Humble Correction?

I have recently found myself wondering about Christian dialogue, particularly in the realm of opposing viewpoints. Considering that all of us have got it “right,” how do we stand firm in our theology without demeaning the views of others? This is especially complicated when we see the views of others as wrong, deficient, or even harmful. I find myself getting tired of the “we’re better than you” attitude that is prevalent within Christian circles. Whether it’s the “fundamentalist’s,” “social-gosplers,” “health-and-wealther’s,” “eco-theologizers,” “pacifists,” or “liberals” (list not exhausted), all fall guilty of theological arrogance. The difficulty is that whichever camp we find ourselves in, and this may be several, we see it as our right (perhaps it is…) to correct those who hold opposing or “false” views. Assuming all are on a journey towards a better understanding of the Christian faith, how do we interact with one another in working towards this goal? And is there a legitimate place to correct false/deficient theologies?

Here are some thoughts/questions:

-How to we employ a corrective stance that communicates in a manner that is faithful to maintaining a servant heart?

-Is there an appropriate dose of aggressiveness or even arrogance when it comes to one’s theological perspective?

-Can Jesus’ temple clearing or the Old Testament prophetical examples guide our correction of other Christians in their faith?

These are tough questions, especially when the tendency in North American Christianity is towards individualized complacency, closed off to the idea of others correcting our theological opinions. While a loving “kick in the pants” may be needed in some cases, I wrestle with how this is done. I guess what I am wondering is if there is such a thing as “humble correction?” Or is this tension reflecting my uncomfortable reaction to conflict?

4 comments:

ryan said...

I think you're right to be suspicious of the individualistic tendencies most of us have - i.e., it's about proving that I'm right and that you're not. I also think your question...

"How to we employ a corrective stance that communicates in a manner that is faithful to maintaining a servant heart?"

...is an excellent one to ask (one that I perhaps need to ask more often).

I think that there is a strong connection between truth and love. Loving people means (I think) desiring what is best for them, and part of what that means is having the courage to disagree with people and point them toward what you or I feel is genuinely true (or more true) in a given situation. There is an assumption that our neighbour would be genuinely "bettered" by believing or living what is "more true." I suppose there may be cases where it would be more loving to allow someone to remain in error, but I can't think of one off the top of my head...

I think your term - "humble correction" - is a good one. It makes it clear that we have to be open to having our beliefs challenged as well. None of our theologies are perfect - they could all be "more true." But I think one of the more dangerous tendencies in our postmodern culture is to not have the courage to challenge one another's beliefs, and to just assume that everyone should just believe whatever gets them through the day as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. This seems to be not only lazy and irresponsible, but unloving as well.

Mike said...

At the risk of slipping into that postmodern cultural mode, I'll ask what makes us think we have the right to assume a corrective stance? Also, is it possible to assume a "I'm probably just as wrong as you, but here's what I think..." mode and not be relativistic? I think as long as we're looking for the correct way to prove the other wrong, we're still not on the "right" (no pun intended) track.

One technique I've been espousing for a while (and even occasionally put into practice) is this: When confronted with an opinion that differs from my own, before I can itemize the points of error, I must first try to prove the heresy correct. Now that is challenging!

dwark said...

Ryan,

Your final point about not confronting others as being "unloving" really ups the ante in terms of our responsibility. I am especially concerned with this lacking in our Christian circles. What ever happened to accountability? Also, I think this issue of "humble correction" goes far beyond beliefs, as I think it's impossible to separate our theology from the lives we live. (ie. Literal fire in the endtimes - drive really big SUV). It's one thing to challenge each other via blog discussion, but what about in our everyday lives? That might actually involve interaction beyond ideas... Yikes! (this is in no way directed at you, but to the ivory tower mentality of theological dialogue)

May we keep "loving" each other in our Christian communities!

dwark said...

Mike,

You can "slip" away, cause I feel like I am already in this "postmodern cultural mode." It is exactly this postmodern milieu that led to this post, because I struggle with how to properly challenge one another in a loving way. I may be wrong, but your comment "I'm probably just as wrong as you, but here's what I think..." seems to make the point that we are all on a journey of knowing truth, thus we recognize the "ongoing" aspect of understanding faith. I think you're right to emphasize this stance as crucial to humility, cause I would agree that we never get it all "right."

My question to you, is what do you do when you see people or friends (especially other Christians) who have no concern for the poor in our society, blatantly ignoring all social issues? While your suggestion may lead them to agree with you, what happens when they simply reply, "that's just your gifting or passion?" Do you have a responsibility to push them further, even at the expense of making them uncomfortable? It's not a question of "proving them wrong," but rather joining them on their journey.

Anyway, I am not suggesting a free-for-all attack on the faith journey's of our friends, I just wonder if we don't err on the side of complacency a little much these days.

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