There's an old proverb that says, "Beware the sound of one hand clapping."
The book of Proverbs says it like this: "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."1
The idea here is that there is always more than one side to an argument, and wisdom dictates that if we are genuinely interested in truth (not just 'seeming right' to others), we should always be careful to examine all sides of an issue.
Unfortunately, this little morsel of wisdom is all too often ignored, even by those who should know better. Just today I read an exchange between some friends about an issue that probably none of them were qualified to speak about, but did that little fact stop them from giving their opinion or even lead them to wonder if there might be a perspective besides their own? You can probably guess the answer to that. As the Avett Brothers say in one of their songs, "Ain't it like most people, I'm no different--we love to talk on things we don't know about."
Regrettably, the church is no exception to this problem. Though it saddens me to admit it, the exchange mentioned above was between Christians, and it was by no means an isolated incident. We all have our own ideas of what God is like and how the church should work, and we rarely pause to examine these ideas, much less compare them with others to see how they fare. Why do we do this? Is it pride? Is it ignorance? Is it just plain laziness?
The answer to all these is probably often yes, but I wonder if the prevalence of this attitude among Christians might go a bit deeper. As Christians (particularly evangelicals) we are taught something unique among world religions: that we can have certainty. In fact, if you read my first post on the knowledge of God, you probably noticed that I began by showing how the Christian can legitimately have this very thing. As Paul himself put it, "I know whom I have believed." 2
I wonder, though, if we do not confuse this certainty that we can have regarding our relationship with God with the way that we know most other things. As Christians, our certainty comes not through ourselves but through revelation--it is the gift of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. However, on most every other issue, God has not given this kind of revelation. It is a grave mistake then to assume that we can be as sure of everything as we are of our salvation.
Another problem is that we only know what we are taught, and we rarely seek to learn anything contrary to what we already believe. Josh Billings said it this way: "Education is a good thing generally, but most folks educate their prejudices." When was the last time you intentionally read something that you knew you would disagree with? Now, I am not saying that every Christian should read all the atheist literature or anything like that. As an apologist, I have to and believe me, it (usually) isn't any fun. But I do think that we should be more critical of our attitude when we are confronted with views that differ from our own, especially when dealing with fellow believers.
So, the next time you are about to give your opinion to someone, ask yourself, "Am I really sure enough about this to say what I was about to say?" And if the answer is no, I challenge you to say something more honest instead. Maybe even "I don't know."
1 Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)
2 2 Tim. 1:12 (NIV)