When you’re listening to a sermon, or song, or reading something – such as this very article, or having a conversation with a friend or anyone else, do you tend to react instinctively to what they’re saying either positively or negatively?
Or do you attempt to internalise it and give the argument some critical analysis of your own before you decide whether you agree or disagree?
Chances are you do a bit of both.
Of course it’s fine to have opinions about particular subjects and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with sharing our opinions so long as we know their place, and are willing to incorporate new information and modify our opinions accordingly.
If we’re very well versed in a particular subject, then often we can immediately assess the accuracy in another person’s knowledge claims, and rather than ‘reactively’ criticising it, we are quickly but cogently formulating a response to it based on our extensive knowledge. This is good, and it’s not what I mean.
The problem I’m talking about occurs most often when we’re emotionally attached to a particular view and we’re actually rather ignorant of the subject in general (politics anyone?). As a result, we can vehemently agree or disagree with a particular view purely by virtue of how closely it is in line with our own. This can happen even when we have no good reason besides being emotionally attached to it.
So, instead of taking in an opposing viewpoint reflectively, and critically analysing it based on its merits, we can simply react to it. We either disregard it entirely irrationally, or we embrace wholeheartedly (which is equally irrational).
Even if our particular viewpoint happens to be more rational, our reaction may still be completely irrational if we cannot clearly express why we agree or disagree with anothers.
As Christians we can take in messages and sermons from pastors and treat them as gospel without any thoughtful critique whatsoever, merely because we hold the speaker in high regard. Or we can do the opposite if that speaker is not in our denomination.
It is easy to let our guard down, and put our discerning mind on hold (because it takes effort to maintain intellectual vigilance) when we listen to message that we expect to either agree or disagree with.
In dealing with atheists and other worldviews, it is so easy to scoff at the blatant absurdity of some opposing worldviews. Except that your own position could be equally absurd, if you haven’t got a reasonable case for holding it.
This problem has become especially prevalent in our inattentive, infinite scroll feed, sound byte theology culture. There is just planet loads of tropes, clichés and platitudes that flood social media like a disease. The question is, how much of it do you really critically analyse? How often do you really sit and think about a picture or some chic Christian quote or meme with a sunset background before you share or repost it? Is it biblical, or does it just give you the good feels?
This is a mistake. As Christians especially, it is an unbiblical mistake.
One of the most prevalent, and insidious falsehoods about faith that has spread through the modern church is the belief that faith is meant to be blind.
This is patently unbiblical. Ironically, this ridiculous idea is an atheist invention. The appeal to ‘blind faith’ is used pejoratively to lampoon Christianity. Yet somehow Christians have managed to embrace it as some sort of virtue. It is in fact self defeating and not at all Christian.
Anyways, it’s also not the topic of this post.
I only bring it up because having faith in the Lord is not an excuse to be ignorant.
Consider the following verses (see the link for the full chapter, in context).
20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil… 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (emphasis added)
(I didn’t have to include verse 28, I just like it.)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (emphasis added)
25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. (emphasis added)
The main point here, is Paul was laying out a defense for his innocence to Festus and King Agrippa, and was very cleverly at the same time reasoning in defense of the Christian faith (the Resurrection). Paul was making a rational case for his belief and his personal innocence.
And don’t forget one of my favourites:
5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (emphasis added)
Taken together, these verses (and many, many others) make it undeniably clear that it is not just good as Christians to be thoughtful, and to test all knowledge (including our own) against Scripture, but that it is necessary.
It’s hard to capture the scope of what I am talking about here. When I say all knowledge claims, I mean all. When we are exhorted to delight in the law of the Lord, and to study his Word, it is not just because it is ‘the Word of God’, but because a better understanding of the Word, provides a Godly foundation for discernment.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a]you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b]may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Understanding scripture gives us the confidence not just to better discern the world around us, but to be less inclined to accept or reject a given claim purely because it fits neatly into our preconceptions (or our opinion of the one making the claim).
Have the confidence to not be blown about by every wind of doctrine, by having confidence, not just in your understanding of scripture, but in the knowledge that the Lord asks of us to ‘test all things’.
By this I mean everything, test the claims of science and philosophy. Don’t just emotionally embrace or reject everything you see or hear, but be willing to explore the claim and the evidence for it.
When you listen to Christian music, ask yourself, “is this consistent with the Word of God?”, “Does it make sense?” Don’t just guess.
(Blogging 101: Insert vaguely relevant image of Bible with delicious looking coffee to push point home)
One particular area of concern is in those claiming to receive a ‘word of knowledge’. Many denominations disagree about whether this even happens today. More importantly however, is whether you believe in modern prophets or not, the Bible is clear that we should definitely put any and all knowledge claims to the test. Some simple questions you can ask is “is this claim even testable?”, is it possible to even know if a particular word has, or has not come to pass?
This is especially important because these individuals are claiming to be receiving direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that prophecy must be tested.
Men, Christ called us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Do not ignore the pursuit of a sharp mind. Test all things, and be humble and willing to give everything you hear the benefit of thoughtful reflection.