I’m reading a book right now that is challenging. It’s specifically challenging in that I want to try to read it sympathetically. The author and I would disagree on just about everything, so that’s not easy, but something I’m working on. It’s one of the books written by a former evangelical who seems frustrated by just about everything that is distinctive about evangelicals, particularly by the idea of boundaries, both theological and societal.
I’ve actually been impressed a number of times about the author’s correct assessment of many weaknesses within some evangelical churches. The proposed solutions may be incorrect, but the weaknesses shouldn’t be dismissed (you’ve probably read them all before, so I’ll spare you the laundry list). But one of the most consistent claims I see from authors like this one is the insistence that to hold to what most of you reading would describe as theological orthodoxy is arrogant. That to be humble is to be open and not create boundaries that would keep people away from Jesus, whether those boundaries pertain to same-sex relationships (and beyond) or that only believers be permitted to participate in communion.
And every time—every time!—I read things like this, I don’t get angry. I find myself becoming sadder. And I do because authors like this one seem blind to their own arrogance. No theologian is inerrant, no theological system is without inconsistencies, and no denomination is without sin. I think we all get this. But this is why we need a wide view of the church’s history, as well as an intense desire to hold fast to the Bible, to see it be our norming norm.
Church history allows us to look back and seek to understand why certain doctrines were established. We learn of the controversies and heresies that challenged the church to define its theology in light of Scripture. We also see the moments where the church itself slid into gross sin and folly when Scripture was abandoned. And this greater scope should create in us a spirit of humility, both in recognizing that there aren’t really any new ideas and that the reasons behind much of what we believe make good sense.
Simply, orthodoxy should never produce arrogance. It should always lead us to humility. And when Scripture leads us to challenge the beliefs we hold to, it should always be done in that same spirit something that was present through much, though not all of the Reformation (even Luther at times!).
But this is not the spirit I see in many of today’s “reformers.” Instead, I find myself concerned by the appearance of arrogance in their writings. It reminds me of someone attempting to spit into the wind, and not expecting to have it blow back in your face. But with rare exception, it does.
In the same way, arrogance leaves you a mess. And pursuing answers to questions doubts and divisions with an uncharitable spirit is nothing if not arrogant. We should do these things. We should ask questions because asking questions matters. We should wrestle with doubt because it is important, and can lead to greater faithfulness. We must figure out how to address the problems that divide us because we should desire to be one with one another as we are with Christ.
But even as we do, let’s be careful to not spit in the wind.