How much responsibility do I have to research and study theological views I do not personally hold?
I’m still thinking through this question, but I suspect the answer depends on how much I intend to interact with the opposing view or those who hold it, how much conviction I hold my own view with, and the importance of the topic.
Since I started blogging, I’ve been reading blogs related to Christian living or theology. Some authors treat the theological positions of others with integrity, representing them in an informed and respectful manner. The majority, however, seem very well versed in academic literature supporting their own position, but appallingly ignorant in their understanding of the strength or merit of other views. And this is all within Evangelicalism.
I realize that some intentionally set up straw men for easy dismantling, but I think many have simply been lazy in their research, relying entirely upon critiques from within their own camp. This leads to a very narrow, elitist mindset that views believers in other camps as somehow lesser. It is, of course, conceded that all believers are in equal standing with respect to salvation, but deep down inside, we feel that those who think differently than us on certain issues are limited in their experience of God or in their effectiveness for His kingdom.
This is not limited to bloggers. I ran into the same problem with required texts when I was in school. I’m currently reading a book on church planting. So far, the underlying theme of this volume is that the assumptions of the author’s theological background are the determining factors in who is truly fit to be a church planter—with little, or no qualification. He is probably a smart, sincere fellow, but instead of encouraging and equipping those who want to partner with God in planting a church, the author is really just glorying in his own theological tradition.
It is annoying because I disagree with his assumptions, but its not any worse than people I agree with doing the same thing.
So, if I hold a particular viewpoint with a lot of conviction, I suppose the first thing I ought to do is determine its priority in Biblical understanding, spiritual development, and Christian living. If I decide it is a topic worth arguing about, then the only way I can present my case with integrity is to really understand where the other guys are coming from. That involves reading several works from their best scholars, not a few, random, extremist quotes.
There is really nothing to fear (other than spending some extra time reading and considering), and the benefits are many…
As I interact with the strongest points of other views, I develop more of a respect for where they are coming from. I won’t be as tempted to see their view as completely invalid, even if I don’t agree.
When I have really struggled through the tensions, I will either decide I don’t know as much as I thought I did and be inspired to keep learning, or my own convictions will be deepened.
I will be able to better present my own view in a way that is helpful and informative, not insulting and ignorant.
I will be exposed to wisdom, encouragement, and inspiration from believers of all traditions, facilitating a sense of connectivity to the body of Christ as a whole.
That’s what I’ve come up with so far in my attempt to answer the question of how I ought to interact with doctrines that are at odds with my own Biblical understanding.