objective truth

Objective and Subjective Truth in the Classroom

Bernard Bull The Lutheran Educator Leave a Comment

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Over the last month, I’ve been spending fifteen to twenty minutes on apologetics with my twelve-year-old daughter each night. We do it right after our family bedtime devotions. We are working through a selection of about forty short lessons. As I explained to my daughter, we are directed in 1 Peter 3:15 to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” So, I’m slowly preparing my daughter to do this. We are working through arguments for the existence of God, questions about how God lets bad things in our lives, questions about why God doesn’t just make all the sin in the world instantly disappear, questions about the historicity of Jesus, questions about the resurrection, questions about how a just God could command the killing of large groups of people like what we read in portions of the Old Testament, and questions about whether it is closed-minded to believe that there is only one way to heaven. We are exploring these and many other questions.

This has been a wonderful time for conversation and learning with my daughter. Sometimes I do most of the talking. Something the time is filled with her questions. She tends to ponder things a bit, so it is common for her to go to bed after our short lessons and then come back later with a question or some sort of illustration that she came up with based on our discussion. She seems to have a propensity for taking whatever we talk about and trying to apply it to familiar experiences in her life, and that makes for an even richer conversation.

The Difference

This is just what happened when we dedicated a little time to talk about the difference between subjective and objective truth. I explained that objective truth is that which is true for all people, all places, and all times. It is true whether we know it or like it. Subjective truth, on the other hand, is a truth that can be relative, different from one person to another. For example, two people can disagree about the best flavor of ice cream. One might argue that vanilla is the best, while another might argue that strawberry mango with chocolate chips and licorice is the best. They might each genuinely believe that their preferred flavor tastes the best. What is true or correct for one person is not necessarily what is true and correct for the other person. Subjective truth deals with matters of opinion or personal viewpoints.

Objective Truth

Objective truth doesn’t work that way. Suppose we instead decided to debate whether there is a car coming down the road beside which we are both standing. This is no longer a matter of opinion. If one person said, “I don’t believe there is a car coming,” that belief would be broken along with some bones if a person stepped out in front of that car. The car is not just a matter of personal preference, opinion, or point of view. It is an objective reality. Either you acknowledge the fact that a car is coming down the road and respond accordingly, or you face the consequences of denying that objective truth.

The Misconception

This seems like common sense, but that is not how it works with many people today, especially when it comes to religious matters. Sometimes people treat all matters of religion as if they reside in the world of the subjective. You believe in your god, and I will believe in mine. You believe that a certain action is morally wrong, and I believe that it is okay or right. You believe that all people go to heaven, and I believe that there is both a heaven and hell.

Yet, these are not mere matters of point of view or opinion. These are claims about objective truth, and they have significance in our lives. So, how can we help students learn to understand these important distinctions?

A Christian classroom is a wonderful place to explore this important distinction between objective and subjective truth. You can teach this distinction in almost any content, whether it is science, math, social studies, art, physical education, or language arts. In fact, if you introduce the concepts, you can even invite students to help you surface the differences. All of this serves as a good and important foundation as we invite students to study God’s Word and to discover the many important truths—objective truths—that have implications for life here and for eternity.


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About the Author

Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He has 20+ years of experience in Lutheran education ranging from middle school to graduate school and parish education. He is also the editor of the forthcoming CPH book, Pedagogy of Faith. Bernard’s work focuses upon futures in education, educational innovation, and the intersection of education & digital culture. You can read his latest posts here.

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