Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a handful of “pet peeves”, or things that really bother me, which I am rather vocal about. A couple of these pet peeves include when people skip a stair with every step they take while climbing stairs and when people misuse the word “literally” (i.e. ‘that move just literally blew my mind’). I have found that some of my pet peeves in the church world serve as good writing material and provide me the valuable opportunity to fuss about others from my ivory tower of working on a full-time seminary education. One of these biggest pet peeves that relates to the church is the attitude held by so many evangelical Christians which states “if you do not agree with me on practically everything, then I have no reason to listen to what you have to say.” Lately, it seems as though this mindset pervades many of the Christian circles I am familiar with.
For the past few years, one of my favorite writers and pastors is Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Many times, as I try to bring him and his ideas up in conversations with my peers, I am met with at least one of three answers: “He isn’t Pentecostal”, “Isn’t he a 5-point Calvinist?”, and “I can’t listen to him because he doesn’t think that women should be in church leadership”. I would not argue with any of these comments. There are, in fact, many practical and theological issues where I do not agree with Mark Driscoll; however, that has not prevented his writing and preaching from having had a profound impact on me and my ministry philosophy. The fact that you man not agree with him on the nature of providence and election should not prevent you from being able to listen to his sermons or read his books.
This thinking is found in many different areas of the church. Many people want to have little to do with churches that do not sing the right type of music nor want to listen to a preacher that does not preach and deliver sermons according to their wishes. Many do not think that we should seek to learn from those outside of our own tradition and doctrinal circle. I have heard some talk about how we shouldn’t have certain ministers speak at youth conventions or at the Church of God General Assembly if they do not hold to certain theological beliefs (Here, I am not referring to the core, fundamental beliefs of orthodox Christianity, but to secondary beliefs that matter very little in the grand scheme of things).
I have even had several people ask why I would ever want to go to Princeton Theological Seminary when the school is nowhere close to the Church of God on the theological compendium. They wonder how I could ever sit under and learn from liberal professors from mainline denominations. However, to them I merely answer that I do not have to completely agree with someone to listen to them and learn from their knowledge and experience. I try to let this even be illustrated in the books that I choose to read. In my current stack of recently read and soon-to-be-read books, I have one written by Brian McClaren (Emergent church), Al Mohler (cessation and 5-points Calvinist), and N.T. Wright (Anglican Bishop). I do not agree with these men on several issues; however, I realize that each of them bring a unique point of view to the field in which they write. I also try to carry the same values with my peer relationships. Many of my fellow students who I have become close to are from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Catholic backgrounds; yet, I realize that each and every one has an important and unique perspective which I could not have experienced if not for them. I only hope that we as a church can also begin to practice this value of openness and acceptance of others of similar Christian traditions; not in the interest of compromising core doctrinal beliefs, but in order to better see the broader picture that is before us. Perhaps we can truly learn that we do not always have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.