This blog originally appeared on Relevant Magazine at the following link (may be removed over time, but I promise I have retained all parts of the article as printed): http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what%E2%80%99s-wrong-playing-theology-police
In the modern age with many armchair psychologists, what sounds like good advice can fall apart under even the slightest scrutiny, let alone a more thorough scrub. Such was an article I read recently on Relevant Magazine's website, which panders to emotional states in a way that is most commonly seen in secular psychology. When emotions, motivations, and perceptions are given equal weight as facts and truth in determining "correctness", the discussion is no longer about tangible truth, but enters into the realm of the completely subjective. Subjectivity is worthless when discussing truth, and debate and discussion should seek to avoid it as much as possible. On to the article itself, with the excerpt being responded to in italics, with plain font for my response.
Sometimes, the worst desire a person can have is to be right at all costs. As strong as this desire may be, we must realize that at no time are we 100 percent correct about everything. But take heart, because we are never 100 percent wrong about everything either.
One doesn't need to be 100 percent correct about everything to be 100 percent correct about one thing, so this is a "straw man" argument. Nobody claims to believe it, and nobody is going to bother defending it because it is weak and easy to attack, much like a straw man. The desire to be right isn't wrong, the desire to be considered right by "winning" an argument or discussion, even when you are wrong, is wrong. That is a perversion of truth, and truth should be something that Christians hold significant and important. The desire to be "right" is the reason that Christians are persecuted, because our belief system states that it is the only one which is "right". So every Christian should be very concerned with "being right", as if they are wrong about their belief, they may suffer an eternity for following the incorrect deity.
There is “right” and “wrong” in all that we think, say, do and believe—even in this article. This can be a frightening thought for many of us. But we need not fear, for the most important thing in the Christian life is not being right. The most important thing is faithfulness.
The most important thing is truth. If we don't have truth, we are wasting our time. Faithfulness is also a fruit of the spirit, not what grows the spirit in us in the first place. Faithfulness alone does not have any ability to tell us if what we have placed our faith in is correct or not. Faithfulness may certainly give us the strength and motivation to act out our "great commission", but faithfulness is only a means, not an end, and we have plenty examples of people placing their faith in things which do not deserve it.
Let me explain.
Many refer to the Christian life as a “relationship with Jesus.” What makes relationships work is not being right, but living faithfully in them.
What makes relationships work is living in truth, and the only reason Jesus is worth having a relationship with is because he is part of the personification of truth by being a member of the Trinity. Truth is a requirement in the development of trust. Faithfulness is thus at least a result of trust, such as is the case with the spirit where if we do not trust God, the spirit of God cannot do any work in us. We then cannot be faithful to something or someone we don't trust, and we can't trust something or someone that is not based in truth.
The issue implied above is when people confuse "opinion" with "fact", and when one asserts their opinion as a fact, that's certainly wrong, but that is a distinction missing from the article. That has more to do with effective communication and maturity of spirit than whether or not the desire to "be right" is an issue.
Think about a close relationship you have with someone—a sibling, a friend, a spouse or a roommate. There are times in these relationships when communication breaks down and devolves into a heated discussion about who is right. We try to prove our point and stray from the place where the discussion began. When this happens the argument turns into name-calling, accusations, dredging up past hurts and twisting the other person’s words—all for the sake of being right.
Contrast those painful moments with the times we live as a faithful friend, a loyal spouse or a loving brother or sister. When our focus is living faithfully, what is right and what is wrong become readily visible. Faithfulness shines a bright light on that which is true, and false things tend to scurry like cockroaches from its light.
That people are not competent enough in their communication skills to have an argument or debate does not mean that an argument or debate is not a viable and necessary part of a relationship, or that only one person isn't "right" in that situation. It is not faithfulness that prompts us to say the things that need to be said, to expose our deep feelings, but trust built on truth. Those situations aren't resolved when one person gives up on "being right", but when both persons are focusing on "what is true", and giving up on their fears based on the lies of the great deceiver.
Faithfulness again has no capability to identify truth unless that faith is being based on truth in the first place, so the efforts should not be on faithfulness alone, but on understanding and seeking truth to place our faith in in the first place.
If this is true in our human relationships, then how much more should this be central in our relationship with Jesus? This is why Jesus’ invited his disciples to be faithful. He never demanded they be right about everything, for Jesus understood that faithfulness was and is a higher calling. The division between being right and being faithful is often a divide between our ego and our soul.
Demanding that they be right about everything is not the same as about specific things, so this argument is another "straw man". It was very much imperative to Jesus that his disciples be right about who Jesus was, so asserting that "being right" was not important is dangerously ignorant of scripture. How can we ignore the rebuke that Jesus provided to the religious elite of his day, exposing their hypocrisy and pride? How can anyone say that "being right" was not important when whole letters to churches were focused on correcting aberrant and false teachings? Both are numerous in example, as what was important wasn't correcting the quantity of faithfulness, but in the truths that faith was derived from in the first place.
This divide is often seen in theological discussions. We quickly leap to intellectual arguments in an attempt to combat the beliefs of our brothers and sisters. When this happens, even the best attempts to offer further insight, share another viewpoint or offer gentle instruction is met with hostility.
If people are being argumentative or stubborn, that's one thing. The problem is there doesn't seem to be a distinction in this article between someone just picking a fight, and someone trying to root out false teaching. Both will use nearly identical means, but their motivations and ends are completely different. Again, Jesus criticized the hypocritical religious teachings of his day, and the apostles have a significant number of writings to churches which explicitly "combat" false teachings, so the issue isn't with "being right".
It’s no wonder some have a disdain for theology. They often see it used as a weapon, rather than a vehicle that moves us toward being more faithful. I know all about this.
Some people are also lazy. They see theology as a threat to their apathy, rather than something that grows them as an individual. As laziness is no more valid an argument than misunderstanding against the validity of theology or how it is shared, the root of the issue is not then with theology or its transmission, but the hearts of the people receiving the message. If they aren't willing to seek out truth, then no amount of faithfulness is going to magically show them truth. Horse to water and all that jazz.
I can argue with the best of them. Not only that, but my ego feeds me lies about why I am right, and how I can use theology to prove others wrong. Time and time again I fall for the lie that tells me the most important thing I can do is bury someone else in a landslide of words.
As before, this is not a knock on arguments or debate, but on individuals being incompetent to take part in arguments or debate. The point of argument or debate is to find truth, and if it takes a landslide of words to accomplish that, by all means. If all you want to do is win an argument regardless of whether you are right or wrong, then you're just a bully picking fights, the truth holds no value to you, and you aren't debating or discussing.
In these moments, I am dead wrong, no matter how articulate my argument. The only thing I display is my capacity to be unfaithful to the kind of life Jesus calls me to.
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. The truth value of a statement does not rely on the method of transmission or the motivations of the speaker. A poorly shared truth is no more or less true, it is only better or worse received, and man is not ultimately responsible for the salvation of our fellow man. It is this pointless desire to always say the right thing that has so many Christians paralyzed instead of evangelizing. Out of fear from man, they'll not share the word of God.
Truth is still true, so what's wrong is your heart, not the method of communication or the desire to root out false teachings. Your position isn't wrong, but your motivations may certainly be. Even so, the homicidal motivations of the religious elite in Jesus' day still served God's purpose, so trying to discount saying something because you have the wrong motivations may not be valid, as God may use your humiliation to serve a greater purpose.
This is what Paul was getting after in his letter to the church in Corinth. He said, “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge ... but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Paul also wrote whole letters correcting aberrant and false teachings. To repudiate and instruct is an act of love, as when you don't care about someone, you don't care that they are living in lies and fantasy. It is not from hatred that we share truth, the only people claiming that are the same ones who reject the claims of Christianity in the first place. Love will certainly influence how we say something, but love is first and foremost also responsible to motivate us to say anything at all.
Perhaps a modern paraphrase for us today would be: “If I have my doctrinal statement nailed down flawlessly and am able to prove myself right by quoting verses to support my theology, but do not have love, I am dead wrong.”
Worthless pandering drivel. It is a work of Satan to convince people that they can be living in truth, but because they can't put on a show, speak in the most graceful of tongues, or perfectly isolate their selfish intentions, they shouldn't try and share the truth with others at all. The world is consumed with perception, and it will use any excuse to ignore the truth you share because it finds truth offensive, so why pander to them and water down our convictions because we're afraid of stepping on toes?
If you are factually correct, but your presentation is lacking or your motivations wrong, it doesn't change whether you are factually correct or not. We should not be concerned with putting on a show but in sharing truth.
I’m not advocating for a world in which there is no discussion around opposing viewpoints, or challenges to one’s theology. What I am advocating is that we reframe our thinking when it comes to how we discuss our beliefs about God.
No, this should have been "learn to communicate". Or perhaps "see whether you're being motivated by pride or by truth". Truth has no time to bother with pride, and cares not for your feelings, so if one is truly seeking truth they will put those things aside. Failure to do so is a failure of the individual alone, nothing more.
We need to move from an ego driven need to be right to a soulful desire to be faithful.
Both a "need to be right" and a "desire to be faithful" can exist at the same time, so it is a false dilemma to assert that we have to pick only one option over another. Also, with the addition of the terms "ego driven" in contrast with "soulful", the author has created yet another "straw man", trying to paint extra connotation where there is none. For example, I could reverse the terms:
We need to move from an ego driven desire to be faithful to a soulful need to be right.
Now the phrase is comparing vapid and shallow faith to an honest search for truth. As such, the terms "desire to be faithful" and "need to be right" only draw positive and negative connotation based on what's been attached to them, and if they can both be portrayed in positive and negative lights, it is fallacious to assert that only one version is the only correct one, especially without further context to support the assertion.
With this in mind, we ought to ask ourselves a few of questions anytime we seek to engage in discussion regarding our beliefs and theology.
Why do I feel the need to say anything?
Perhaps we have read a comment on a discussion thread with which we disagree. Before we click reply and get to typing—stop. Why are we saying something? Is our true desire to explore how we can be more faithful together as the people of God or to correct someone for the sake of being right?
This question should have been: What is the context of this discussion with respect to my ministry?
If this is some random person on YouTube or an internet forum spouting random comments versus the dinner table with family, the way that you should respond should be different. The existing relationship you have with the members of the conversation should greatly influence what and when you say something, but God can work through both contexts, so it's more a matter of aligning you heart to the truth God would have you see about your area of ministry.
Will I listen to the viewpoints, critiques and beliefs of others—even if they are contrary to mine?
Maybe a good rule is this: If we refuse to listen to others, then we should refrain from speaking. If our desire is truly to be faithful, then we would be open to accepting criticism, humbly receiving correction and inviting others to offer their insights. If we must speak, then we must listen.
Fallacy of false equivalence. A poorly constructed viewpoint, critique, or belief may not warrant attention, and "listening" for the sake of "listening" is not always a good use of time when pursuing truth. If someone is only sharing their opinions to serve their own ego, why should you listen to them since they are not pursuing truth?
The question should instead be: Am I competent to validate contrary positions for truth?
When one studies counterfeit money, they study the true article only, because it would be impossible to try and memorize and predict every manifestation of fraud that comes along. They then can use the truth to validate whether an example in front of them is true, because they know what it is supposed to be. As such, if contrary positions are built on opinions and emotion instead of truth, it is not beneficial to listen and accept anything they say.
If we are incompetent to determine truth, we in turn must admit incompetence for participating in the discussion or debate as well, for we have no grounds to know that our own position is even true.
Will this comment move others and myself toward greater faithfulness?
Before sharing an insight, consider if it will promote more thoughtful, faithful dialogue or feed argumentative division. We are greatly limited in how others will receive our comments, but we are not limited in how we share them. Let’s heed Paul’s instruction to the church in Colossae when he wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
This question should have been: Am I trying to share truth or just "be right"?
We cannot predict what will foster faithfulness, and we haven't been instructed to share faithfulness, but truth. We have been told truth, and it is belief in the truth which sets us free from the bondage of sin, not faithfulness.
Any statement which is true and understood will foster trust and eventually faithfulness. Any faithfulness not based on trust and truth is shallow and will falter at the slightest resistance. As such, truth is more important to cultivate and share than just trying to encourage faithfulness.
Finally, let’s remember we have each other, for better or worse. As brothers and sisters, we are one big family called to unity, not division. We should expect to disagree, have varying opinions and view the world differently. It is precisely in the midst of this that we can show all people a better way to live—by living faithfully in our relationship to Jesus and to one another.
Church discipline is not an option; it's a requirement to prevent perversion of the truth, and to protect the members of our church family who are not well equipped to identify truth. Whether new Christians or children, we should be very careful who we are letting teach, and if a person is not interested in believing or teaching Bible truth, they cannot be interested in faithfulness to the Christian God either.
For when we walk together, arm in arm, it’s beautiful. And when we do this, discussion, disagreements and instruction are then offered with the aim of being right about being faithful.
So in the end the article washes out with a platitude. Again, faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit, not how the spirit is obtained or grown in the first place. As faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit, we shouldn't be focusing on how to grow the one fruit, but on how to maintain relationship and grow in the spirit, and faithfulness will grow out of that. Much like how influencing a thermometer with hot or cold water doesn't actually change the temperature outside, seeking faithfulness is just manipulating what should be a result of our trust in the truth of God, not actually improving or growing our relationship with God.
This cannot be done in a way other than in studying and seeking truth and understanding. Whether that understanding is then provided by a word God lays on your heart during prayer, by the meditation in our hearts in response to truth shared in scripture or by the wisdom in good teachings, we should seek to bathe ourselves in the truth of God.
We should seek to know the truth such that when a fraud comes along, we do not validate based on our own determinations, but on the truth God has given us for determining good teaching. When we know truth, and see truth as more important than our feelings or emotions, we are much better equipped to do the things God has already asked us to do, using the tools and means that God designed in his infinite wisdom.