This past week there was another tiny drama in the “Christian” world. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson , in an interview, seemed to state his acceptance of same sex marriage and then promptly retracted it. What I found more interesting than Peterson’s actions, were the reactions of fellow Christians. In fact, I don’t want to talk about what Peterson believes or doesn’t believe. I want to spend some time thinking about how we treat each other when we disagree.
I was not particularly surprised to read that some people were reconsidering whether they should continue to read Peterson’s books and to consider him a faithful and trustworthy Christian author. Some wrote they would keep the books of his they had, but would not give his books to other people. There was discussion by some wondering whether or not Peterson is a Christian.
We seem to have trouble with a nuanced view of each other. For all of us it is much, much easier to see the world in absolutes. Someone is good or bad. Someone is for us or against us. Someone’s theology is correct or wrong. Someone’s politics are right or wrong.
Christians aren’t the only people to struggle with this, it is a human problem. This sort of binary thinking can make life simple but not rich and full. I know that I get some things right and some wrong. I do good things and not good things. I know I am a complex person. And I know that about people I know personally. My friends get some things right and some things wrong. We all do. Which should cause you and I to view all persons as complex and fallible beings.
Because Eugene Peterson got something “wrong” (whatever “wrong” is for you in this instance), doesn’t mean that everything Peterson has written is now wrong and worthless. Just because Rob Bell gotten something “wrong” doesn’t mean everything he has written and said is wrong. Just because Franklin Graham has gotten something “wrong” doesn’t mean everything he has written or said is wrong.
Tim Keller has written a terrific book on vocation, Every Good Endeavor. He is also part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) a much more conservative denomination than the PC(USA) of which I am a member. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would join a PCA church, we have some significant theological differences. Does that mean Tim Keller’s book is worthless to me? Of course not. I like that book so much, I provided a link so you can buy it. Is everything Tim Keller says true and wonderful? No, of course not. But neither is everything he says wrong.
What all this means is that I don’t get to dismiss someone based on one (or even two or three) areas of disagreement. I am most definitely not pentecostal. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from my pentecostal siblings in Christ. And I can learn from them without needing to believe exactly as they do or requiring them to believe as I do.
What all this does mean is that I have to think about things, about ideas, and about people. And I can’t just do this just one time. I need to think again and again. When I read Tim Keller, or Rob Bell, or Eugene Peterson, or anyone else I need to read carefully and thoughtfully. I need to weigh what they say with what I believe. Perhaps I will change my mind, perhaps not. My world is improved and enlarged either way.
It is a complicated world. Let’s be complicated people! Let’s also be thoughtful and kind people. We can do both.