Friday, July 20, 2012

The Gospel & Narrow-Mindedness

One of the common criticisms levelled at Christians is the charge of being narrow-minded.  It really stems from the fact that we believe in an "ultimate truth", a truth that is true regardless of where you are, who you are or what you believe. That truth is basically that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Now much of the narrow-minded accusations are thrown at us over issues such as the Christian worldview concerning marriage, sexuality, science and world religions; these are the public face of our alleged narrow-mindedness. But we must remember that our worldview on these issues is really derived from our belief in Jesus as the only way to God and because of this Jesus has some kind of authority over humanity - He decides what is right and wrong.

I guess sometimes Christians can feel the sting of the narrow-minded charge and have nowhere to turn and no answer to give - I know plenty who have begun to believe their accusers and question the direction of their faith as a result. If we are going to know how to proceed as Christians in the face of this allegation there are a few questions we are going to have to answer:

How narrow-minded are our accusers?
"Like attracts like!" This is almost a law of humanity. Whether we like it or not all humans regardless of religion or background generally trend towards social groups full of people just like them. In these groups we feel a level of security and solidarity on the basis of common interest and common values. It is actually rare to find a group of people who are all vastly different from one another hanging out together on a regular basis. This might happen from time to time when it is forced upon you (university group assignment, an 8 person room at a backpackers, etc...) and I guess most people will enjoy this short stint finding out about the lives of people who are completely different, but in the end us humans will always gravitate back towards our friendship groups that are familiar and similar to us.

But more than just narrow groups of friends I think people in the secular world are equally open to the charge of narrow-mindedness as anybody else - in the way they think and talk about people who are different. One of the reasons that the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld resonated so prolifically with Generations X & Y is because of the way he was able to show up our ingrained narrow-mindedness. Seinfeld built his comedy routine by becoming a self-absorbed self-obsessed guy who was only really attracted to himself. And in so doing he tapped into the psyche of our generation and made us laugh because we saw in his exaggerated character something of ourselves.

The reality is that very few people have a truly open mind. People might be prepared to say, "different strokes for different folks" and affirm a kind of "all roads lead to Rome" philosophy... but in reality, deep down inside the average person thinks that the road they have chosen is the best - why else would they have chosen it? The first thing we need to understand is the charge of narrow-mindedness should not be reserved for Christians alone - it could well be levelled at the vast majority of humanity as well.

Is being narrow-minded necessarily bad?
In the debate on this issue "narrow-minded" seems to be a loaded term; loaded with negative connotations. In fact an easy way to gain an upper hand in a debate is to caricature your opponent with negative terms like, "narrow-minded", "oppressive" and "regressive" and to caricature yourself as "open-minded", "progressive" and "liberating". But the opposite of open-minded is not narrow-minded it is closed-minded and so the question we have to ask is: Is narrow-mindedness a bad quality?

The answer to this question is: well it depends what you are narrow-minded about. If you are narrow-minded about racial supremacy, militaristic domination, greed at the expense of others, revenge, etc... then sure it is going to seem as if narrow-mindedness is one of the worst qualities you could possess. But we praise athletes for their narrow-minded dedication to winning Olympic gold, we respect whistle-blowers for their narrow-mindedness is seeing the truth come out into the open, we exalt aid workers who have a narrow-minded dedication to help the oppressed and disadvantaged. So it is not narrow-mindedness that is the enemy; it is what we are narrow-minded about. The enemy is not narrow-mindedness it is racism, violence, greed, hatred and the like.

In what way is Christianity narrow-minded?
So the question is no longer: Is Christianity narrow-minded? The real questions are: Is Christianity any more narrow-minded than the rest of humanity? And what are we narrow-minded about? Now while there are some branches of Christianity whose narrow-minded hatred is an embarrassment to the church and an offence to the gospel, it is not fair to caricature all of Christianity based on the worst possible examples of it. No group of people deserve to be caricatured by the worst of their kind. So let us look instead to the source of our faith, namely the gospel message and Jesus Christ Himself.

The gospel message has an incredibly global focus and does not lump people into different categories based on age, gender, race, religion or sexuality. It simply looks at the global population as a whole and identifies the reality that no one is perfect, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". The gospel does not discriminate between sins or sinners, it tells us that all are equal in God's sight. And then in almost the same breath as it declares the whole world guilty it offers the whole world the forgiveness, acceptance, mercy, grace and love of the God we all offended. "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." (Col 3:11) So on one level the gospel is incredibly open-minded in that there is no one who is excluded from its reach, but on the other hand it is narrow-minded in that everything it offers come through one source only - Jesus Christ.

And now we look at this Jesus; one of the most narrow-minded people to ever live. From the moment of His birth He was in this world for one clear purpose; "to save his people from their sin". Jesus was narrow-minded in His desire to show love, mercy, healing, forgiveness, restoration, freedom and life to a broken and hurting world. Surely no one would see this narrow-minded goal as wrong? Not even a hardened atheist can accuse Jesus of the negative picture of narrow-mindedness! And so in Christ and His gospel we find the answer to our accusers. We find a freedom to embrace the charge of narrow-mindedness as long as we are narrow-minded in a Jesus kind of way. As long as we are narrow-minded about the things He was passionate about; love, mercy, healing, forgiveness, restoration, freedom and life. So let us be narrow-minded in our desire to take the open call of the gospel to the whole world regardless of how narrow-minded they might be about us.

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