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.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!
• 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."
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,