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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Danger of Arrogance

Am I arrogant? Now, before my friends jump in the comments section to assure me that I'm not arrogant, let me clarify that this is a question that I am asking myself personally, and not posing to you, my readers. But a couple of incidents recently have caused me to realize this is a question we must all be willing to ask ourselves from time to time.

Sometimes, we're confident in something. That may come across as arrogant to others. Sometimes we're passionate about something, and that can come across as arrogant to others. I realize that we can't always keep others from thinking that we are arrogant, but we can make sure that we examine ourselves to make sure we aren't truly arrogant. Hopefully you'll understand what I mean as you read this post.

Several weeks ago, I had lunch with someone that I don't know very well yet. We've had some brief conversations, and decided to do lunch together. This brother in the Lord has a very sincere heart, and a maturity beyond his years. As we talked and he began to share some of his thoughts, I was impressed with the depth of his thinking. This is a guy who takes his love for the Lord seriously, and has a passion for ministry.

As the conversation continued, I began to share some of my thoughts about simple church. I shared some of my experiences and thoughts, and even tested the water with a few of my more controversial ideas. Just thinking outside the box. My regular readers know what I mean! And without realizing it, the more I shared, the more animated and passionate I got.

There were a couple of times where I had a small thought in my head, "Maybe I'm going too far here", but in my enthusiasm to share with someone so passionate about the Lord, I ignored the thought and pressed forward.

Finally, I took a breath, and he was able to get a word in edgewise. He sat back, looking a bit like he had just been run over by a Mack truck, and said, "Man, I feel like you're trying to sell me on something."

My heart sank. My mature friend went on. "I feel like you have animosity toward the church, and you're reacting against it." No, I wanted to scream. It's not that! But words came slowly.

I regained my composure and quietly said, "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to sell you on anything. This is such a passion for me that I get carried away sometimes. I'm so sorry."

The lunch ended peacefully, and I hope I get the opportunity again in the future to chat with this friend without getting so worked up at my own thoughts and ideas. But I came away from that lunch realizing that I had crossed the line into arrogance.

Here I was diagnosing all the ills of the institutional church, pronouncing the cure, and expecting everyone to just say, "Ohhh, but of course. You're right!" And meanwhile, I ignored the voice of the Spirit of God prompting me to back off and humble myself.

That's arrogance. Normally, I'm that way about it, as far as I can tell. But in that conversation, I was arrogant. And it grieved me to realize it.

You see, there's always a tendency, when we think we have the answers, to put confidence in our answers. I'm learning that there is a necessary humility, even when we are 100% certain our answer is right. (I'm not saying that I am 100% certain. I'm just saying that even with 100% certainty, humility is necessary.) It's not ever supposed to be about me. Truth comes from God, and I must recognize that every ounce of truth that I have comes from Him, and none of it is a product of a self-created ability to reason.

Another situation occurred just today that caused me to examine this issue again. This time, it wasn't me putting forth the arrogance, but it was what I perceived in others. And it reminded me that, once again, I need to watch out for the temptation to become arrogant myself.

The situation today was a post and resulting comments on another blog. Now, I realize that some who read this will know what I'm talking about, but I am not going to name names or link to the conversation directly. It was sparked by a March 5, Washington Post article about professor and author Bart Ehrman. If you haven't heard of Bart Ehrman, he is a theological professor who calls himself a "happy agnostic". He is the author of (at this time) 19 books, the best-selling of which is Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

Now, let me interject a very, very important disclaimer here: I do not endorse all of Bart Ehrman's views! I must be very clear about that, for those who stumble across this post and misunderstand. My comments here have very little to do with Bart Ehrman's views themselves, and more to do with how we respond to them. And let me also add that I have no problem whatsoever with someone disagreeing with Ehrman (or me, or anyone) and saying that he is wrong. Pointing out error is not, in and of itself, arrogance. And while I'm adding disclaimers, let me also point out that, even though Bart Ehrman is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I am on the faculty of another university in the UNC system, this has absolutely no bearing on my opinions here! ;)

The post that I read in response to the Washington Post article, however, used the term "stupidity". In what I perceived to be a sarcastic, mocking (I guess you could say it was satirical) tone, the author of the post expressed his dismay that Bart Ehrman's views would even be considered novel. The things that Bart Ehrman questions have been raised by many others before him. And, in the opinion of many Christians, they have already been successfully refuted by many. So, this particular blogger felt that it was just plain stupid for Bart Ehrman to even make a deal out of the issues presented in the Washington Post article. And he stated that it was even more stupid for people to be swayed by Ehrman's questions.

Enter the wonderful comment thread following the article. Some commenters were very fair, so I'm not trying to paint with a broad brush here. But there were several comments that caused me to feel like it went too far. Consider some of the following statements:

There are a few of us out there that actually LIKE Bible history and meaty teaching... but sadly, few.

Oh, [Ehrman is] a well educated college guy? Well, then he is a well educated, willfully ignorant unregenerate block head.

The intellectual arrogance of someone who assumes that "you'd see it my way, if you just thought about it" always baffles me.

I look at [the list of issues raised by Ehrman] and I think "Well duh. I've known this stuff, like, forever."
These kinds of attitudes (and again, not all of the commenters were presenting this attitude, but the statements above represent four different individual comments), in my opinion, cross the line into arrogance. "[W]illfully ignorant unregenerate block head"? And ironically, one even refers to Ehrman's views as "intellectual arrogance" while demonstrating the exact same attitude Ehrman is being accused of having! And boasting about how long we have known a particular truth? Folks, this is not a Christlike attitude!

Contrast these comments with the gracious words of Darrell Bock, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, as quoted in the Washington Post article:

I think Bart is writing about his personal journey, about legitimate things that bother him....I can appreciate people feel differently. But sometimes I wonder if we are not all guilty of asking the Bible to do too much.
That strikes me as someone who is able to point out the error in Ehrman's thinking (as Dr. Bock did in the part of the quote not included above), yet do so without resorting to schoolyard mockery.

This all reminds me very much of the story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. The Pharisee, as you may recall, prayed with a loud voice saying, "I'm so glad I'm not like that man over there." According to Jesus, his prayer accomplished nothing in his standing before God. The NIV interestingly identifies the audience of this parable as "some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else" (vs 9).

So, once again, I come back to asking myself the question: Am I arrogant? As I sit here and blog about the journey I've been on in the area of simple church...as I blog about my views on various theological topics...as I share with people over lunch...is my attitude one of humility and graciousness, or am I just so arrogant to think that anyone who doesn't see it my way is a "block head"? I pray that the answer will be that of humility in my life, to the glory of God.

Until next time,

steve :)

20 comment(s):

Steve, I have found myself swept away with my passion and realizing I had crossed a line regarding how I was affecting the other person.
I identified as arrogance just as you. This happens far more than I would like to admit.

Interesting to me that I get to work this morning and read this post on your blog. This morning I was reflecting on meekness and what it means in daily life. I talked to the Father about two spirits, on opposite poles of human emotion, meekness and arrogance. I was considering the life of children and how they adopt wrong attitudes while mimicking commonly held beliefs that are held up to them as correct. Your "school yard mockery" is exactly what I had been thinking of this morning. I have observed students countless times tout a common position that is generally considered right at school, but attack mercilessly those the minority of students who are recognized as not holding to that issue in the accpeted way. The name calling, sarcastic slams are so clearly a weapon when the student has no real ability to analyze their own position accurately nor the room in their heart to accept the reality that others will disagree.

It strikes me that among adults, we often get carried away with what we believe and steam roll another person, not with ugliness but with enthusiasm. It is easy to overlook that and say that it is nothing, but I see in this that the meekness Jesus modeled is more than an attitude. There is a love and consideration of others that is manifested in not overloading them with our "force" of personality.

Narrows The Way a bit, eh?

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 6:20:00 AM  

I hit the publish button instead of the preview, please read the previous post accordingly--if you can!!

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 6:21:00 AM  

I know just what you mean here...it is so easy to become passionate about this church thing that it does appear as arrogance...also it is easy to appear arrogant when you are very confident in something...and I must say...these two things drive some people to distraction, especially confidence...we can't be responsible for others thoughts but let our hearts be full of humility in the sharing, knowing that where we are now is not the end to end all...He is bigger still and quite capable and likely to radically change our thinking and theology in the future. Growing in Christ is the goal not arriving.

BTW I spent a few years at UNC..which campus are you on?

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:04:00 AM  

Gigi, welcome to the blog! I gotta start paying Gordon commission for all the people he's been referring over here! ;) hehe

I appreciate your comment here and on the previous post. It's always nice to get other people's input on these topics, so I hope you'll stick around.

Re: UNC -- I'm an adjunct instructor in the School of Music at Appalachian State.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:16:00 AM  

Duh..I see you're in Boone...I worked at UNC Chapel HIll for a time

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:37:00 AM  

Steve, either a check or money order will be acceptable.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:49:00 AM  

check or money order

On second thought, Gordon, considering how much you recently made selling shares in my blog... ;) hehe

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 10:05:00 AM  

Oh well...

Hey, I probably made enough to take you guys out to a virtual lunch.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 10:12:00 AM  

You mean you made enough to pick us up in a virtual charter jet that you just virtually bought and virtually fly us to Vienna, Austria for a virtual lunch!! ;) (I'm chuckling as the rest of the readers are probably wondering what in the world this is all about!!)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 10:17:00 AM  

Paul Cain once said, "Most people think of me as a humble man. In fact, I am very proud of my humility."

So, were you arrogant? Probably. Will we always struggle with the sin of arrogance? Most definitely. Until rigor mortis takes over our bodies, we will struggle with some type of arrogance in one form or another.

By Blogger Larry Who, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 10:44:00 AM  

Steve, I notice you picked up on my comment about intellectual arrogance. I'd just like to clarify, because I'm sorry if I came across as demonstrating arrogance and hubris.

Firstly, I said that that applies to we who call ourselves conservative as much as to folk like Bart Ehrman (in fact, I kind of implied that I thought conservatives were more prone to that attitude than liberals). I was most certainly not leaving myself immune to such a comment! I cut a load of words about God granting enlightenment and therefore none of us being able to make that claim, because I thought it would make the comment too long. Like this one will be, if I'm not careful. Perhaps, too often, I leave things unsaid that should be said.

Secondly, I said that even more than being baffled, I was saddened by the last paragraph of the Post's article, which seemed to show a man who, for all his claims to being a "happy agnostic", was chasing dreams. Perhaps it's a lack of imagination on my part, but if I wasn't trusting Jesus as my Saviour, I can't see why first-century Palestine would be interesting; well, no more so than anything else. Jesus would be just another guy in history. And I really do feel sorry for people in that position; sorrier for Bart Ehrman, because once he did think that highly of the Lord, but now, Jesus is just an academic interest.

Again, I'm sorry if I came across as being arrogant in condemning arrogance; that wasn't my intention at all.

By Blogger Phil Walker, at Thursday, May 25, 2006 10:06:00 AM  

yep, good post, always a good question to ask when you're passionate about something. I find myself continually praying, rereading and wincing whenever I post things that are quite emphatic.

Maybe it's my english apologeticness. But I don't think it's a bad thing to be concerned that I'm prone to arrogance, and sounding arrogant at the very least.

And hey, I don't think anyone who is actually arrogant thinks that they are..

By Blogger Libbie, at Thursday, May 25, 2006 10:22:00 AM  

Phil W., thanks for stopping by. I understand your explanation, and accept that. I'm sorry if you felt like I misrepresented your comments. Are you comfortable with your comment here standing as the correction, or would you like me to reword anything in the post? (I might just put a note in there pointing to your comment, for the record)

Libbie, nice to see you over here again :) I appreciate your input.

And hey, I don't think anyone who is actually arrogant thinks that they are

So, since I was concerned about being arrogant, you're saying that's a good indication that I wasn't?

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:25:00 PM  

I don't mind if you leave it as it stands. We all need to be reminded to watch what we say, and I obviously failed in that regard, as I could have phrased myself a lot better. I shall chalk it up to experience and try to learn that shorter is not sweeter if I missed something out.

By Blogger Phil Walker, at Friday, May 26, 2006 3:50:00 AM  

I'm a little late joining this conversation, but I just wanted to say that I can relate with your post and the comments here. I have often found myself at a different stage in my walk with the Lord and thought, "I've arrived, I can't believe how immature I was when...", and then stopped myself because that was the exact same thing I said at the previous stage. We humans are funny creatures. Even being arrogant with myself! :)

By Blogger Erica, at Friday, May 26, 2006 8:20:00 AM  

I have had the exact same problem - my passion being received as arrogance or cockiness. Thanks for the very thought-provoking post.

By Blogger Don Fields, at Friday, May 26, 2006 1:18:00 PM  

I've often wondered it the old Testament's portrayal of an extremely arrogant God has anything to do with our own tendencies... especially if we really are made in the image.

By Blogger Claire Joy, at Saturday, May 27, 2006 12:32:00 PM  

Oh and here I was thinking matthew 5:5-6 read "Blessed are the porud, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are full of righteousness, for they are full already."

good post and good reminder steve.

dont let that go to your head though ;)

MDM

By Blogger Modern Day Magi, at Saturday, May 27, 2006 11:40:00 PM  

Steve said:
"And hey, I don't think anyone who is actually arrogant thinks that they are"

I think you are right there, Steve. I've been through this lately with a brother who is older than me. I've always sort of kept my mouth shut until about a month ago. And, it was hard to articulate just how I felt, or what I really wanted to relay to him. And, then you talk about arrogant! I want to call it 'full of himself'. :) I LOVE my brother, but do not appreciate being treated as though I'm a dumb woman. :) And, I don't think he realizes how condescending he sounds toward me.

By Blogger Barbara, at Sunday, May 28, 2006 10:39:00 PM  

Thank you all for your good comments. I have dropped the ball on responding individually, especially welcoming new commenters, so...

Welcome, all new commenters!! ;)

Thanks again to all who have stopped by and commented.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, May 29, 2006 9:07:00 PM  

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