Guyton, who grew up in the same evangelicalism where I have spent the vast majority of my collegiate and young adult existence, asks a poignant question. In the evangelical world I remember, it was all about absolute truth, but the notion of absolute truth was presented like this: There is an objective universe out there that exists, regardless of the myriad of vantage points from which people perceive it. Objective facts matter. You don’t get to make up your own reality.
This is how we differentiated ourselves from all those godless liberal relativists who believed that each person got to make up their own truth. Now here we are, and don’t look now but we’ve become the exact same thing that we used to (and still do, in some places) accuse those godless liberals of being. How did we get here? It all started as a reaction against Bill Clinton and the excesses of his administration–somehow it was OK to cook up absurd conspiracy theories about a morally sleazy politician because his sleaziness justified it, and when those conspiracy theories are debunked just cook up a whole shitload more. From there it snowballed, and now here we are.
Guyton posits that this is due to another way of defining absolute truth–not as the existence of universal truth but as obedience to an infallible authority. Evangelicals claim that this authority is the Bible but the way it works out in reality is that the true authority is those who interpret the Bible and the doctrinal/theological framework within which they interpret the Bible. Apply this to a partisan political platform and it’s no surprise that evangelicals are all about Donald Trump.
The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.
…I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).