Delving into ‘the dark side’ to maintain integrity?

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.


8 thoughts on “Delving into ‘the dark side’ to maintain integrity?”

  1. I agree with you there. I have heard some very ignorant and even unbibical “truths” taught or parroted as doctrine. I am continually challenged to know why I beleive what I believe. Learning the same about others is the beginning of great wisdom and an open door to understanding.

    1. Marla – I find it frustrating to have my position misrepresented by someone arguing against it, but it makes me cringe much worse when someone from within badly represents something I hold with conviction. Knowing what you believe and why you believe it is definitely important.

  2. You really struck a chord with me here. Presenting your views in a way that is helpful and informative, not insulting and ignorant, is something that seems obvious – because if you do otherwise, you are pretty much just preaching to the choir. (In the case of religious views, I suppose this is true literally!) The entire country needs to think about this concept and put it to use.

  3. Great post. I am still reading the alternatives because I’ve left behind my theological traditions. At the moment I am avoiding labels and continuing to educate myself. It is a rewarding trip so far, and I would definitely recommend studying alternatives views.

  4. Crystal:
    When I was in seminary the Lord taught me a basic principle to be used in both Bible study and theologizing. It is just a short phrase–not even a whole verse–from Scripture: “…speaking the truth in love…”.

    Unfortunately, I learned this from my seminarty professors in a negative sort of way as intellectual arrogance was the presenting affect of the majority of them. Suffice it to say, I endured seminary.

    Many speak what they believe to be the truth but not in love for it is impossible to do anything from love that does not entail a sincere humility. This is what keeps us respectful of God and other’s beliefs. It is this humility born of love that builds bridges, rather than erects barriers, to those who differ from us.

    On the other hand, many are so concerned to appear loving in their communication that they fail to speak what they believe to be the truth. This is a false humility because it is born of a false love. Such people squelch thier beliefs because it is more important to them that they receive the affirmation of the one with different views. As such, this mode is selfishness.

    Humility born of love does not call upon us to hold our beliefs about the truth weakly or on wobbly legs. Humility is not weakness. It is merely the clear understanding that our convictions are not infallible, that we have been wrong before, and it could happen again.

    This openness to error, however, is tempered with and given courage with another perspective offered by this phrase. When we are told to “speak the truth” it presupposes(unlike relativists such as Pilate–“and what is truth?”–and those of our day–“all truth is relative”)to resume…it presupposes that the truth is knowable. As such Christians hold a very positive epistemology based on confidence in God being a revelational God…….and…….a very positive view of man who,with God’s quickening,receive revelation and understand it as what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth”, that is, the “Real McCoy”. Please read the above for content and not for sentence structure. Mrs. Sundermyer, my 7th grade English teacher just rolled over several times in her grave. I say let’r spin.

    That’s enuf….good blog….Blessings, John

    PS: Lana said you referred to me a a Great Dane. I told her you perhaps could consider yourself a Great Dame.

    1. John –

      Humility born of love does not call upon us to hold our beliefs about the truth weakly or on wobbly legs.

      That is a great way to say it. Loved your thoughts on this.

      I think I’d rather be a great dame anyway. 🙂

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