Have any of you been a little disappointed and frustrated by the condescension with which we are often treated by the news media, medical professionals, and even some preachers? Their expectations of us almost seem to be that we know very little and the “expert” is going to “enlighten” us. I often wonder if they think we don’t know how to think! And if we are expected to “think” and respond, the answer is already predetermined and provided for us. Most of you probably remember the old story about the Children’s Pastor trying to tell a group of six-year-old kids a story. He asked them, “What has gray fur, a long, bushy tail, eats nuts, and climbs trees?” One little boy, perhaps also frustrated by such condescension and predetermined expectations, replied, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I’m sure the answer is Jesus!”
Some of my former students remember my classes as places where they were exposed to different viewpoints. Discussions often centered on thinking through issues, and knowing clearly what the Bible says. Part of the maturation process is learning to work through issues and beliefs on one’s own, and coming up with convictions that are sincerely one’s own, rather than simply accepting them because one was required to do so. If we don’t learn to think on our own two feet and allow others—the news media, “professionals” in business or the medical field, or even favorite preachers—to tell us what to think, we will be swept away by issues either not addressed by our favorite “expert” or by life circumstances that have not been covered by our preferred “advisor.” We might even be destroyed by “experts” we allow to think for us—remember Jim Jones’ Kool Aid?
Tom Long, Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Candler Seminary, tells a story of a trip to the Holy Land. There he found, posted on the doorway of a little church near the Garden of Gethsemane, a sign reading, “No Explanations Allowed in the Church.” Presumably, this message was intended to prevent the drone of tour guides from spoiling the mood in the lovely sanctuary. It’s not much of a stretch to understand that sign in terms of indoctrination—just accept what I’m telling you and quit asking so many questions.
It should be clear to us not to be afraid of the questions people might ask. If we truly love and respect people, we will engage in honest dialogue, using as our guiding principle First Peter 3:15b, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I hope Christians can learn to think through important issues on their own, with, of course, the help of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, rightly divided, i.e. to learn how to think clearly and honestly, not just parrot an answer from a favorite “expert” they have memorized.
It is, perhaps, more important for Christians to learn to think clearly and for themselves than it is for them to assume they have everything figured out. Also and equally true,
Christians should not be afraid to analyze even what is taken for granted.
Christians should not assume everything they hear has been culturally filtered for their consumption. After all, if the traditional doctrines and practices of the church are only practiced because of cultural expectations or unexamined assumptions and are not truly the conviction of the participants, then those doctrines and practices, even though they might be true enough in themselves, can become as empty and meaningless or even suspect as any view or practice that is blatantly false.
We should have nothing to fear from honest questions and sincere searching from people genuinely wanting to discover truth.
We Christians can also have the courage to ask honest questions about our faith, modeling for others our willingness to be transparent about our faith. True faith seeks true understanding. We can show respect for the question and questioner in the same way the Apostle did with the Bereans. And certainly we hope they will “examine the Scriptures (themselves) every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11b). Maybe a new church sign could be written, “Questions, Discussion, and Explanations Welcomed in the Church.”