Every Christian needs a second opinion on their faith.
More to the point, my argument is that in order for their Christianity to be healthy and vibrant Christians need to cultivate the inclination to evaluate and re-evaluate the components of their faith (and potentially, their faith itself) from a variety of perspectives.
In other words, I am arguing that every Christian’s primary objective—just as every human being’s primary objective—is to be a truth seeker. As such, Christians are to make use of every available resource that is suitably adapted toward / fit for the purpose of truth-seeking. In this way we maximize our chances of not only of finding the most truth we can (and also the best, or most truthful truth), but we empower ourselves to become as practised and shrewd as possible when it comes to discerning truthfulness generally.
But why mention this? Surely Christians seek truth all the time!
On one level, yes: Christians do claim to be truth-seekers. Yet as I have brought out over nearly a dozen blog posts, the ways in which Christians interact with each other and outsiders when it concerns this truth (and indeed, the very nature and content of this truth—how they construe this truth) can be deeply problematic.
So let’s refocus matters: we need a more exacting notion of truth. For instance, I certainly validate (and value) the necessity of mathematical truths such as 2+2=4, physical truths such as the weight-bearing capacity of a tree branch, and abstract / logical truths such as A and -A forming a complete set. But let’s keep in mind the context of our discussion, for these are not primarily the “sorts” of truth that the biblical text is aiming at.
Instead, the Bible is primarily offering truths about who God is (or divine nature), who human beings are (or human nature), and the relationship between the two. For just as human beings are essentially relational in nature, so is the God of the Bible. Further, when it comes to relational beings our primary truth-seeking is that which puts us in right relationship with the beings that matter most.
In terms of rightly relating with ourselves and others, being a truth-seeker means being informed by and oriented toward love, as that which is both the greatest outworking of truth and its key source.
Quite literally then, in my view broad swathes of evangelical Christianity has got “off course” when it comes to loving their neighbours (as my examples with boundary-focused churches). But more so, this has happened because they have got off course when it comes to loving themselves. And as both of these stem from / are informed by the Christian’s love relationship with God, the relationship with God has been similarly set “off course.”
These disjointed / disconnected relationships manifests in the very phenomenon that my recent posts have been describing. So Christians adopt a generally defensive posture because the Bible “prepares them” to assume it, and so orient themselves more negatively to non-Christians as a result. Thus they find themselves wary of non-Christians and ready for dispute (or perhaps simply disengagement), and would even claim to be patterning themselves on Jesus’ example when doing so.
So what’s the problem?
As I have argued, we are not Jesus (and cannot know as he knew or see as he saw), nor does the Holy Spirit make us like Jesus in these ways. Moreover, many Christians have adopted a degree of confidence regarding their beliefs that preclude non-Christians (and indeed, sometimes other Christians!) from offering any critical input. But where such mismatched expectations / confidence leads Christians more to dispute (or disengage) than to dialogue, they cannot possibly learn from outsiders.
The result is a strange mix of fear and superiority, insularity and arrogance, which both anticipates and requires opposition. And such orientations (and the negative approaches that foster them and that they perpetuate, such as being boundary-focused) drive a wedge between non-Christians and the biblical message: they are more an obstacle to healthy and vibrant Christianity than an invitation.
In other words, we disfigure Christianity and then present it to others as a thing of beauty.
Can we blame them if they are not fooled? 1
My response is that Christian formation—how Christians are taught to live out the Christian life—needs to change in order for truth-seeking to be properly aligned to loving God entirely, loving ourselves rightly, and loving others likewise. Yet because Christian practice is rooted in certain understandings—certain theories about God, humanity, and the relationship between the two—these understandings also will need to change in order for the changes I have proposed to be possible.
My next series of posts take up the challenge of living Christianity (and indeed, living as a human being) rightly, in light of the obstacles discussed above and previously.