With Christians, the issue is compounded because when a Christian does not take her bible seriously - does not read it for herself, does not ask the Holy Spirit to give her wisdom and understanding - then she is at danger of simply following what someone else tells her to believe or blindly rejecting anything that doesn't agree with her (emotional) opinions. This is why so many Christians in the USA can come to associate Jesus with a political party and why so many accept a watered down gospel.
So I want to take a moment to urge everyone to re-think how you take in, digest, and spit information (particularly theological information) back out. When you read a book, listen to a speaker, or engage in conversations --
- Acknowledge your biases. It is impossible to approach any issue objectively. We're human, and our minds, hearts, and life experiences predispose us to interpret what other people say through our own subjective lens. God is the only perfectly objective being in existence, and he created the absolute truth that we are striving to know. But this means that we must leave room for being wrong in our understanding. When we listen to others' opinions, we must be aware of how our internal prejudices are filtering their words and check ourselves to make sure that we truly understand what the other is saying before we respond to it. And we must do the best we can to evaluate how our biases affect our reactions.
- Recognize the other's biases. Whether or not the author/speaker will admit it, he, too, is communicating through a subjective lens. The more we can understand what has shaped another's opinion, the more we can evaluate the directions and degrees to which his interpretations are affected. We can also try to judge how much the person has attempted to move away from his subjectivity and how cricitically he has assessed his own situation. For example, when I hear someone speak on women's issues, and she begins her message with a lengthy exposition on the (perceived) oppression she was subjected to as a young woman, and she continues to use only emotional language to describe her current perspective, I have a difficult time giving her argument weight. She wants to move her audience to sympathy over her past and then use the wrongdoing of others to justify the opposing position. I can validate her unfortunate experiences without accepting her extremely subjective conclusion.
- Listen to all sides of the issue. There are at least two sides to every issue, and one can usually find intelligent folk who ascribe to both. If we only listen to those with whom we already agree, then we fail to recognize our own weaknesses (which are many). I find that it is helpful to regularly engage with respectful and insightful opponents, because I am challenged to defend my position and also to more seriously consider theirs.
- Consider the logical consquences of both sides. If a speaker is well-thought out and passionate about her opinion, then it is easy to be caught up in immediate agreement with her. [or, to the opposite effect, we can pick out specific statements that rub us the wrong way and then ignore the remainder of the argument] But a wise friend of mine has always advised me to "be careful with your 'therefores'." In other words, think through the logical conclusion of the idea presented. In order to do this, we must step back from the rhetoric, sort through the emotions, and simply attempt to spell out the logic of an argument. We must ask how a certain idea will practically work itself out.
- Compare notes with the bible. Ultimately, if we as Christians are to take the bible seriously, then we must hold up every interpretation, suggestion, and practice with the actual biblical account. We must read it, pray about it, and discover it for ourselves. We must ask the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent to be our teacher, to "open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" (Psalm 119:18).