“You’re wrong.” This phrase has turned into one of the most offensive things you can say to someone in today’s climate of human interaction. There has been a great deal of social conditioning that has taken place over the last 50 years that has led us to this point. Rather than a disagreement providing an opportunity to gain a better understanding of truth through logic and reason, they are instead the arena for offense and outbursts of emotion. In schools today, the children are not taught how to think, they are told what to think and how to feel. Logic, reason, and the analysis of argumentation have been tossed aside and are not employed in social discourse. The consequence of this has been a disordered emotional response taking the reigns in regard to our responses.
A debate is where such analysis of ideas and the consequences of those ideas would be evaluated, but when we think about political debate today—do we see much of that? Since there is a dearth of critical thinking, all we see are rehearsed talking points traded over and against the other candidate’s rehearsed talking points which are intended to play to emotion rather than reason. In today’s culture, would there even be an audience for a debate in which both sides reasoned with one another on policy and the analysis of ideas? I can’t imagine so. Did Jerry Springer stay on the air for 27 years (wow, really!?) with nearly 4,700 episodes because the public has an appetite for reasoned thought and the exchange of ideas? In the absence of these necessary tools of learning and growing in truth, what has evolved over time is a system of human interaction with three primary options:
- Avoidance: avoid all topics of discussion in which there is disagreement.
- My Truth/Your Truth: both parties are declared right to avoid discussion.
- Emotional Engagement: the parties engage in an emotionally charged discussion.
Are there consequences to these three options as we think about them in regard to the Christian faith? What is the consequence of avoiding disagreement? If our aim is to avoid topics of possible disagreement—such as the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, or the gospel—then what is created is a society in which it becomes socially unacceptable or even wrong for anyone to speak of anything related to the truth of Scripture. This social pressure is highly effective in keeping believers from evangelizing as we ought to be. In fact, according to a 2018 Barna poll, 47% of millennial evangelicals say it is wrong to share the gospel with someone of a different faith in an effort to see them converted. We see the cultural trend as we compare that to 20% of those who are boomers and older (which is still really high). As Christians, we are called to be participating with Christ and the body of Christ as co-workers to engage in the mission of Christ. This involves the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Making disciples becomes increasingly difficult as the people of God are being effectively gagged by culture for fear of being socially shamed for bringing up the issue of sin and our need of a Savior.
The second option is similar to the first, yet differs in a very significant way. There is a degree of social engagement with this option with the stating of positions, but rather than have a discussion to compare these positions to a standard of truth, there is no further engagement. Rather than trying to ascertain truth—potentially making one wrong, we just aren’t going to talk about it and say that there is no wrong, here. Both are declared right as we are now thinking of truth in terms of relative truth instead of absolute truth. This is highly significant. There is no standard of truth to compare to as each has their own standard of truth. If you say the grass is red, then the grass is red to you. You’re right! However, I say the grass is green. Well, look at that, I’m right, too! We’re both right, so there’s no need to have a discussion or disagreement. We can pacify one another with the deconstruction of truth and then never have to engage in conflict. This becomes problematic in the Christian faith when we see Jesus making truth claims such as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If one person believes this and then someone else believes that there are many ways to the Father, then we have an issue. Both can’t be true. There can’t be both only one way to the Father—through Christ, and multiple ways to the Father. These are contradictory claims. They cannot both be true, regardless of someone declaring it so. Jesus is either the only way to the Father as Scripture plainly says, or He is not. He is either telling the truth or He is lying.
The third option is the option in which the conflict is not avoided using one of the first two options and a discussion ensues. We tend to hold our beliefs as self-evident truths and what we hold as true is tied to the core of our being. From the Barna poll mentioned above, 40% of millennial evangelicals say that if someone disagrees with you, they’re judging you. This is compared to 10% of boomers and older. To say, “you’re wrong” is to condemn them personally. We have conflated affirmation (confirmed agreement) and acceptance. Therefore, any challenge of one’s beliefs or choices is interpreted as personal rejection. This rejection triggers an emotion driven self-defense response. A simple disagreement is received as—they’re saying something is wrong with me as a person and they’re rejecting me. So, rather than a rational discussion and exploration of ideas taking place, there is the feeling that I must defend myself from this assault with some emotionally charged word jujitsu. In an attempt to build myself back up after suffering such rejection I endeavor to tear them down or dehumanize them so that no one should care about what they think, anyway. So…if you think that, then you’re an idiot and a monster. You’re actually the worst kind of person—in fact, you’re less than a person because you think that and I don’t even have to feel badly for treating you like less than a person by calling you all of these names and berating you for your lack of intelligence because you’re just a dumb. idiot. monster.
When it comes to our human interactions, we are prevented from growing in our understanding of truth by emotion dictated responses informed by our fleshly pride. But there is an even bigger issue than the lack of civil discourse in society. This bigger issue is that this mindset has spilled over into our interaction with the divine truth of Scripture. When confronted with biblical truth from God’s Word, humanity treats it lightly—like a post from a “crazy” acquaintance on Facebook—and employs one of the three options mentioned above. One might choose to avoid any interaction with Scripture so that they will not have to consider these truths about God in relation to sinful man. He could employ the “my truth/your truth” option to avoid serious interaction with the Word of God. In using this option, he avoids the conflict of comparing himself to the standard of Scripture and evaluating himself in light of the truth by saying that individual interpretation determines meaning and all interpretations can be equally true (even if contradictory). Then there is the third option of emotional engagement with Scripture. He responds to the truth (and those who proclaim it) with emotional arguments, straw men, misrepresentations of the message, logical fallacies, outbursts of anger, attacking the message, and ultimately refusing to truly consider the actual claims of Scripture. These emotional, flesh-centered, responses to the light of truth stunt our growth and inhibit us from truly maturing in the faith.
Scripture points us to a fourth way to interact with and respond to the revealed truth of God’s Word. James 1:18-21 challenges the believer to walk in the way of divine wisdom (see also James 3:17). In context, James is writing to his believing audience about the manner in which they receive the Word of truth. In relationship to divine truth, James is calling on his audience to be eager to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger. He’s calling on them to think rather than emote. Be quick to meditate on and internalize the truth and slow to react according to emotion because the goal is that we would attain the righteousness of God. Theanger of man (or any other prideful, emotional response to the truth) does not produce the righteousness of God (v20). The key to this growth in Christlikeness and the maturing of faith is humility (in v21)—to live in recognition of our spiritual pauperdom in light of the truth of God’s Word. Put aside all remaining self-focused pride and, in humility—a gift of God’s grace to His children, receive the truth of the Word of God. To receive the truth in humility is to see the Word of God as authoritative over and above my prideful emotions, and to willingly submit my desires to the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:27). Rather than defending ourselves against the truth in an effort of self-preservation, the goal is to die to self and be transformed by the Word to practice—or to love in light of the truth (James 1:22) through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).
This isn’t a new problem. Since the Fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), humanity has been plagued with baseless pride. This pride leads us in our interaction with our fellow man as well as with divine truth. While this has always been the case, I believe we are seeing an emboldened rejection of truth in this cultural climate of emotionalism with almost a complete absence of critical thinking and logic in the exchanging of ideas. We see it in our human interactions and we certainly see in the way people emote when confronted with truth. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says when I was a child I reasoned like a child. How does a child reason? A child reasons according to emotion. Essentially, my emotions dictate truth. In contrast, maturity leads one to see the truth as that which dictates emotion.
The takeaway from this is the challenge to consider the question, “How do you interact with the truth of God’s Word?”. Are your emotions leading in your response to the truth or are they properly ordered behind a slow, thoughtful and reasoned interaction with the truth? Do you find yourself falling into one of the three options discussed earlier? James would consider these to be responses that do not produce the righteousness of God. Do you pick and choose truth—thereby making yourself the arbiter of truth? Perhaps you try to co-exist with God’s Word—even when your manner of living contradicts it. When there is disagreement, do you attempt to resolve it by prayerfully conforming your behavior to the Word or do you instead mishandle, twist and mangle the truth in an attempt to force Scripture into submission to you? When confronted with the light of God’s truth, do you engage in emotionally charged tantrums like a child or do you reason according to God’s revealed truth? The truth is, there is only one right way to respond to the Word of truth and that is with a heart of humility which is slow to emote, quick to hear and quick to carefully measure ourselves against it, and then prayerfully meditate on it (seeking to apply it) to see a harvest of righteous fruit produced in our lives.