One of the the big obstacles to Christian unity and spiritual power in the church is something I’ve observed to be an ever-increasing critical spirit. (I’m not referring to an actual spiritual being here, but rather an inclination or tendency of a person or group.) I’m as guilty as anyone. Recently I read an article published on Ministry Matters, and I didn’t make it past the first paragraph before I announced to everyone within earshot, “This guy has gone off the rails! What is he thinking?” I almost stopped reading because I figured there was nothing in the rest of the article that could possibly benefit me.
Isn’t it easy to do that? We write people off because of their politics, their theology, the way they interpret the Bible, their denomination, their book publisher... I’m not even sure why we do it. Perhaps it’s arrogance—or perhaps it’s a modern strain of doctrinal puritanism. Of course, we justify it with the excuse that we’re keeping ourselves from being led astray.
I grew up United Methodist, but I developed an early appreciation for other traditions. In high school I began working at a nondenominational Christian bookstore, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Evangelical authors, classic authors, charismatic authors, and of course, the “safe” mainline authors (sometimes too safe!) As a result, my theology became quite multi-faceted—and continues to evolve that way to this day.
The problem with shutting out voices that disagree with you is that you run out of people to listen to after a while and you stop growing! Seriously, what good is reading books by people with whom you’re inclined to agree on practically everything? Surrounding yourself with "yes men" is a telltale sign of insecurity. Confident Christians stretch themselves on a regular basis—intellectually and spiritually.
But listening to people who challenge you isn’t enough. If you’re only interacting with someone so you can shoot them down or you’re reading books with a red pen in hand and no highlighter, you’ve missed the point entirely. When I read a book or an article by someone I’m inclined to be “suspicious” of, I try to go into it with the attitude, “What might God be saying to me through this? What can I learn?” Usually I find something, whether the author is liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic, high church or low church. Often I’m surprised at how God reveals himself to my theological rivals and to garden variety “heretics”.
I’m not suggesting that everyone is right or that there’s no absolute truth. What I am suggesting is that sticking exclusively with your own Christian tribe is not only boring, it may keep you from experiencing everything God has for you. Theological inbreeding produces weak Christianity. There’s a biological principle called heterosis, or hybrid vigor, that says that any biological quality of a hybrid offspring will have improved or increased function. Could this principle apply in some way to theology as well? If so, it could help explain the continuing decline of rigid denominationalism and the rise of nondenominational and interdenominational churches.
A few months ago I noticed I wasn’t as excited about reading as I used to be. No matter whose books I was reading, I just couldn’t get pumped up anymore. Everything seemed to either bore me or raise my blood pressure. I thought back to my high school and college days and remembered the wonder and excitement that once pervaded my Christian life. What had changed? Then I realized—I wasn’t running out of good things to read because I had become too “spiritually advanced”. I was in this rut because of my attitude. I had become unteachable. So I began to repent, and now I’m noticing that the wonder is returning. I’m even reading and re-reading books that I blew off before.
The devil specializes in putting up walls that keep us from fulfilling our purpose and reaching our potential in ministry. But sometimes we build those walls ourselves. If your ministry has stalled in some way or you’re in a spiritual rut, take a good look at your spirit and your attitude. Are you truly teachable or do you default to being critical and cynical? Ask those in your inner circle to help you do an honest assessment, then be willing to make positive changes.