Tuesday, January 26, 2021

I read only what I like. . .

I dare say that if I read only the things I liked or was in agreement with, I might never read at all.  I find some of the best quotes in books and articles with which I vehemently disagree.  I sometimes I am so disappointed to find that nothing really sticks in my mind from authors with whom I identify.  Indeed, reading people who challenge me often helps me form my own opinion whereas if I read only folks whose opinions mirrored mine I might never learn anything at all.

It seems to me that one of the great dangers of safe zones on college campuses and social media in general or network news whose bias resembles our own is that never learn anything.  When we read or listen only to those with whom we agree, we never learn why we agree or how to defend our position.  It is entirely too safe and at the same time too risky to limit what we read to people with whom we resonate.  I fear that the availability of social media forums that appeal to our narrow opinions and the ability to limit our intake of opinion to those whose opinions reflect our own thinking contributes not simply to the closing of the American mind but the dumbing down of that mind.

As much as this is a problem in the nation and our unraveling society, it is also a danger to the Church.  We who wear the mantle of preacher theologians must be able to speak to those outside the faith as well as those comfortably situated in the pews.  The Gospel was never meant to be spoken in an echo chamber alone.  I am not suggesting that what happens on Sunday morning need to appeal to or resonate with the unchurched.  It is not possible to worship God at all without faith.  But not everything the Church does is within the confines of the Divine Service.  This does not simply mean learning the vocabulary and perspectives of the unchurched but teaching those who consider themselves outside the Kingdom of God what that Kingdom is about.

When we fail to engage those outside the household of the faith, we only confirm their unbelief and their false assumptions about what the Church is and what the Gospel says.  It is not only that they lose, but we lose.  Iron sharpens iron says the Scriptures.  It is a good thing to engage those with whom we disagree.  Surely the Nicene Creed is a prime example of what was born of a conflict over what the words mean and what words are orthodox and true to the faith of the Scriptures and what words are not.  The Nicene Creed was not some committee approach to a statement which meant anything to anyone reading it but an attempt to clarify and sharpen what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses.  That Creed still does that.  Just like the Apostles' and the Athanasian.  

I am not at all saying that we should grant legitimacy to every one and every screwy belief but the Church is the strongest and the work of the Kingdom most successful when we engage people with the Gospel (even if we have to begin the conversation with a vocabulary imposed upon and not necessarily drawn from the Scriptures or the great tradition.  St. Paul is a pretty reliable example of exactly what I am talking about.  Luther debated anyone and everyone (and himself half the time).  We will not have a chance of success without taking the risk and the risk is worth it.  Be clear about who you are, what you believe, and what the truth is that endures forever and you can engage anyone and everyone.  We do not have to water down the faith or make it more palatable.  We simply need to confess it faithfully and, from time to time, learn some new words as language changes.

I wish I could remember where I read it, but I think it was none other than Karl Barth the Church gathered around the altar, font, and pulpit always speaks the peculiar language of the faith but when she ventures out in the world she must be prepared to speak in the language of everyman.  Not a bad quote!

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

This is so very important. It is the same with our news, and any other area in which we read. If our minds are not challenged with untruths, we will grow lazy, and eventually succumb to propaganda and falsehood, as it creeps in surreptitiously. Critical thinking ability grows by being fed those things with which we both agree AND disagree.

On the other hand, we need to know just what we do believe as well. As the old story about learning how to tell counterfeit currency by studying the real, we must know Truth. We must know well what we believe, so that when a lie disguised as truth comes our way, we can discern it.

So, we must listen to sound teaching. Often we can be fooled by what sounds good or reasonable, to the point we slide into false belief. Find the sources that teach Truth - Scripture - orthodoxy; trust them, but also think discriminately.