Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Mar 03
Today’s word is a word of … caution.
Because the Bible teaches things of eternal life and death, they must be considered and discussed seriously. Because we believe that they come as a direct word of God, they will be considered and discussed passionately. However, too often Christians blur the lines between discussion and disputation, between passion and confrontation. The matter quickly degenerates from a theological concept to be discussed to a debate to be won. So people wade in incautiously, slinging mud and words hoping to win the day. To cover their tracks, to forestall the charge of judgmentalism, too many Christians initiate their attack under the cover of a famous smoke screen — “Nothing personal.”
I’m here to say, that smokescreen, the premeditated defense of “nothing personal,” doesn’t work. I wish it would. It would make life in the church (and everywhere else) much easier. But, it just doesn’t fly. It can’t hold water. Every idea that we hold dearly is held personally. Some are held more tightly while others loosely, but they’re all held personally.
Let me illustrate this notion from personal experience. In my nearly 20 years of advertising experience, I’ve seen the “nothing personal” gambit employed untold times. What happens is that everyone with a vested interest in a particular project gathers together in an always too small conference room. There we’d place our ideas and thoughts on paper and on the wall for the purpose of considering the merit or demerit of each.
With your ideas exposed, the convservation would turn to the matter of determining which one is best, which one would serve the needs of the client more effectively. Nothing personal? So far, so good. The problem is that in advertising ideas are personal. That picture, that concept, that phrase came from me. I created it. I nurtured it. Part of me went into that creative baby. Then, I put it on the wall believing that it was my best not my worst. Now, you’re telling me that my baby isn’t that attractive and he’s probably an imbecile to boot. How am I to take that? Nothing personal? I don’t think so. You’re challenging an idea that comes from me, that reflects what I hold to be good and valuable. When you say that my idea is off base, you’re telling me I am off base. It is personal, even if you don’t want it to be.
Immature? Maybe. Real? Absolutely. How can I believe something and not take it personal. The decision to believe it is personal. The comfort that is found in the idea is personal. The connection between the idea and the person who taught me is personal. Everything about every idea that we hold dear is personal because it reflects who we are and what we hold to be important. Moreover, any challenge to those ideas, whether made in brotherly love and theological abuse, is going to be personal. Tell me I’m wrong and I will take it personally even if I eventually come to agree with you. That’s human nature.
Let me take it one step further. God takes challenges personally as well. Admittedly, God is perfect and He’s always right. So, He has every right to take it personally. But, that theological reality doesn’t demean my point here. Imagine telling God that one of His creatures, the black man (to borrow an idea from our not too distant American past) is subhuman, inferior, not up to par. How do you think God would respond? Would He take it as an innocent comment or a personal affront to His creative ability? Can an attack on someone created in the very image of God not be seen as a personal attack on the God who’s image is at stake? An attack on the handiwork of God is an attack on God Himself. He always takes it personally.
Created in God’s image, we take what we’ve created or what we believe to be true and vital personally. It’s part of our nature because it’s part of God’s nature. How we respond, with our fallen human nature, is another issue altogether.
Thus, when we confront brothers and sisters in Christ over what we firmly believe to be unbiblical notions — and we must — we need to do so in love. Knowing that no one wants to be wrong and that no one wants to be told that he or she is wrong, we proceed with caution, acknowledging the personal landmines.
Proceed we must. But, we must proceed with caution because any idea taken to heart is taken seriously and it is taken personally.