Why second opinions matter III

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 demonstrated in 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: perhaps we need a more exact 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 totality. 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 (divine nature), who human beings are (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, while relational beings need a variety of truths to survive, they cannot thrive without relational truth: truth that puts us in right relationship with the beings that matter most to us.

In terms of rightly relating with ourselves and others, being a truth-seeker then 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 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, I wager that that relationship too is similarly “off course.”

These disjointed / disconnected relationships manifests in the very phenomenon that my recent posts have described. 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 to dispute (or perhaps simply disengage) and would even claim to be patterning themselves on Jesus’ example when doing so.

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 them from accepting critical feedback from non-Christians (and indeed, sometimes other Christians)! But where such mismatched expectations / over-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 validity of 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 non-Christians if they are not fooled? 1

My response is that Christian formation—how Christians are taught to live 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.

Show 1 footnote

  1. This raises the question: What to make of those who do accept a marred presentation of God and Christianity as beautiful? While this deserves a full response my view in brief is that “dysfunction attracts dysfunction,” so that churches where members devalue themselves and others will attract those already inclined to do likewise. Hence the reality that as with families, so with churches: ways of being and seeing are easy to adopt and difficult (if impossible) to critique and change.

3 thoughts on “Why second opinions matter III

  1. Pingback: "Relational truth" explained - Another Christian OptionAnother Christian Option

  2. Wow, my friend. This is some of your best writing yet (in my humble opinion). I am in agreement with you on these three posts…almost in their entirety…! I agree that as a part of our faith journey, second opinions are essential. (and third, fourth, perhaps fifth opinions!) That is because we have an enemy that is very crafty and tricksy (in the words of Gollum ☺ ) and I absolutely believe that he has infiltrated the church to a degree that most people do not even suspect yet.

    Let me share my journey of seeking second opinions (and ten, twenty, thirty opinions). As you already know, several years ago I had some things happen in my spiritual life that stopped me dead in my tracks and turned my understanding of some things on their head. I had a crisis of faith. I chose to believe what I was hearing from God at the time. But instead of leading me to a bed or roses or a field of tulips to skip through, it plunged me into a deep dark uncertainty in which I questioned my entire journey of faith…every single thing that I had ever heard or had ever happened to me.

    I spent the next few years seeking those “second” opinions of others in the faith community. But my story was long and complicated. I have had a lot of divine moments in my life, where “heaven has kissed earth” and I was changed by them. I also had a long history of studying the Bible and trying with all my heart to grasp its Truth and the Truth of the God that it was revealing. I was most sincere in my pursuit of God and Truth. I needed others to take both of these things into account.

    People responded in different ways. Some had no interest in investing the time in my story in order to be able to provide me true help. They would default to the standard Christian answers way too often. They would sweep away my spiritual experiences by saying either “the devil masquerades as an angel of light” and it was the devil involved in your life, not God!…or, they would say that I had a diseased mind and this was to blame for my current struggles. Both of these responses seemed to be the easy way out. A knee-jerk, standard answer. And they did not take into account the many things that had happened to me or the Word of God. Even still, these answers affected me deeply. I would wonder…is that all that my spiritual journey is?? Am I just a plaything for Satan? Or…is my mind just diseased and that explains everything? Both of these answers were so disheartening and plunged me deeper and deeper into despair. I almost embraced them at one point. After all…how could I argue with these very “Christian” people who were more than willing to diminish my spiritual journey to the product of evil or misfiring neurons in my brain?

    But thankfully, a mustard seed of faith must have remained. Something very deep within me clung to the validity of God’s presence in my life and the power of His Word and His promises. But I was in a very, very dark hole and couldn’t seem to harness that mustard seed to help me out for a long time.

    At just the right time, apparently, God began to revive me. (Incidentally…your podcast was the catalyst for that…our conversations in the beginning of 2014 were God’s springboard). And yet, I still had to operate within a faith community and within the confines of that faith community, many people still viewed me with suspicion and even hatred. But that dark night of the soul did something profound in me. It taught me that even though for many years it felt that God was absent and mostly silent, He was there and He had the power to revive, strengthen and renew me when He chose to do so. I gained a new strength in Him, and in the belief that He was very present in my heart and that the new life which was springing up within me was NOT the result of Satan or insanity.

    I grew wise to the tactics of the Christian community as well. I also saw that all the people who were challenging and attacking me were not using the Word of God to do that. They were using their own experiences of God as the measuring rod (in which to accept or reject mine) and the same tired old phrases of the church that seemed to be godly but could not bring me peace. I often measured the validity of their words through the lens of Scripture. It says of Wisdom that all her ways are pleasant and all her paths are peace. (Prov 3:17). There were times when the advice offered by the Christian community was so filled with despair and hopelessness that I knew they were not speaking from the Spirit of God but another spirit entirely. I began to use the Word of God as a shield around me, to protect me from a spirit that desired to drag me back into despair.

    I also would ask people to refute me with Scripture and not from their standard “Christian” responses. Few could do this effectively. A Bible verse here or there, perhaps…but no one could address my arguments fully and neither were they interested in taking my entire story into account. I quickly began to recognize whose “second” opinion was valid and whose wasn’t.

    For a person to be able to offer me a valid second opinion, they need to know the Word of God and use it effectively (not picking and choosing verses to support their argument while ignoring VAST portions of Scripture that do not support their perspective). They also have to be a LOVING person. They have to demonstrate that the love of God is active and living within them. The Scripture says that “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) I have encountered so many hateful Christians who disguise themselves behind spiritual words but who would like nothing more than to destroy the hope and life and love within me.

    Knowing whose opinion to listen to and whose opinion to ignore has been a long and painful journey for me. And I can’t say I have totally arrived yet! I am still learning. Once you get wise to the snake behind someone’s words, he tries a different tactic. I’ve had to be on my guard. And just because someone claims faith in Jesus, does NOT mean they are safe. Safety comes through the wisdom, love and true faith that a person demonstrates in their words and actions.

    There ya go….another novella ☺

    • Hi Anna,

      Thanks for your candid and thoughtful response. I agree that “second opinions” are a real concern, and that people who perceive the importance of second perspective most acutely are also those, such as yourself perhaps, whose practical needs are the greatest. So the challenge to make second opinions both effective and humane is well made.

      Your specifications are also helpful, in terms of what sort of person it would take (and what sort of skills s/he would need to have) to offer effective opinions. So I agree that having a sound understanding of the Bible is essential. Similarly, being guided by love seems essential to offering humane opinions.

      However, I believe that being “effective and humane” has as much (or more) to do with integrating Christian faith and real, human life—understanding how they go together, or what I’ve expressed in past as “reading the text in light of the world and the world in light of the text.” So I would say that the expertise we need is for a sound yet fluid understanding of the Bible, where “fluid” means developing my biblical understandings both from the text, from real life, and from a coherent and viable integration of the two.

      As such, I wager that appealing to experts who either know the Bible well or live with relative success in the real world, on their own, will be unsuccessful. So I’m not surprised if some of the Christians that you’ve approached for a “second opinion” have treated you poorly: when we fail to integrate faith and life in a living, reciprocal fashion then it’s easy to become fearful of unfamiliar viewpoints or perspectives. Not excusing it, but I think it’s a natural (though unfortunate) side effect.

      And once again, I’m really pleased to know that your interaction with John and I has been helpful (and that we may have been able to offer “second opinions” that are effective and humane).

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