-The two preachers I listen to most frequently (pretty much every week) have views about the gifting of women for ministry that are, in my opinion, unbiblical. I have books on my shelf from several pastors and authors who share their view.
-Getting one of my favorite authors to plainly state what he believes about substitutionary atonement, a foundational Christian doctrine, is not unlike nailing Jell-o to a wall.
-One of my favorite preachers has stated publicly stated that he believes one of my other favorite preachers is a heretic.
-There are several books on my bookshelf that have influenced me greatly and that I would never give to a young Christian.
-I read blogs from all over the theological map, from conservative to liberal and simple to technical.
-A few of my favorite books are not listed it the “Favorite Books” section of my Facebook page because I do not want a potential employer to see those titles and assume I agree with everything the particular author has to say, because I don’t.
-I read books from people who have pastored megachurches, and from people who think a healthy church shouldn’t grow beyond a couple hundred before it plants a new church.
-For those familiar with the debate about justification, I read John Piper and N.T. Wright. And I like it.
All of this to say, I read and listen to a lot of different voices from a lot of different perspectives. That does not make me especially unique at Fuller, but it is something that has generated a bit of push back from friends and acquaintances in other arenas of my life. In my life as a pastor I had a few instances where friends and acquaintances would draw incorrect conclusions about my theological beliefs that they often based on their knowledge of the books that I read.
A big reason why I feel like I can safely consume and digest thinking that comes from a variety of perspectives is that I have rooted myself in Scripture. In a sense I have trained myself for the task of discernment. I am obviously continuing to grow in my understanding of Scripture, but I have grown to the point where I feel I am able to accurately take teaching that I read or hear, hold it up to Scripture, and allow Scripture to judge the worth of that teaching. If I weren’t able to do this, my practice of listening to such a wide variety of ideas would be potentially dangerous, just as it is dangerous for an untrained river rafter to attempt to negotiate class-5 rapids. A properly trained rafter, however, benefits greatly from the challenge of a class-5 run, and in the same way I benefit from consuming a broad spectrum of theological ideas.
There are some important reasons why I believe it is important to “drink from a wide stream” when it comes to theological influences.
First of all, it helps us remember that nobody is infallible, and no one is completely depraved. In our often-polarized culture it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that a pastor or leader is either pure good or pure evil. Or, it is easy to latch on to one particular belief that a teacher espouses, and based on that belief proceed to uncritically accept or reject the rest of their teaching. This is not good. I like to think that my broad range of influences is my own little rebellion against the polarization and sectarianism that exists in so many arenas in society.
Second, it helps me develop a more nuanced understanding of what the Christian life looks like. Some authors do a great job of helping me understand what the Scriptures say. Others do a better job of showing how to live out what the Scriptures say. Some focus more on personal holiness, others focus more on the public and social implications of our faith.
Third, it challenges me to constantly re-evaluate my own thinking, and it helps me sharpen my own discernment. If I’m only reading books by people who agree with me, then I’m probably not going to grow, and I will forget that not everyone shares my perspectives. Sometimes, reading opposing views reinforces my own beliefs, sometimes they cause me to question them. Often times reading the opinions of those who deny or attack the Gospel cause me to love it that much more.
Fourth, it keeps me humble. Left to our own devices I believe we are all heretics on some level. I know my own theological beliefs aren’t perfect, and I want to hear voices that will guide my thinking such that it will wind up being more in line with Scripture. No one voice will do that perfectly.
I’m not necessarily saying that every voice is valuable and every opinion is worth considering, and there are plenty of voices that I generally ignore because they are destructive, or ignorant, or bigoted, or something along those lines. My point is that I believe there is value in learning from a variety of different perspectives.
So then, when I quote someone on here, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything they’ve ever said or done. Similarly, if I critique someone, it doesn’t mean I think they have nothing of value to say. Nobody is perfect, and God can communicate his truth through a wide variety of sources, which is why I drink from a wide stream with the Scriptures as my guide.