Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When It's OK to Take Another's Word

DAY 21 OF 46

It can be one of the weakest defenses anybody can raise:

"You can't say anything negative until you experience it for yourself."

Variations of this popular argument range among the following:
  • "Well, did you read it?"
  • "Have you seen it for yourself?"
  • "If you haven't heard that song, you can't judge it."
Funny - nobody challenges somebody with these misnomers when the opinions being expressed are positive!

We Can Learn From What Others Live

Sometimes, of course, it doesn't really hurt to go ahead and read the book or see the movie for yourself.  But other times, aren't we better off taking somebody else's word for it?

For example, we don't have to go to Japan and wander around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to know that we'll likely contract radiation sickness.

We don't have to read every Playboy magazine that comes out to know that its content is sexually immoral and demeaning to women - and men.

We don't have to be shot to know bullet wounds can be painful.

Shucks, we don't even have to read the Bible in order to receive God's gift of salvation. It certainly becomes crucial to our spiritual walk as we seek to honor God with our lives, but how many Christians ever read through the whole Bible?

Reading Above the Lines

The other day, Al Mohler posted an essay refuting the controversial Rob Bell book, Love Wins, and was inevitably blasted by people wondering if Mohler had even read the book.

If you've never heard of Rob Bell, or his new book, or even Al Mohler, then don't worry: they're actually ancillary to the point I'm trying to make. Which is that people can still speak with integrity about something without sullying themselves by experiencing the material they oppose.

For example, when John Eldridge's book, Wild at Heart, came out, people didn't need to read the book to dispute his claim that God takes risks. Some tried to challenge my negative assessment of its theme by asking if I'd read the book, and I was baffled by that logic. Reading the book or not reading the book doesn't change the fact that Eldridge thinks God takes risks. Nor does it change the fact that God absolutely does not take any risks, because He's eternally sovereign and omniscient. Why should I pay good money to buy a book which espouses a viewpoint I don't believe?

I got my facts about the book from hearing and reading the reviews and impressions of friends and leaders in the evangelical community who actually did read Eldredge's book. When the evidence from one source was corroborated by another, and then another, should I have seen the need to refute their reactions to the book with my own personal experience?

Now, in the Rob Bell case, Al Mohler actually wrote a book review, so it's rather silly of people to ask him if he ever read the book. But still - its a moot point. Mohler isn't the only evangelical who's troubled by the contents of Bell's book. Enough material has reached the public sphere for the rest of us - who have no interest in buying a book which defames Christ - to know what's inside.

Truth Isn't Always Learned in the First Person

Granted, if nobody on the planet ever bothered to read Wild at Heart of Love Wins, then no, we wouldn't know the unBiblical content of these books. If nobody on the planet knew what Playboy was, we wouldn't know its content was immoral. But one of the interesting facets of modern society is that as consumers, we have access to a lot of information about the stuff available for consumption. And we've been given a brain with logic functions in order to determine what is profitable from what is unprofitable.

Obviously, when it comes to personal taste, aesthetics, and other negligibles, your opinion probably won't be valid without personal experience with the subject. For example, if you say you would never eat at a certain restaurant because the food is bad, but you'd never eaten there yourself, then how much is your opinion worth? Why even bother making such a nonsensical statement?

If it seems like I'm splitting hairs, then consider the penchant many of us have to try things out for ourselves, even after we've been told they're not beneficial, wholesome, or true. Sometimes, the harm we might subject ourselves to is little more than a miserable-tasting meal or a boring movie. But do we really need to be cluttering our minds with a lot of the drivel being shilled in the marketplace of ideas these days?

Discernment and the ability to evaluate the viewpoints of trusted advisers has an important place in a world full of messages, advertisements, and persuasion. Doubting Thomas didn't exactly set a stellar example by refusing to believe the Lord had risen until he could put his hands in Christ's wounds.

Sometimes is good to take somebody else's word for it.


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