I finished reading a book recently–nothing unusual for me, since I like reading and spend a lot of time doing both work related and general reading. But as I was reading this particular book, I had some interesting insights. I wasn’t too far into the book before I began to think that I really didn’t like what the writer was saying. I found myself disagreeing with what I felt was his theme and arguments. The more I read, the more I was convinced that we had serious disagreement.
That isn’t by itself unusual–I have a tendency to seek out authors and ideas that I probably won’t agree with. After all, if I agree with what I am reading, it doesn’t do much beyond confirm my ideas. Reading something I disagree with, however, forces me to examine what I think and tighten up–or even change–my thinking. So, although I was finding the book disagreeable, I kept going–or tried to.
I found myself avoiding the book. I had developed an informal reading schedule that ensured me a certain amount of reading time every day, something that becomes very important during hectic weeks. But I found that when I had time to read, I was avoiding the book, using everything from emptying the dishwasher to watching Youtube to fill in the time. And then, as I was actually reading the book one day, I realized that I didn’t really disagree with the writer all that much–a lot of what he was saying was stuff that I believed and had actually taught or preached at some point.
That insight really didn’t make the process of reading any easier. I was still struggling with the book, still finding excuses not to read, still wishing I had never bothered to open the book. So, in an effort to finish the book, I decided to figure out what my problem was. I wanted to know why I was struggling to read this book.
Well, it wasn’t the topic. The writer was dealing with some basic theological and Biblical foundations of the Christian faith, something that I think is important. It was a relatively new book, so I wasn’t bothered by the wordiness that often is found in old books. It wasn’t the style because the writer was using an informal contemporary approach, not the heavy academic approach that I sometimes struggle with.
In the end, I realized my problem with the book was the writer’s attitude. This writer was right–and those who disagreed with him were wrong. He made that clear in a variety of ways–he ridiculed those who held other views; he called them names; he questioned the reality of their faith. He made it very clear that there was only one view that counted and that those who disagreed were not just wrong, they were bad, disillusioned and even evil people.
This isn’t all that unusual an approach to disagreement. Truthfully, I have to confess that I have used it myself at times. But something about the reading of this book caused me to see this approach to disagreement in a different light. Probably some of the reason for seeing the approach differently came from the sermon series I was working on while reading the book.
I had been preaching on some of the churches mentioned in the New Testament, using their issues to help us deal with our contemporary issues. One of the key messages in the letters to the various churches is the need to treat each other with love and respect, no matter what we think about the other person. True, sometimes Paul reverts to name calling and less than polite language (See Philippians 3.2 as an example) but overall, he insists that even in disagreement, we need to be Christ-like and loving.
I finally finished the book–but I think I learned a lot more about how not to write and talk in the context of disagreement that I did about the author’s main theme. And, given that I have been guilty of exactly the same approach in some of my speaking and writing, reading that book was a good thing. I can and will disagree with people. But I need to find a way to disagree that still treats the person or persons I disagree with the same love and respect and grace that God shows them and me.
May the peace of God be with you.