Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

How To Treat A Fool

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Faith & reason

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b, 7, NRSV)

“Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.” (Prov. 26:4, NRSV)

OK, wait for it…WAIT for it…

“Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Prov. 26:5, NRSV)

Events of the last few days have led me to ponder when to apply each verse; or more precisely, when, because of compassion (1), should I stay in a conversation, with the hope that, at least, seeds of the kingdom of God, rumors of glory, might be planted, OR…when should I extricate myself from obtuse fools and unedifying conversation? The story begins about a week I ago.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Miller, a pastor of the thriving Glenkirk Church in the quiet, suburban city of Glendora, authored a book: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” (Abingdon Press, 2013). Jim Miller, my former presbytery colleague and current Facebook friend, asked me recently to “like” the “Hardwired” Facebook page. Last week, I read the book on my Kindle. A variety of worries and concerns met me as I read, though now after reading the book a couple more times, I have a more appreciative view of the book.

I began a blog post to respond to the concerns I had about the book. Often when I make a post, it is as long as a term paper, and requires two or three days to write. I was determined that I was not going to produce a critique that long; when I make a long post, I try to make one that works on several levels, has humor, a spiritual point, unexpected content, and is seeded with a few spiritual time-bombs that will go off later, opening up unexpected prospects for the reader (I believe this is why this blog is read in so many countries). I gave myself one afternoon to write the post. However, as the afternoon wore on, I saw that for me to be fair to the author, and understood by my readers, a long post would be required after all. So after writing several pages, I just threw them in the trash. I would just try to continue to exemplify in my blog posts, my approach to Christian apologetics, or what I prefer to call commending a Christian faith and worldview.

Then I thought I might receive some help from an online discussion. I was a member of a group that I had never used. You might think that with “apologetics” in the title, the group would be mostly sympathetic to Christian faith, though of course, some members might not be Christians. You would be wrong. I asked what members thought of the book, “Hardwired”, and then asked a longer and more nuanced version of this question: “Isn’t the use of the metaphor, ‘hardwired’, a double-edged sword? When used outside of the original context of computer science/artificial intelligence, it seems to be a pseudo-scientific term that gives an unearned patina of science to arguments. It was used in this way first by anti-religious materialists.” At first, I received some short, helpful responses. Then the anti-Christian trolls came out from under the bridge, so to speak. Anything I said was deemed so obviously false that it did not need to be refuted. Responses that I made that got too close to their targets, were met with lazy misunderstanding or attempts to distract me (and the group) with irrelevant questions. You’ve probably seen in political discourse, that sometimes questions about an issue are met with just changing the subject by bringing up another issue. One member exemplified the very worry I had, by attempting to debunk religious beliefs by explaining how they are hardwired into us because they have an evolutionary survival value. Insults to Christian faith, and a kind of bullying that involves the words “of course…”, flowed freely for the next 24 hours. My instinct is too stay with a conversation and too never give up. But this conversation had sunk into a morass of willful misunderstanding and foolishness. And so, I applied the proverb, “Do not answer fools according to their folly…” With Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), out of the room, I was bold to also remember this verse: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” Leaving the reversionists behind, I ‘unjoined’ the group with “extreme prejudice” (to paraphrase the film, “Apocalypse Now”).

Remembering that, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'” (Ps. 14:1a. NRSV), the question before us is: When should we apply Proverbs 26:4, and when should we apply Proverbs 26:5? I do believe that all humans bear the image of God, and so, even foolish or evil ones have dignity, and should be treated with respect. Two thoughts come to mind. 1) One of the principles of L’Abri Fellowship, founded by Dr. Francis and Edith Schaeffer, is to give an honest answer to every honest question. There is a presumption of staying with the conversation, even if the answer is, “I’ll get back to you on that, after I’ve done some work on it.” But, if the questioner is insincere, unwilling to seek and acknowledge truth, then one’s time and energy is better spent elsewhere. 2) Dallas Willard, in the DVD series accompanying his final book, “Living In Christ’s Presence: Final Words On Heaven and the Kingdom Of God” (InterVarsity Press, 2014), said that he will not debate with atheists/agnostics/materialists/etc., but that he will engage with them in a common search for truth.

Another way of thinking about this is to remember that Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15a, NRSV). Some of us are ostensibly more oriented to the truth-speaking command, and some, to the love command. We need to live out both parts of the instruction, or we risk being cold and pedantic, on the one hand, or mushy and intellectually flabby, on the other hand. It seems to me though, that without love, one’s truth-seeking becomes distorted, and one’s truth-speaking drives people away. And, love entails willingness to help people acquire the knowledge that they need (1).

(1) See my post of 10/12/14: “Lack of Knowledge Is a Compassion Issue.”

“To watch over mouth and tongue
is to keep out of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,”
acts with arrogant pride.” (Prov. 21:23-24, NRSV)

This post was powered by the CD, “The Banner Days Sampler” (2014) by The Banner Days, the CD, “Modern” (1999) by Battered Fish, the CD, “Love Songs And Prayers [A Retrospective]” (1994) by the Choir, and the CD, “Brutal Romantic” (2014) by Brooke Fraser.

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Author: Zachary Bright

Until February 2014, I was pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church for about 24 years. I am interested in theology, alternative music, new worship music, culture making, philosophy and dogs. Most of all I am interested in extending the Kingdom of God and its blessings to everyone around me. I am the Director of the Southern CA. C.S. Lewis Society and I am a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. My wife Terry, my dog Jack Lewis and I host a Bible Study in our home on Sunday afternoons.

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