This is a repost of something I wrote for the God 52 blog about listening and being a Conservative Evangelical. You can find out more about the God 52 idea here
It’s the week we all listen to people outside our comfort zone! I’m a Conservative Evangelical, so that’s a lot of people. Here’s my list of people I’ve listened to so far:
- an African-American Pentecostal bishop
- a female leader of the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement (which I didn’t know existed till this week)
- a Conservative Evangelical who I thought would be tediously boring (alright, not outside my comfort zone this one, but I’ve struggled over the last few years with how dull some of us Conservative Evangelical’s can be and got quite bitter about it. So, good chance to hear some of them a bit more.)
I would love to say that they all taught me profound truths that have affected my life. They haven’t. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m not further put off some of those people than before I first listened to them. I’m left with questions afterwards, like “where was the Bible?”, “where was the joy in God?”, “where was the good news of Jesus Christ?” and “isn’t that heresy?”.
But here’s the thing I have noticed so far about my self at least (and it’s only Friday, so who knows what else might happen?). I’ve approached listening to all these people with my unsound teaching early warning system on maximum setting. I won’t let the teaching of these men and women through my barriers without first being rigorously stopped and searched for all sorts of things that I might deem unsafe. Now, I was kinda aware I did that anyway, but what’s struck me as I’ve tried to be more open to listening to other views is that I’ve managed to make being gracious and loving and open to hearing God’s voice the enemy of being discerning.
I’d decided that either I could listen to these people with discernment or I could listen to them hopeful that I could learn.
But I definitely couldn’t do both. These two things were mutually exclusive. I was genuinely worried that if I listened expectantly and prayerfully to a Christian brother or sister teaching they might secretly sucker me in to believing heresy. That’s stupid. But it’s not stupid because people aren’t teaching heresy (turns out people still are) or because people aren’t mangling the bible (turns out people still are).
No, it’s stupid because it expects approaching something hyper-judgementally to be better for my soul than approaching it prayerfully and expectantly. And isn’t it far wiser to trust that if I approach something with prayerful expectation, God will draw my attention to false teaching? Please don’t hear me say that we shouldn’t be on our guard against false teachers, both Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3) and Paul (Acts 20:29-31, 1 Timothy 1:3-4) warn us to watch out for them, and Jesus reserves his harshest words for those who teach falsely (Matthew 23:13-15). But how exactly do we guard against them? Well, on reflection, it’s probably not by being hyper-judgemental to everyone who comes along. Let’s face it, that’s only going to leave you approving people who say things you like.
Instead we could try and be more like the Bereans. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:10). So next time I feel my defences fire up to block out unsound teaching, I’ll try to remember how good God is, and how unlikely his instruments are, and listen eagerly, examining the scriptures to see if it was true.