Is it necessary to understand someone else? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Yesterday I was involved in a dispute on a secondary matter in Christian doctrine when I asked people I was debating with how many of them who were arguing against my position had actually read anything by someone of my position. I got the reply from one of asking why should we? We have the Bible after all!
This is a reply that just irritates me to no end. It’s the very reason I left the discussion immediately.
I can already think of numerous atheists who are willing to agree. Some like Penn Jillette whose book I reviewed recently has stated that reading the Bible is one of the best ways to become an atheist. Why? Because he finds so much that is absurd and/or wicked in the Bible and therefore decides its nonsense. Now someone can say “Yeah, but you’re not properly understanding this part” (Which he is not). The place to make that appeal is by having a study of the Bible and one does not get this from just the Bible itself.
The position becomes one of arrogance. “Why do I need to hear a voice contrary to my own? I have the Word of God. I don’t need that. God will guide me Himself into the truth.”
The reality is, we all know we have huge blind spots. This is one benefit for instance of counseling. When you enter a counselor’s office, you could be wrestling with an issue and don’t know what to do about it. The counselor as one looking outside can often point out a position you have not considered because you could be too close to the situation or too emotionally invested or any number of reasons. When you read a book, you are asking the author to do the same thing to you. You are asking the author to tell you something you might not notice on your own. Hopefully, you are doing the same when you read this blog.
That’s why it’s good to study the other side on issues that matter to us. The issue I was debating was a secondary issue but when I prepared to speak on my position on it at my former church, where my view was in the minority, I contacted a professor who holds to the contrary side and said “What are the best books from the other side you can recommend to me?” He told them to me and I went to the library and got them. I wanted to make sure I was giving the other position a fair hearing.
Some of the opposite school who think such is ridiculous would say “But the Bible is the Word of God. God’s Word should be simple for the common man to understand.”
Serious question here. How many of you really think God is a simple concept to understand? I hope the answer is zero.
But when He speaks, you’re going to assume that that is easy to understand. You’re going to assume that the book He wrote for all of us is one that needs no serious study. “Well yeah! Doesn’t God want believers?” No. He wants disciples, and disciples are those who are willing to wrestle with something and learn it. If the Bible was a simple book to understand, we wouldn’t have all these commentaries and books on it and have to hear sermons or attend schools to know more about it. In fact, this kind of thinking is quite prone to producing not believers, but unbelievers.
It is in fact a position of arrogance. Do you really think that you will understand it all without any aid from those who came before you? If you are Christian, you hold to the Trinity, for instance. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to reinvent the wheel? Aren’t you glad you don’t have to go back and wrestle through everything and come up with the doctrine of the Trinity on your own? Instead, you can see what the early church said and look at Scripture and decide “Well they got it right! That is a fine answer!”
If you’re a Calvinist, aren’t you glad that you don’t have to go back and invent TULIP on your own? You can just look at the Scriptures and see if you think they got it right. You can be thankful if you’re an Arminian that you don’t have to redo the work of Arminius or Wesley. If you’re a dispensationalist, you don’t have to redo what Darby did. The reality is the positions we have are also learned positions that could start from Sunday School but hopefully have more serious engagement. The views we have should also be subject to change. There are views I hold today I never would have thought I would ever hold and there are views I’ve abandoned that I look back and say “I can’t believe I once believed that!”
The apostle Paul said to study to show yourself approved. This shows knowing what you believe and what your opponents believe. If you think a position is serious enough to argue for, you should think it’s serious enough to have done some study on. If you haven’t studied it, by all means have an opinion, but do not think that you can grasp the opponent’s view without studying it. You do not just him but yourself a disservice that way.