesus, truth is found in relationship, not in a set of beliefs or ideas to which one ascribes. 

I like that. The beauty of relationship with God is that each individual experiences it quite differently. 

 However, what I enjoyed most about the last few pages of Downing’s book is what she says about the Bible. She writes that “while many modernists saw scriptural discrepancies as evidence that the Bible was not ‘true,’ postmodernists would attribute discrepancies to the pluralistic situatedness of interpretation,” making the Bible a more true-to-life and authentic account of human interaction with the divine. Therefore, “the incredible diversity and apparent contradictions within Scripture are its strength. Its pluralistic pronouncements and parables can speak to the pluralistic experiences of Christians…” 

I don’t know about you, but this calls to mind the many theological volumes that have been written in recent years seeking to address the discrepancies in Scripture. I’ve known theologians who could explain away everything from the historically impossible numbers associated with Hebrew battles to the differing accounts of the Sermon on the Mount to the alternating emphases on works and faith in the apostolic letters. These explanations always used to stress me out because I secretly felt like they sounded more like rationalizations than anything. They sounded a bit desperate, if you know what I mean. 

But Downing’s approach, which I’ve encountered in several places recently, is refreshing. Perhaps one of the greatest themes of Scripture is that there is no one theme. Perhaps in allowing such diversity in the writing and compiling of Scripture, God sought to protect us from making an idol out of any one interpretation of it. Perhaps rather than fearing apparent contradictions, we should celebrate them, knowing that they serve as affirmation that God speaks to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

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