What’s Wrong With Playing Theology Police
August 1, 2013
Michael is the lead pastor of Denver Community Church, and is the author of Changing Faith: Questions, Doubts and Choices About an Unchanging God and ... Read More
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.
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 in the Christian life is not being right. The most important thing is faithfulness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
We need to move from an ego driven need to be right to a soulful desire to be faithful.
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?
Will I listen to the viewpoints, critiques and beliefs of others—even if they are contrary to mine?
Before sharing an insight, consider if it will promote more thoughtful, faithful dialogue or feed argumentative division
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.
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.”
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.
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.