I did an experiment this week, and decided pretty quickly I’d made a mistake. I have a somewhat eclectic theological combination, but I found a facebook group that I thought I fit into pretty well – one that shared both my soteriology and my eschatology. Perfect, I thought, conversing with people who are as right about these things as I am! So, I signed up and read some of the posts, engaging in a couple of discussions. Tonight, I left the group with a bad taste in my mouth and an intention not to join groups like that again.
I haven’t changed my theological positions; I still believe as I did. But I am coming more and more to believe that there is a spiritually unhealthy tendency for us to isolate ourselves in little bubble groups of like-minded people. These groups too often fall into the tendency of showing disdain for people from other groups, accepting weak arguments as convincing because everyone is like-minded, and using ridicule, caricature and derogatory generalizations instead of fair representations of the other side. I think great harm comes from these kinds of bubbles and very little of value.
This is a similar argument to the one I made last weekend about “contra-conferences” in which a group of Christians from one stripe gather to examine the faults and theological failings of those of a different stripe. It is normal and natural to enjoy being around people who share our views. But when we insulate ourselves from opposing viewpoints the result is generally unfortunate – division, misunderstanding and aggravation.
This is a common problem.
I saw a twitter exchange today about an article written by one of the more prominent pastors in our denomination. He made a statement that offended some friends of mine. My theological position is probably closer to the author’s than that of my friends who were bothered by his statement. But they were right. He made a careless point, dismissing those who disagreed as if they were theological inferior and inept. I don’t think he intended to be disrespectful. But often we don’t realize how our comments will be received by those who do not share our bubble.
Ever perused some recommended reading lists by bloggers on preaching, or ministry or any other topic? They tend to all be books from the same perspective as the post author. Do we really believe that only Calvinists (or non-Calvinists) have wisdom about preaching or ministry or evangelistic strategies? If your entire recommended reading list consists solely of people from your own theological persuasion, you are probably living in a bubble.
I again share the words of Dr. Howard Hendricks to our class 35 years ago. Read deeply of those with whom you disagree. Reading (and conversing) only with those who share your convictions will tend to reinforce your prejudices, not move you to deeper thinking, better understanding, and more incisive arguments.
It is so easy to live within our little bubbles, to look at those outside the bubble in unrealistic and unfair ways.
I am convinced that 72.235 percent of the conflict over Calvinism is caused by bubble thinking. Yes, there are theological differences between the two viewpoints; sometimes significant differences. But it is not hype to say we have far more in common than we have in distinction. But we tend to retreat into soteriological bubbles and then caricature the other side. Calvinists complain that non-Calvinists (Traditionalists, Arminians; all across the continuum) regularly misrepresent their beliefs. I have also seen Traditionalists and other non-Calvinist groups in an uproar about what they perceive as misrepresentations of their beliefs and convictions by Calvinists. From my observations, both sides tend to be right. When we stay in our bubbles, we can pretend that all charismatics are wackos, that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists, that all non-Calvinists treasure easy-believism and false conversions and on and on and on.
Bubble-thinking leads to misrepresentation, caricature and false accusations. We need to burst those bubbles and get out there.
Fellowship with some Godly, Word-loving Christians who see it differently than you do. You don’t have to compromise your convictions, but you will be blessed to realize that people who are very different from you still love Jesus, uphold the Word and proclaim the biblical gospel we love. None of our little bubble groups has a copyright on the gospel of Christ. We may differ on the ordo salutis, the operation of spiritual gifts, the order of end-time events, ecclesiological organization or the timing and mode of baptism, but we still share a belief that humanity is hellbound without Jesus, that he died to atone for our sins, and that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We ought to always seek to sharpen our positions, define our theology and be doctrinally clear and specific. But we also need to avoid retreating into theological bubbles with like-minded people.
C’mon, guys. Let’s pop those bubbles.