It’s not a memory I’m proud of, but every now and again I feel the need to revisit it. I guess if Peter could tell the tale of betraying Jesus—after all, how else would the biblical writers have known the fine details?—, I can tell my tale of failing to be like Jesus. I can tell it for my ongoing benefit and hopefully for yours.
It goes back to my early days of blogging, back in the days when I was a lot younger than I am right now. But even though I was a lot younger, I was a lot more self-assured. It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? I still maintained too much of the arrogance of youth. Foolishness and the pride that goes with it are closely associated with youth and I may as well have been the poster child. While a right acknowledgement and right assessment of my youth should have constrained me, a total failure to acknowledge and assess my youth empowered me. And in my arrogance I launched a broadside against a good man.
I was a man with little life experience, he was a man with substantial life experience. I was a man with no formal theological education, he was a man with a great deal of formal theological education including several advanced degrees. I was a man with few accomplishments, he was a man with many accomplishments. I was a man marked by little godliness, he was a man marked by much more godliness. But when I detected an area of doctrine in which he and I disagreed, I went on the offensive. I wasn’t vicious, but I also wasn’t gentle. I wasn’t savage, but I also wasn’t humble. I used my blog and social media to go after him over a lesser doctrine, a disputable matter. I was interesting in defending truth, but not interested in speaking that truth with love.
I felt good about it for a while. That area was (and still is) of some concern to me and I was sure I was defending orthodoxy against an encroaching heresy. I felt good about it until the day I saw him across the hallway at a conference. He was there and then gone and ours eyes never met, but in that moment I felt the hot flush of shame. The memory of what I had written and the arrogance with which I had written it flashed into my mind. Seeing him humanized him. He wasn’t just a cleverly-programmed computer that spits out books and blog posts, he wasn’t just a Twitter account, he was a man, a real man, an older man, a godly man. He was a brother in Christ—a brother I had treated like a stranger, an enemy.
I resolved in that moment that I would never treat someone like that again. I might still disagree with an author or theologian, but I would disagree with kindness and humility. I might still critically review a book by another Christian, but I would do so as gently as possible and with only as much force as necessary. The Lord used that holy moment to confront me with my sin and call me to repentance. And while I’ve not lived it out perfectly, I do see it as a transformative moment in my life.
I since formulated a number of questions I ought to have asked before hitting the “Publish,” “Post,” and ”Tweet” buttons all those years ago. They are questions that help guide me away from youthful pride and toward mature humility. Perhaps they can help guide you, too.
- Would I say this if he and I were face-to-face? Would I say this in the same way, using the same words?
- Am I the right person to say this? Do I have the proven track record and depth of knowledge that would make it appropriate for me to speak out?
- Would I say this, and say it in this way, if he and I were standing in front of an audience of tens of thousands (as, indeed, through social media we do)?
- Do my words reflect the biblical admonitions about how younger men are to relate to older men (or women), such as “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man” and “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father … older women as mothers” (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:1)?
- Am I remembering before I share these words that this person is a brother in Christ, a person for whom Jesus died, a person God has accepted and God loves, and a person with whom I shall live in glory forever?
- In writing these words am I faithfully stewarding the platform God has given me? Has God allowed me to have influence so I can use it for this?
These questions, and others like them, have guided me into what I hope is a better way of communicating online—a way that better reflects speaking truth in a distinctly loving way. For while there are times we as Christians must speak out, there is never a time we can speak to a fellow Christian or about a fellow Christian in a way that fails to reflect the love of our common Savior.