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When being right is oh so wrong

About 10 years ago I wound up in the office of a Christian counsellor.  I couldn't believe I was about to confess to depression.  Me, a church worker!  Me, conservative evangelicalism's next big thing!

The cause?  Several very stressful things were happening in my life, but the tipping point into depression was a frustration with the gospel that was being preached around me.  And I fell flat on my face in despondency.

My counsellor took me to Jeremiah 2:13 and said (very graciously) I'd been digging some kind of broken well which had dried up.  Now I was slumped at this false life-source with a mouth full of mud.  He asked what the broken well might be.  In an instant I knew: "I need everyone to read the bible the same way I do".  Not for the glory of Jesus, but to be right!

I asked "What should I do?"  He said, "Give up on it and turn back to Jesus."  As soon as he said "Give up on it" my whole flesh rose up and said "Never!"  Instantly I knew that this idol had its hooks in me.  And it shocked me.

My theological paradigm had become my god.  And it was so subtle.  Because here's the thing: I prided myself on the fact that my paradigm was uniquely Christ-centred.

But when I identified the pride issue a weight fell off my shoulders.  The issue was not the idiots out there, the issue was the arrogance in here.  I'd been thinking of it as a complicated issue of theological debate with no way through.  In fact it was a simple (but very ugly) issue of plain old sin.  And the gospel has a solution for sin.

Someone has wisely said that if you diagnose your problems as requiring anything less than the blood of Jesus for their solution, you haven't diagnosed your real problem.  My hour with the counsellor cut through to the real problem.  But thankfully the real problem has a real solution.  And it's already mine.  Or rather, He's already mine.  I left that office with a massive weight off my shoulders.

Not that I didn't think the issues mattered any more.  They did matter.  They still matter.  But I looked at them through a different lens.

For one thing, I started pitying the Christ-lite Christians around me - not despising them or competing with them.  But genuinely feeling sorry for them and wanting something better for them.  I gave up on being the one who would crush them in theological debate and started to think more in terms of sowing seeds and trusting the results to God!

I get this wrong all the time and there's still much of the arrogant young man to me.  But I also think God's been teaching me some things about how to live and minister among other Christians with whom I disagree.  I'll share a few thoughts in no particular order:

* I love the saying (which I think goes back to Wesley?) that the way to handle opponents is "to out-live and out-love them, out-preach and out-pray them."  That's got to be the way forward. And I think it begins with repentance.  I repent of trusting in my christocentrism.  I turn to Christ!

* If I'm tempted to pride it's good to turn to Elijah's example in 1 Kings 19.  And to laugh at myself.  "I, only I am left!!" he says, exhausted by his own righteousness! "Ummm" says the LORD "I think you'll find there's thousands like you. Get some rest!"

* I find it very tempting to try and be John the Baptist - a voice crying in the wilderness.  But that's not our calling.  We're to get around others with the aroma of Christ.  And the aroma of 'young hot-prot' is not quite the same.

* When relating to church leaders, get a vision for what's already good about their preaching, leading and ministry.  It's so tempting to look for what they do badly and to miss the hundred things they do well.  Anything and everything we can rejoice in, we should.  Loudly.

* People can change.  Not through grand-standing argumentation.  But through a drip, drip, drip of gospel juiciness.

* I'm only beginning to learn this one:  Usually change happens when people taste the gospel dishes you serve up.  If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe.  Don't start with the recipe: "Right, here are the ingredients you need - you've been doing it all wrong.  This is the order..."  Start by dishing out gospel goodness - then they'll want the recipe.

And now, for the real wisdom on these issues - check out the comments... (don't let me down guys)...

10 thoughts on “When being right is oh so wrong

  1. Dave K

    How are you supposed to respond to that?! Thanks for sharing it Glen.

    What God has taught me on similar things is:

    "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Prov 10:19)

    I hear God saying that again and again to me. But maybe that's insufficiently christocentric in comparison to your points :-)

  2. Heather Keith

    Very helpful, Glen. I find myself turning to I Cor 13:1 and wondering if in my theological correctness I sound about as charming as a clanging cymbal!

    We cannot be faithful to the text without having a firm love ethic but it's certainly challenging where mysticism holds people in an immature faith and we just wanna shake 'em!!!

    Peace to you and Emma!

  3. David

    I think that what you've highlighted here is where Christianity has historically gone wrong, again and again. It's easy to think that somehow modern nihilism and atheism are the results of either too much philosophy, not enough theology or too much bad theology (all of which are bad enough), but fundamentally, the problem is not enough Christ-in-us revealing itself in love.

    I loved what you wrote: 'If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe. Don’t start with the recipe.' People always follow there hearts!

  4. Rich Owen

    Yep, we emphasise preaching Christ winsomely and attractively and letting Christ-in-us overflow into loving deeds and words for evangelism - thats how to win souls.

    But somehow when it comes to debate we fall back onto ourselves. We think cold argumentation will win people over. We think dry point by point presentations of the text will win people over. We think Christless, heatless, heartless cleverness will somehow do the Spirit's job for us.

    When I say "we" I mean "I" :-)

    Thanks Glen.

  5. Paul Huxley

    Helpful post.

    'If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe. Don’t start with the recipe.'

    This is quite right and just how it seems to have worked with me... although I wonder if it's more like instinctive copying than asking.

    And there are some, like me, whose understanding of 'do unto others...' means that I will happily engage with the bull-in-the-china-shop approach, as it means I get to throw thunder back in return (ethical application of the Golden rule may not be entirely thought through there).

    So even if we don't ask, please keep giving us the recipes... but more like Nigella than Gordon Ramsay.

  6. John B

    I need to find that counselor who accomplished so much in just a one-hour session!

    Teaching is a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit for the strengthening of the church. Temptation to pride always accompanies the receiving of these gifts. But also, illumination by the Spirit comes with some sense of isolation and distance from the people of God, as seen even in the lives of the great prophets Elijah and John the Baptist.

    I don't think that it's a question of "pitying the Christ-lite Christians", but rather of gratitude and thanksgiving for God's gift to the church of teachers who follow Jesus in opening the Scriptures by interpreting in all of them the things concerning Him.

    Christ is building his church! We're a work in progress!

  7. Glen

    Thanks Dave - good Proverb. And also, if one is concerned with looking clever (and one is!), then it has a double benefit: Prov 17:28!

    Heather - I'm just imagining you shaking a mystic :) Peace to you and Simon too!

    David - yes more Christ-in-us and Amen - we follow our hearts.

    Rich - good point. And perhaps that just exposes that we're not thoroughly converted to what we say we are! (And by we I mean you! No, kidding. Me. I mean me :)

    Paul - I've been chuckling to myself about what Nigella-like preaching looks like. "I just looooove these juicy morsels of trinitarian theology. But don't look in the shops, you won't find them."

    John B - good point about teaching gifts. That definitely comes into play. And I should clarify that the people that really frustrate me for Christ-liteness are precisely those *with* teaching gifts (or at least teaching posts!)

    Bobby - He was a total Crabb-lover. Introduced me to Larry. :)

  8. Cat

    This is so honest. Thank you for sharing :) Its so easy to get fixed on being right rather then looking at Jesus. I remember being struck by CS Lewis saying in his book "The great divorce" -

    "There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ"

    :) Challenging stuff.

    It was really nice to meet you the other day! And your wifes blog is brilliant!!! Ive been reading it for ages but never made the connection :) Great stuff!

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