“Test everything. Hold on to what is good.”
– Paul writing to Timothy
When I was an Evangelical/Fundamentalist who claimed to believe and follow the scriptures, this was one verse that somehow got practically interpreted as:
“Avoid anything I might disagree with;
point out what is wrong about it.”
This shows up in boycotts, like when Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released many years ago. People picketing and shouting (and providing free advertisement) who had not seen the movie, did not intend to see it, but knew in advance that it was “evil”.
A number of years later when I couldn’t sleep one night, I stumbled upon that movie on cable TV and – contemplating the “Test everything” verse – I decided to watch it.
I learned several things that night:
1. The movie was a work of sacred art
2. I found great encouragement spiritually from it
3. Paul’s advice to Timothy was wise
4. Those afraid to follow Paul’s advice are neither strong nor mature
If I insist on avoiding being exposed to things that might cause me to change my views – whether religious, political, relational, whatever – I’m not allowing change and growth in my life. For those who say they follow Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they’re likely avoiding the very things that God wants to teach them.
When you start with the assumption that you and your tribe are “right” and everyone else is wrong, you close yourself off to the world rather than being like light in the darkness or salt in bland food. You rob yourself and the world by digging a deeper trench and holding your ground. You’re merely confirming your bias instead of being open to truth wherever you find it.
It’s scary, I know. I avoided it for many, many decades. I used to think that people who seriously questioned my beliefs were those of whom Paul also wrote to Timothy about:
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”
But now I see that it’s all inverted. People who are open to truth wherever they find it are OPEN, not closed. That’s how I am now.
It’s those who insist only hearing what they already agree with who demand teachers to tell them what they want to hear. Yes Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, I mean YOU. You (and I used to be in your company) are the ones who refuse to consider the possibility that you just might be wrong, that scholarship and science and well-reasoned arguments that differ with your thoughts must be boycotted, shouted down, avoided, perhaps even made ILLEGAL.
I remember the fervor when Rob Bell dared to release his book “Love Wins”. Oh my the hatred! Oh the many, many articles (and I read many of them) declaring that what Rob said was wrong, contrary to scripture, contrary to church history, etc.
The only problem is… most of those authors had not read Rob’s book, and when they did they didn’t read to understand his point but instead were just “quote mining” trying to find something nasty to write about him and his book. It was intellectually dishonest.
They also outright LIED about it, claiming Rob wrote things that he did not write. The biggest lie was when they said Rob claimed that there is no Hell. I’ve read the book several times and that is NOT in there. Rob actually, and very artfully, raised many questions without answering them, providing a number of perspectives, and left it to the reader to conclude things for themselves.
It’s also funny that a teaching that is clearly and obviously based on nothing but FEAR and that has been used to manipulate people for centuries could be seen as part of Jesus’ “good news”… because it certainly wasn’t part of the good news he was proclaiming:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
THAT is the good news message of Jesus. Nothing about Hell and fiery torture from a God whose mercies are supposed to “endure forever”. No threats, veiled or otherwise.
Now, if this resonates within you, my encouragement to you is to take Paul’s advice:
“Test everything. Hold on to what is good.”
If you disagree with something or think it’s just crap, simply discard it and move on. THAT is the mature approach. And if instead it makes sense to you, then have the courage and FAITH to figure out how to integrate that into your life in a way that will inspire and bless others. As John wrote:
“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Don’t be afraid – you’ve got this.