The Loneliest Place
One of the loneliest places in the world is the voice of reason between two errors. Humans have the tendency to gravitate to one extreme when faced with the choice between two competing options. Political correctness becomes rudeness, preserving tradition becomes unquestioned devotion to the new, dry theology becomes empty emotionalism, and lack of compassion for physical suffering turns into a religion of social justice. However, no good ever comes of replacing one folly with a different one, and the church needs to embrace the challenge of following what Scripture says while avoiding the errors of extremes.
I want to be clear that I am not advocating that we all adopt the fallacy of the golden mean, which assumes that when people disagree on an issue, the truth must always be a compromise between the two sides. While fitting a kindergarten idea of “can’t we all just get along,” that assumption is just one more erroneous path. Some ideas are false. Some of them are devastatingly false. That means that the people that hold them are also wrong, and need to change to what is right. What we need is not simply a compromise between the extremes, but an objective standard that will guide us through the rocks, and it will come as no surprise that I am going to suggest to you that Scripture is the key.
An acquaintance recently sent me a link to John Pavlovitz’s blog, where he discusses his disdain for “American Christianity.” To be fair, I share a few of his same concerns with attitudes in the modern church, but rather than simply pointing out errors, he replaces them with a contrasting error, developing through the entirely of his site, a version of Christianity that almost perfectly mirrors the talking points of a specific political party (I’ll let you decide which one). Most of the site is dedicated to castigating conservative Christians, while he attacks the inerrancy of Scripture, the existence of Hell, and suggests that Scripture’s views on sex and gender are mere archaic reflections of the writers’ sexism and patriarchal mentality. Unsurprisingly, he takes a rather low view of Scripture:
“The Bible doesn’t clearly say very much, and we who claim the Christian faith need to be able to admit this…”
“I can tell a fellow Christian that the Bible clearly says that Christians are to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves…”
“If the Bible were as clear as Christians claimed it is, then each of us who have read and studied it would come to the same conclusions on every matter—and clearly we have not. That’s because… it isn’t a textbook, it’s a traveling companion.”
While in post after post he accuses conservative Christians of cherry-picking and misusing Scripture, his own Bible has been all whited out (or at least rewritten in pencil) save for the phrase “Love God, and love your neighbor.” What does loving God and loving your neighbor look like to Mr. Pavlovitz? Exactly as he with all his political and cultural biases wants it to. He has reinvented Christianity into his own likeness.
Reinterpreting Christianity to suit our sensibilities is a danger to which we can all fall prey, and that tendency within some theologically conservative circles is the fodder for these opposing errors. If we orient our entire approach to Christianity as a response to one particular enemy (as Pavlovitz does), our tendency is to conclude that truth can be measured by the distance we are from the one group that we loath. It’s very much like being so obsessed with not running our ship into the shore that we plow into a reef instead. We need to follow the chart, and not assume that just because we are far away from one hazard that we are automatically safe.
Pavlovitz has essentially thrown out the chart, and he’s not the first person to do it. He’s doing exactly what the snake did in the Garden of Eden. Introduce uncertainty about God’s clear commands and then inject your own ideas to take their place. In fact, Scripture is much clearer than he wants to admit. While there are challenging passages, I would say that 90% of our uncertainty with Scripture comes from the fact that it gets in the way of our cultural, theological, and political biases, and our self-important desire to set the rules instead of conforming to them. If we follow Scripture; If we understand how to consistently read it according to the meaning of the original author in his specific literary form; if we look at it as a united whole and place the same emphasis that it does on different issues rather than picking out the parts that we like the most, Scripture will be our chart to keep us away from the rocks on all sides.
In our increasingly divided, you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me world, being the voice of Biblical reason between two errors means opening yourself up to attacks from all sides. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting at times. Conservatives will vilify and dismiss you as a liberal sell-out, and liberals will label you a violent hateful sadistic bigot. Why? Human nature compels us to categorize people as either enemies or friends – plus, extremes are just plain easy. Making good judgement calls, maintaining balance and being willing to choose the right side of an issue regardless of who you might be perceived as “joining” are difficult. It’s not a path for the faint of heart, but it is the path of integrity.
It has been said that there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse. This is especially true in the realm of worldview. If, in our eagerness to attack one error, we choose another to replace it, we are in a worse place than we started out, adopting falsehood just like those we set out to oppose. We need to cling to Scripture as our guide, for without it we are adrift on a sea full of hazards with only a broken compass to guide us.