This quote from Phillip Kenneson’s provocatively titled essay "There’s No Such Thing As Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing Too" unveils a disturbing parallel between claims of "objective truth" and an irrelevant, judgmental church:
"Too often appeals to the objective truth of the gospel have served as means for the church to evade its responsibility to live faithfully before the world. In short, Christians insisited that the gospel was objectively true regardless of how we lived. The paradigm I am advocating frankly admits that all truth claims require for their widespread acceptance the testimony of trusted and thereby authorized witnesses. . . . What our world is waiting for, and what the church seems reluctant to offer, is not more incessant talk about objective truth, but an embodied witness that clearly demonstrates why anyone should care about any of this in the first place."
As Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat point out in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, Paul actually advocates this kind of "truth verification" when he says he wants the Colossian believers hearts to be encouraged, and their community to be united in love, so that they will have all the riches of "assured understanding." (2:1-4). Apparently getting "understanding" hinges on unity and love and encouragement (not the other way around). What makes the claims of the gospel plausible is the embodied witness of the community who has embraced it, not the "objective truth" of it. (No space to fully write about it in a blog post, but rest assured I am not a relativist, but neither am I an objectivist. We all understand and know things from a point of view, so there is no such thing as purely "objective" knowledge).
Think about this, then: What causes believers to "lose the faith?" Most of the time it is because of the division, dissension and outright contempt on display in so many churches. Essentially they leave Christianity because of the absence of an embodied witness. It doesn’t seem to be working, in other words. The absence of unity and love has caused an inability to obtain "assured understanding" in Paul’s words. But what would a truly embodied witness accomplish? Perhaps we’d get some more assured understanding, some more grounding in our faith, a better foundation to build upon. We might actually grow up into something resembling the fullness of Christ.
We might do well as Christian communities to focus more on letting the gospel become incarnate in our lives and churches than on arguing against "relativism." I think what will draw outsiders toward the church will be a credible, embodied witness ("These people are different, I like these people. I wonder how they got this way.") rather than an overpowering argument ("Good point! And you were so mean-spirited in making that point. I think I’ll become a Christian.") or even spectacular signs and wonders ("Neat magic trick! I think I’ll become a Christian.")