11 June 2010

Defending Truth or Yourself?

In reflecting on the strange objections and odd misunderstandings and striking displays of the very thing he was warning against in my dad's wonderful post this past week, I'm struck by my own and others' inability to discern between concern for the truth and concern for being right. One cares about God's honor, the other about mine. Yet what we assume to be truth-concern as we type our blog comment and hit 'submit' (a more inappropriate verb could not have been picked) is often self-concern.

How easy it is to act on that sense of truth-violation we perceive in others when it wells up within us, yet the intense emotion of that moment may so easily--so, so easily--simply be a desire that we be seen to be right. It's alarmingly natural to pass off cantankerous or scoffing comments as concern for truth when really it is just a form of self-vindication.

The ironic thing here is that some who read this will already find welling up within themselves an objection. 'How can you take truth so lightly? Paul certainly didn't mince words about theological error!'

So true! And not only Paul--the apostle was a boy scout with his language compared to Ezekiel. The culture in which we live certainly devalues objective truth. I cringe at the thought of truth-whittling Kumbaya-singing hand-holding Rodney King-echoing creed-demoting confession-neglecting lowest-common-denominator fluff. That's about as attractive to me as Dennis Rodman in high heels and lipstick. But if our deepening knowledge of God and grace in all its doctrinal contours creates in us, imperceptibly perhaps, impatience or frustration with other believers, it is not knowledge of God and of grace that fuels our frustration and snide tone but concern for being personally right. It is sin.

Paul said that if we have all knowledge and all faith but lack love, we are nothing. What if we made every blog comment mindful of that?

If you define yourself as Reformed (whatever you say that means) yet find within yourself, as I often do, an impulse to vehemently correct others doctrinally, will you join me in questioning of your own heart whether it is an urge to defend the truth or an urge to defend your own rightness? I need to grow in this and I invite you to join me.

By the way, at my own discretion I'll be deleting any comment on this post that I deem unedifying. There are enough platforms for theological hotheads already out there without providing one more here.


Gary Ware said...

Hey Dane,
I posted both Ray's piece and linked to comments by Daryl Hart on my blog.
I agree with what you've written.
I'd like to think that when I'm at my best I do examine myself the way you've written.
Thing is, apart from my own heart, with which I am not above being deceived, how can I know that others are motivated by 'an urge to defend the truth or an urge to defend your [their] own rightness'?
Oft times the substance of what will be communicated won't differ, and sometimes the form of it won't either.
What takes this from subjective to objective?

Dane Ortlund said...

Hi Gary, thanks for the comment brother.

The question is not others' motivation, but ours.

And when we are careful that our motivation is God's honor and not ours, I do think both the substance and especially the form of what we say will be altered.

Bless you!

Justin said...


Thanks for the post. This is a good reminder for me. I didn't grow up "reformed", but was introduced to the doctrines of grace in college. When I first heard about them, I was excited. Faith broke through. My spirit and mind were engaged. Jesus was appealing to me. And then I got really angry. "Why hadn't anyone told me about this?!" For a while, the non-reformed were apart of this monolithic group that had robbed me by hiding these great doctrines from me. Their injustice would not go unpunished.

By the grace of God, I've deleted more blog comments than I've posted. I wouldn't of been able to tell you why except that it didn't feel right. But I think your post nailed it. The Spirit was saving me from myself. What I was about to "defend" was myself and not the truth.

Thanks again for the exhortation. Might need a post-it note on my monitor: "Truth or Self?"

Unknown said...

Possible litmus-test for theological snobbery: go walking through a Christian book store...and just observe the demeanor of your heart as you browse the books' authors and titles.


Matti said...

This was good stuff by Mr. Edwards about spiritual pride:

Truth Matters - Jonathan Edwards quote

Anonymous said...

(for some reason my pc didn't show all of your post, so excuse me if I address something you already did)

Let me admit that I, too, need to question my heart. I painfully admit this.

I just have a few questions that I think I'm genuinely asking so that I can be freed from theological hotheadedness. I don't want to be a theological jerk.

Shouldn't we want to be right and give reasons for why we think so? I mean, I shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to be right, should I?

I remember reading in Mark somewhere that "...Jesus sighed then answered..." I can just picture Jesus rolling his eyes and doing it in love. He also called his followers dull, slow of heart, evil, and even Satan. Jesus is love. Are we supposed to be Christ-like in every way except this way? Or are we supposed to believe that He rolled his eyes (obviously my insertion) AND that He was a loving person?

Also, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus (at least to some extent) is re-interpreting, correctly, what love is in the first place. So, hashing out biblical interpretation was Jesus' most immediate display of His love for His audience... then why is it that when I do this, with my father-n-law for example, that it can seem so unloving??

I know I can be pig-headed about the truth rather than loving. I'm wrestling with this. I offer one meditation/reflection from the proverbs:

9:7-8 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

24:25 those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.

There's a balance to be had here, I guess. I just know that I'm offbalance too much.

Any other thoughts????? I'm dying for some help here. I don't want to be a jerk. I want to be loving. I also want to stand for truth. I don't want to be unbiblically sheepish or timid. I look forward to seeing what ya'll have to say. Thank you.

Dane Ortlund said...

Hi. Name please?

Anonymous said...

you'll have to excuse me. I don't have a google account or whatever. I normally don't post stuff on blogs and everything. My name is Jonathan.

Dane Ortlund said...

Hi Jonathan. Thanks for your comment and thoughtfulness brother. A few thoughts.

1. There's nothing wrong with asking questions. Only pride is suspicious of those who ask genuine questions.

2. You see the need to question your own heart motives, and that itself is a big neon sign that the Spirit is alive and well within you. Again, only pride feels above the need to question oneself. I don't mean being overly introspective and I don't mean wondering about one's salvation; God means us to be assured. I just mean a healthy dose of awareness that it is easy to be strangely optimistic about our own motives.

3. What I meant, and said, was not that we should not want to be right, but that we should not want merely to be seen as right. It's very easy to simply desire to be vindicated before others, seen in the right, in a way that is divorced from true love for the truth and God's honor. Of course, in all I do, I want to be right about it, if the alternative is being wrong. That's too obvious to even say. But if the alternative is simply being seen to be wrong, then we may simply be more concerned with protecting our own name.

4. I think that if we were more humble, we would be more often accused of pride. I.e., if we really didn't care as much as we do what other people think, we wouldn't be afraid to say a clear, direct word of rebuke, etc. It's pride, a desire not to be disliked, that prevents us! I think of a professor I know whom many call proud, but I think he's actually uniquely humble: he doesn't play the game the rest of us play, trying to get everyone to like us.

5. Good reflections on the Gospels and Proverbs. Lots to say but I'll keep it to this: Certainly, Jesus was harsh in what he said. The question that we must bear in mind though was how he said it. You can see it in the comments on Justin's blog all the time. It just is not that hard to hear arrogance in a tone. And that was never the case with Jesus. I'm not asking, in my post, that we not critique others and stand for truth. I'm asking that we do it mindful of our own prideful tendencies, 1 Cor 13, and so on.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your time and thoughts. One more question that dovetails with this... When I try to lead my family and friends in meditating/reflecting on Scripture (keeping Deut 6 in mind), sometimes it is difficult (they'd rather not talk about it). Any ideas on how I can gently press us toward the glory of God revealed in the Scriptures rather than endless discussion of a 1,000 lesser things?

Anonymous said...

??? ...just wondering if it's me. I don't want to be a pain in the butt. I'm trying to be helpful. Like iron sharpening iron, you know? How do you lead your family in Scripture meditation, discussion, reflection, and application????

Dane Ortlund said...

1. Who are you? 2. I'm happy to discuss your question, but if it's related in some way to the post, could you illumine that for me? Thanks. Bless you.