I've created sanefaith.org as an outlet to speak about a growing concern I have with church culture. I perceive a trend at least in evangelical circles to downplay the role that scholarship and rational thought should play in the Christian Faith. It is a trend that I believe is causing real harm to spiritual growth, theology, public perception, and, as a result, evangelism.
I think we have neglected one of the responsibilities of a Christian. Specifically the one Peter gives us in 1 Peter 3:15.
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.1
We are not just commanded to give a defense. We are commanded to be prepared to give a defense. If that is one of our commands then our faith should not be irrational or opposed to intelligent thought. The whole point of being prepared means to have your arguments carefully researched and prepared before you launch into the debate. Arguments that should be backed up by scholarship. And if that defense is to be done with gentleness and respect then they should take into account an understanding of the barriers to faith that your audience has.
One need only watch mainstream media or read sites like Lesswrong.org to see the effect that irrational faith and poorly thought out arguments have on public perception of the christian faith. It's true, we should expect opposition from the world since it is fallen.2 That doesn't mean we have to give them free ammunition though. There is nothing more disheartening to me than seeing a public debate where the "Christian" is losing, and he's losing because his argument is wrong. Making an argument when you haven't done your research and carefully considered your position is inexcusable and I'll argue even a form of sin, in some cases, on the part of the Christian. Being reviled because you believe in God is something to celebrate. Being reviled because you can't construct a clear and carefully considered argument for why you believe in God is not something to be celebrated. Don't mistake one for the other.
That hostile world we live in makes it hard enough to maintain our witness. The constant temptations we are bombarded with, the cultural pressure to conform, the frequent ridicule we receive, all tend to push us in one of two directions. We want to react with either an "Us vs Them" or a "Run and Hide" approach to the world. That "Us vs Them" approach makes us confrontational and dismissive of the other person's perspective. Then we let that attitude comfort us when we can't explain rationally why we have the hope that we have. When you do that, you come off sounding mentally incompetent. You can be spotted a mile away. And your witness will be tarnished as a result.
In fact it doesn't just hurt your witness. It hurts all christians' witness. It's exhausting to go in to work and have to explain why the latest antics of Westboro Baptist Church3 are not only antithetical to the christian faith but are also indicative of people who have not thought through their faith, are not growing, and thus shouldn't be considered representative of mature Christians in the faith. Let's not even mention how hard it is to even find public examples of people who are representative of mature Christians in the faith. We shouldn't be making it any easier for CNN and FOX to find the crazies to represent us.
Your spiritual growth is your responsibility.4 Not your pastor's, not your bible study leader's, not your sunday school teacher's, not your parent's, not your spouses, not your deacon's, and not your favorite christian author's. God holds you personally responsible for how much you grow. Growth requires bible study.5
You can't correctly interpret scripture unless you can put it in context, the context of the rest of scripture, the context of its historical setting, the context of the audience it was written to, and even an understanding of the original language it was written in. If you rely on the scholarship of others and they get it wrong and you don't recognize it then you will be just as guilty as they are. If you follow someone that you haven't vetted properly then you risk bad interpretation of scripture and bad theology as a result.6 Vetting your sources is a part of your responsibility.
This is not to say that you should drop everything and go study ancient Greek and Hebrew. It does mean that you can leverage the work of those who did study Greek and Hebrew. Understand what and why they say what they do and apply that knowledge to your own interpretation of scripture. There are plenty of resources. Learn how to evaluate them and use them. Your spiritual growth is on the line here why wouldn't you want to?
If you care about how the christian faith is represented then there are some steps you should take. Start keeping silent when you don't fully understand the issue.7 Research scripture before you follow someone else, because groupthink is a terrible way to form an opinion. Use a concordance and read more than one opinion on what the original language means. Do some due diligence. Assume that link or news article, concerning something you are passionate about, didn't tell you the most important pieces of information. Reserve your judgment until you've heard the opposition's response. Make it your goal to know what you believe and why. Treat the world with gentleness and respect, as a people lost, not a people you are at war with.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
2: Matt 5:10-13 - https://www.bible.com/bible/59/matt.5.10-13.esv
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you
3: Westboro Baptist Church - http://www.godhatesfags.com/ A perfect example of hate and either willful ignorance or pure laziness as opposed to love and growth.
4: 2 Tim 3:16-17 - https://www.bible.com/bible/59/2ti.3.16-17.esv
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
5: 2 Peter 3:17-18 - https://www.bible.com/bible/59/2pe.3.17-18.esv
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen
6: 2 Tim 3:14 - https://www.bible.com/bible/59/2ti.3.14.esv
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.
7: Proverbs 17:28 - https://www.bible.com/bible/59/prov.17.28.esv
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.