Everybody agrees with me
I was watching the news early this morning on a left-leaning political channel. They were citing the results of a Wall Street Journal opinion poll about the government shutdown. They cited with glee the data that showed the public was furious with Republicans over this shutdown and urge Democrats to “play hardball” and not give an inch, seeing this as an opportunity for a resounding win.
Curious, I turned to a right-leaning political channel and, as you might expect, they were talking about the same poll. However, they were citing other results from the same poll on different questions and seemed sure that, if they stood firm, a smashing Republican victory was just around the corner.
The two sides, citing selected questions while ignoring the questions that didn’t fit their pre-conceived ideas, managed to confidently come to totally opposite conclusions and urge their political cronies to stand firm, confident the other side was about to collapse. My first thought was that these people would make great theologians.
As we evangelicals study the Bible, which of course is both our favorite pastime and confident assurance that we will always be right, we pretty much do the same thing. I’ve said before that, while I am confident in the truthfulness and inspiration of the Bible, I have no such confidence that I or anyone else has a corner on understanding it properly.
Indeed, we tend to do exactly what the TV pundits did. We select verses and passages and piece them together. We ignore or twist other verses that don’t fit. We take our selection and give it the dignified title of “systematic theology” and declare that everyone who knows anything agrees with me. We take the Catholic concept of an infallible Pope and apply it instead to me and all those who agree with me.
As a result we have a theology that we are confident is the one and only “true” understanding of the texts and charge merrily to war defending our position against all the heretics, fools and deluded who differ. And then we wonder why people outside the faith look at us like we are crazy. But, not to worry, we have verses to explain that too. The critics hate us because they hated Jesus, or are tools of Satan, or are chasing after worldly things and are thus blind to the truth.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how can I be sure that I am not the one who is deluded or merely simply wrong? It is usually easy to find experts who agree with me and will declare those who differ as wrong. In a worst case scenario, if we appear to be losing an argument, we can always play our trump card and say that the Holy Spirit is leading us.
How can I continue to have confidence and comfort from the Bible when interpretations and applications differ? Are there any ways I can get clues that, just perhaps, my understanding may need rethinking? I believe there are and will share them in my next post. But of course I may be wrong. So I suppose the only thing to do in the meantime is express my opinions with humility and grace.