In my last post I asked if biblically consistent, striving-to-be-faithful Christianity can co-exist in a pluralistic society? My answer to the question is yes, it can. Personally, I have found it possibly to navigate around our pluralistic culture by making three key shifts of thought:
- Develop a critical mind, not critical personality. One of the reasons that positive thought has found a home in Christian communities is in reacting to alarming amount of critical Christians in the church. And by critical I mean negative. You know the type. Its the mean old deacon who tells you to stop running in the hallways. Its the mean old hellfire preacher who shoots down every new thing. Its the seminary grad who dumps on your camp-high or your conference experience. For some reason, Christians tend to struggle with the tendency of meanness. And I suspect that part of the reason is that we don’t allow space for thoughtful reflection and expression of concern because it doesn’t seem nice. Keep in mind, however, that nice is not a biblical term. The Bible seems to call people, not to nice, but to a loving and truthful disposition. Christians can be critical thinkers who speak the truth in love — they can ask hard questions, press one another for clarification of ideas, not rush a position on a particular issue, and skeptically pause at novel fads from a place of genuine love, respect, care, concern, and hopefulness. Thinking takes time and struggle and angst and wrestling and mental energy. But it is time that is well worth the effort because it can produce an examined life, rooted in the confidence of who God is and is not.
- Strive towards integration and not reduction. Life is complex. But reduction of ideas doesn’t make life any less complex. It only makes you feel a bit more simplified in interacting with complex things. The way to gain true simplicity in the midst of complexity is to begin to integrate things into your complex life. Think about it like this: Suppose you need to read a chapter in a book and you need to exercise. You could spend 30 minutes biking and 30 minutes reading. But that takes an hour and you only have 30 minutes — life is complex and you are lacking in margin. One option is to get a summary of the book chapter and skim it as you head to the gym to get on the bike. But that reduces things, and does not respect the complexity of the assignment. Another option is to read the book on a stationary bike in the gym where you are integrating both tasks. Another option is the see if there is an audio version of the chapter and to listen to that while you ride a road bike in your neighborhood. This is also integration. Integration is respecting the complexity without reducing any given component part. It takes hard work, for sure. But integration is a key habit for growth in thinking and being.
- Move from group think towards charitable dialogue. Group think is passive. Charitable dialogue is active. Group think occurs whenever we feel a sense of social pressure to align our views with the dominant social view. Charitable dialogue occurs whenever we evaluate the various social positions in terms of strengths and weaknesses before choosing our own thoughtful position. Sometimes our position is unique to our individual worldview. Sometimes our position is adopted by a sub group in our culture. But our driving aim is neither to acclimate to the preferred group around us (the way a thermometer would) or to parrot a dominant view of the culture around us (the way a chameleon would) or to take a provocative position just to rub it in the faces of the culture around us (The way a drive time radio DJ personality would). Rather, our aim should be to consider everything with charity and then pick the best possible position we can articulate, before God, given the information we have presently.