Lately, I have found myself engaging with leaders outside of my theological “home.” I have listened to sermons from more liberal and more conservative preachers, and engaged with theologians who are more academically-minded, as well as church leaders who are more charismatic in nature.
If I’m being honest, I approached many of them with the intent of being able to “rightfully” dismiss them. I wanted to understand their arguments so I could be well-prepared to speak against them. There’s a word for that approach – and it’s one that isn’t terribly flattering: arrogance. Arrogance is the appropriate term for whenever we dismiss people or ideas without understanding them. Arrogance is when we start with the assumption that the other person is wrong, and then look for evidence to validate our opinion. I was acting with arrogance.
I listened to a preacher last week who I have heard several times in the past. I have never been impressed by his sermons, his theology, or the way approaches social-politics and American politics in his sermons. But what I saw last week was different from the many other times I have heard him speak. Last week, I saw signs of growth in him. And at the same time, I saw some of my own weaknesses.
Every other time I have listened to him, I have been able to easily dismiss him. In fact, I have labeled him as a manipulator. I don’t think that label was a poor description of what I saw him doing – he was certainly manipulating people – but by labeling him as a manipulator, I was able to dismiss him entirely. This time, however, I didn’t see him manipulate people. What I saw instead was that he showed signs of spiritual growth. And because I couldn’t easily dismiss him, I was forced to engage his message.
I didn’t do it uncritically. I was looking for the next thing I could mentally attack him about. But for the first time, since it was difficult to label him and toss him aside, I began to see the good things that he’s doing. And when I compared his ministry against my own, I found that while he might be weak where I am strong – I am equally weak where he is strong.
His strengths revealed my weaknesses. And for the first time, I was able to humble myself in such a way that I could learn from him.
I still disagree with much of his theology. But I find that I can’t (and don’t want to) label him, dismiss him, and toss him aside like I once did. Even though I might disagree with him, I would really like to learn from him. There are things that he is doing very well!
It is good and healthy to expose ourselves to voices and ideas from outside of our tradition – whether it is a theological perspective, a social perspective, or a political perspective. We truly can grow from one another. And when we open our minds to a world that is bigger than our own narrow focus, we offer the Spirit the opportunity to do things in us that we were not previously open to allowing him to do.
I’m thankful that the preacher is allowing God to work in his life. It opened me to allowing God to do new things in me, too.