In a world of religious bigotry, natural suspicion, obsession with security, being open-minded is seen by many as the cardinal virtue. But open-mindedness is the virtue that Christians lack, because we have made up our mind, deliberated, and decided to be followers of Jesus. From now it’s closed-minded certainty all the way to the grave. At least this is how we are often perceived.
In Christian circles however, being open-minded sounds suspiciously like being liberal, or perhaps exposing our Christian faith to the possibility of compromise with our secular world. It is with good reason that Christians tend to prefer the language of 'challenge'. For instance, the quality of a modern sermon is directly proportionate to its ability to challenge us. At least, that's the theory. In reality, we are as ready to be challenged as we are to leap out of a plane wearing a Victorian parachute!
On the surface of it, the experience of feeling challenged can be the symptom of incurable hedonism: People can go home from church feeling that somehow God has spoken to them, thrilled that they were somehow in touch with the Almighty. It is an excilerating feeling to experience the touch of challenge that questions your worldview, pricks at your conscience and threatens your lifestyle. But the desire for 'challenge' can easily become a psychological mechanism that enables disobedient Christians to convince themselves that they are still listening to God. The comfortable seats of our western Christian communities are filled with spiritual masochistics who take pleasure at the sting of challenge.
However, the question is not whether such challenge leads to actual change. The prior question is whether we have decided in advance which areas of our life, which of our treasured commitments and even which of our precious beliefs about God, are open to be challenged by God himself. It is one thing to allow God to challenge me about things I am already trying to improve in my own spiritual life. It is quite another for me to be challenged in such a way that my pride will actually be dented, that I may suffer the embarrassment of changing my mind, or repent of valued opinions or important goals.
But we need not be afraid. We have a treasured security mechanism to protect us from this truly terrifying form of challenge: we simply brand those prophets who bring it as naive, immature, dodgy, or unsound. That way, it becomes our Christian duty to dismiss or discredit them.
And hey presto, we are safe from God's prophetic challenge, even whilst we genuinely believe that we like being challenged. It is self-delusion of the worst order, and renders the accusation that we are ‘closed-minded’ truer still than even our accusers realize. Of all people, it makes us the most hard-hearted, even while we may weep the genuine tears of sentimentality, hunger and thirst for righteousness and feel deeply the pin-prick of challenge. How could we possibly be hard hearted when being challenged is so important to us? But then, whose heart is harder than those who have hardened their hearts to the possibility that their hearts may be hard?
(Published in BT, 5.3.08)