Summary: Neither conservatives nor liberals are really interested in learning; all want their opinions confirmed. Jesus teaches us how to deal with both by asking questions to test the argumentative spirit, to test honesty, and to get people to listen to their ow

Some folks want their religion to confirm everything they’ve already committed to, but other folks want, or say they want, a religion that will challenge to change. And there isn’t much common ground between these two types. Or is there?

Some folks want their religion to confirm everything they’ve already committed to. These folks feel that the purpose of coming to church is to get all their opinions reinforced, all their ideas bolstered, all their prejudices confirmed. These folks we call “conservatives”. Their favorite song is, “Gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” Their slogan is “Come weal or come woe, the answer is no.” Conservatives want their church to be like it was back in the country, want their religion to tell them everything they have always believed is right on target.

But other folks want a religion, they say, that will challenge them to change. Other folks say that the problem with going to church is, in fact, that all the ideas are old, all the preaching is musty, all the songs have already been sung, and all the antique ways are out of date. These folks we call “liberals”. Their favorite song is, “The times, they are a-changin’”. Their slogan is, “Let’s get radical”. Let’s get radical, let’s stir something up, let’s make trouble.

Conservatives and liberals. Those who want to preserve the past and get their own opinions ratified; those who want to throw away the past and get their opinions ratified. I’m not sure either one really want you to agree with them; I suspect that some folks enjoy the combat more than the ideas, and if you agree, there isn’t anything to fight about, and that’s no fun.

But, do you think there is any common ground between these two? Looks like these two camps will never get together. Looks like these two ways of doing church would never co-exist. Unless, unless, somehow, somebody challenges the notion that we should have what we believe all nailed down, forever. Unless somehow, somebody, interrupts both those who insist on the truth as it always was and also those who insist on their brand new truth. Unless somebody interrupts both of them and teaches them that there’s another way to think. Another approach to the faith.

Now, how would you go about working with these two camps? Would you try arguing with the rock-ribbed conservative? Watch out, if you do, because he will quote you the Bible, cover to cover, and the covers too. He will pound you with dogmas until your ears bleed. You don’t get anywhere arguing with somebody who thinks he knows, down cold, the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I’ve been there and done that.

Well, what about arguing with liberals, then? What about trying to punch holes in all that modernity? Have you met the kind of person who has just read the latest book, has just seen the most recent movie, has just heard a piece of music, and it means that we have to throw everything out and start over? Can you argue somebody out of that? I don’t think so. Human nature just doesn’t work that way. We stake out positions, you see, just to stake out positions. We argue for the sake of arguing. It’s very seldom a question of learning anything; it’s a question of winning, overpowering the opponent.

Did any of you ever do formal debating while you were a high school student or a college student? You know what they do in these staged debates, don’t you? There is some kind of issue thrown up for grabs: Oh, let’s say, “Resolved that the United States should put a man on Mars.” Whatever, doesn’t matter. “Resolved that the United States should put a man on Mars”, and then the members of the debate team prepare to argue it either way. They study the pros and they study the cons. They know the reasons why and the reasons why not. They go to the debate tournament and the person in charge just assigns each team, arbitrarily: you take the pro, you take the con. And they set out to argue their case.

Well, it doesn’t really matter, you see, what anyone actually believes. They are there only to win an argument. They are not ultimately interested in learning anything. They just want to win, so they learn how to argue the issue both ways.

Sort of reminds me of the preacher who was being considered by a prestigious and well-paying church. He really wanted to go to that church. Don’t tell him to pray about it, he had already done a real quick prayer, something like, “Thank you, Lord, for the chance to be paid 50 thou a year”, and he was ready to go. But their pulpit committee threw him a hardball. They said, “Do you believe in premillenialism or postmillenialism?” Wow, well, he mentally rustled through his seminary files, and found very little. He looked at their faces to see if he could get a clue as to what they wanted to hear, but there was no hint. And so finally, after much hemming and hawing, the preacher’s answer was, “I don’t exactly know what that is, but if you’ll tell me, I’m sure I can preach it either way.”

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