By Jeremy Berg, pastor and student at Northern.
I aspire to be a broad-minded person with deep convictions. I hope to inspire and cultivate this rare combination in those I teach and lead as a pastor. I fall short of this ideal daily, but we’re at least aiming for the right goal. Why is this a rare combination? Consider the two popular alternatives.
On the one hand, we are bombarded daily by the shrapnel of narrow-minded people with strong convictions. These folks are 100% certain they are right and everyone else is wrong. They don’t read broadly. They only listen to one cable news network. They view most “new ideas” as a threat. They are constantly drawing lines and building walls. They are constantly demonizing “the other” while sweeping their own tribe’s garbage under the rug. They are not open. They tend to be defensive and suspicious. And, yes, they are on both sides of the political divide and found in every kind of religious community. If you were thinking, while you read this paragraph, I was describing “the other side,” then ‘Thou art the man’ (2 Sam 12:7).
On the other extreme, we are daily surrounded by those big-hearted souls who are extremely broad-minded but lack firm convictions at the end of the day. Jesus compared such a person to “a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind” (Matt 11:7). Having a casual “Live and let live” attitude toward life is fine until people are suffering and dying around us. Being a “moral relativist” and saying every perspective is equally valid works until…it doesn’t work. Some things are just wrong and people of goodwill and upright character will rise up, organize and act from a place of deep conviction. The greatest justice warriors and heroes of history were all people of firm conviction and resolve. The opposite of an evil tyrant with firm evil convictions is not a good person with no convictions, but an upright person of equally passionate convictions to overcome evil with good.
So, how about you? Will you join me in trying to avoid these two extremes and walk that much more demanding middle path? (Warning: you tend to get shot at by both sides when you trod the middle path.) Will you try to be a broad-minded person who transcends the barbed-wired ideological silos, avoids the religious and political echo-chambers, and intentionally reads and listens to diverse people and perspectives; while at the same time remaining tethered to some system of morality higher and greater than your own fluctuating feelings and opinions? Can we strive to become more generous in spirit as we grow more passionate in our convictions?
I know this is asking a lot. But the future of Western civilization may hang in the balance (and certainly our sanity on social media!). Moreover, for people like me who want to represent the spiritual path Jesus paved for us, we absolutely must learn to walk this third way. As we do, people will begin to experience a Christianity worth considering as they encounter people who, like Jesus, are overflowing with both “grace and truth” (John 1:14). Who’s with me?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
“Jesus began talking about [John the Baptist] to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind?” (Matt 11:7)
Grace and peace, fellow pilgrims!