Sin has made our vision opaque and our minds dull. We do not see God for who he really is and ourselves for who we really are. We think far too little of God and far too highly of ourselves. On our own we are doomed to look blindly and think badly.
But as our inner nature is renewed by the Word, our vision becomes progressively clearer. Our minds become sharp. We put aside the ugly lies we once believed and embrace the beautiful truths. Thinking well—seeing and understanding the world as it truly is—is a privilege and obligation of every believer.
But the privilege and obligation upon us is not merely to believe the right things. We also need to come to those beliefs in the right way. It’s not enough to arrive at theological conclusions that reflect the mind of God; it’s also important to reach those conclusions in a way that reflects the character of God. God’s desire is not merely that we reflect his truth in our conclusions, but that we reflect his character in our deliberations.
And this, I fear, is where too many of us do too poorly. Much of our theological refining is now carried out online. When news breaks or issues arise, we head for social media where we can observe or participate in real-time debate. We don’t carry out these discussions with friends in community but with strangers in cyberspace. We don’t carry them out through face-to-face interactions but through electronic media. We use impulsive, dehumanizing forms of communication and act surprised when our discussions are breakneck and inhumane.
The Bible calls us to both truth and love—not some squishy love that refuses to name error, but also not some truth that is harsh and brutal. Our pursuit of truth is to be carried out in a loving way, which is to say, a godlike way. This love is patient and kind (because God is patient and kind). This love is gentle and forbearing (because God is gentle and forbearing). This love is willing to move slowly and to rejoice at small gains (because God is willing to move slowly and to rejoice at small gains). It doesn’t give up easily, doesn’t have unrealistic expectations, and doesn’t assume ill motives. It acknowledges the common bond of the Spirit—that deepest possible source of deepest possible unity.
My fear and concern about so many of today’s debates is that even if we win many battles, we may still lose the war. We may protect truth, but what have we gained if our triumph comes through scorched-earth battles that treat other believers as the enemy and grind them under foot? Yes, God means for us to guard the content of the gospel, but he also means for us to guard the people of the gospel. He cares deeply for his truth, but also for his church. It’s not just the victory that is meaningful to him, but means through which the victory is achieved.
As Christians, we have the great privilege of seeing the world as it really is, and of believing about the world what is really true. But my brothers and sisters, let’s commit amongst ourselves to be as concerned about the journey as the destination. Let’s ensure our discussions and debates are as marked by Christian character as our conclusions are grounded in biblical truth.