April 29, 2020by Reverend Dan on April 29, 2020
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
I recommended a book to someone recently, and as a result, I was read the “riot act”.
Bunny trail - where did the term “read someone the riot act” come from? In 1715 in England, Parliament passed an act that said twelve or more people gathering together was civil disobedience and proclaimed it a felony. (This was not in response to a pandemic, but to an uprising known at the Jacobite rebellion; when one part of the family of King James II tried to reclaim the throne from another part of the family after he was overthrown). When groups were caught gathering, before they were taken off to jail, they were “read the riot act” to make sure they knew why they were being arrested.
Back on track. Reading someone the “riot act” today means to be severely reprimanded for what someone else believes is a mistake. So, what caused me to be “read the riot act”? What was my transgression in recommending a book? The person I recommended the book to did not agree with what the book said, and thus I should never have proffered such a blasphemous, heretical writing.
Bunny trail. We have come to the point in our culture where many people will only read (or watch) something which supports a view or position they already hold. I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who watches CNN rarely, if ever, watches FOX News, and vice-versa. I can also, with great certainty, project that if you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, it’s not while you’re reading the New York Times or listening to NPR.
Back on track. So, what was my mistake? I recommended a book by Bart Ehrman.
Bunny trail. Who is Bart Ehrman? Dr. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill (UNC). He holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute/Wheaton College, and an MDiv and PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a best-selling author and is considered a leading worldwide authority on the New Testament and history of early Christianity. He also heads a foundation which helps fight hunger and homelessness. Pretty impressive, huh?! Oh, yeah. He was a born-again, fundamentalist Christian as a teenager, but now is an agnostic atheist according to some websites. Ah, there it is.
Back on track. I have read every book Bart Ehrman has written. Why? Do I agree with everything in them? Nope. Historically, I believe they are unassailable. Dr. Ehrman’s knowledge and research and insight is above reproach. Theologically? Here’s the rub. I didn’t think I had to agree with something to read it and think about it. In fact, I learn much more reading information I may, in the end, not agree with than something I already believe. It is in the tension between historical acumen and faith where I believe I grow the most.
In seminary, most of us had to take a class called “Apologetics”. It is not apologizing for anything. In fact, it’s the very opposite. It’s learning to defend your position and state your objections to a differing view. If all we read or listen to is what we already believe (which, by the way, is usually based on nothing more than embedded theology– what we’ve always learned and heard without questioning it), then we are never taking the opportunity to grow and develop our ability to validate and verbalize why we believe what we do. We know we don’t agree with certain things that are said, we just don’t know why because we’ve never thought about it.
What bothered me most of all in this whole experience was the attitude with which the riot act was read. Dr. Ehrman is always very respectful of others views while stating his own. Yet as Christians we are the ones who are called to be gentle and respectful and instead are, often, venomous and hateful. (Gotta be honest – I don’t think I’m going to hell for reading Dr. Ehrman OR for not using the King James Version of the Bible.)
It’s okay to disagree with someone. In fact, it causes us to grow in knowledge. But in the process of disagreement, we cannot abandon our calling as Christians and act with anything other than grace and love. We can still love one another even if we don’t agree. Read something you don’t agree with. Listen to someone who’s beliefs are different from yours. Don’t be afraid to learn something new OR to give other ideas consideration. Afterwards, just think about it all and then be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that YOU have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
“Father, Make us ever mindful of the grace and mercy of Jesus we show in the way we interact with those who don’t agree with our faith. Let them see Jesus’ in us. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”