A Quick Thought on Staying Non-Reactionary, Non-Defensive, and Non-Anxious

Two different articles from two wildly different authors that came across email a day or so ago seemed to speak to one another, which made me think.

One came from Pete Enns, on the moment of insight that shaped his “life’s work of trying to understand the Bible rather than defend it,” the moment he realized that “Paul probably couldn’t get a job teaching at the seminary that taught me about Paul.” The other came from Seth Godin, on “change agents” and not wasting time tilting at windmills, since they are not actually giants.

It occurred to me that the defensiveness about scripture Enns is talking about has something to do with the “change agents” Godin is talking about.

“Change agents” like historical criticism, or the evidence-based investigation of ancient history, archeology and so on; geology, with its carbon dating and fossils and its evidence about the actual historical age of rocks; Charles Darwin, and everything people have found out about evolutionary biology since his time; among others.

My grandmother – whom I loved, let me be clear – spent a lot of time tilting at the windmills of “modernism” and “evolution.”

A few weeks ago I bought a book about dinosaurs with a time line of the geological periods in the billions of years for one of the Sunday school students.

Because why not? What good ever came from lying?

Isn’t it more faithful to work on understanding how these various truths, the truth of which we have scientific evidence, for instance, and the truth attested in scripture, relate to one another? Even if that requires us to change the way we understand scripture?

Because if we understand God to be the author of all truth, then presumably the underlying relationship itself – belonging to one reality, that includes everything true, all coexisting according to some specific “how things actually are” – is a given.

But the adequacy of how we understand scripture is not. Neither is the completeness of our understanding of physics or chemistry or natural science or human psychology, or anything. We know plenty, but we still have even more to learn.

Learning is a kind of change.

[Literally. Most definitions of “learning” these days incorporate the notion of change, as in “a change in the brain as a result of experience” or “persisting change in human performance or performance potential…[which] must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world” or some similar formulation. See “10 Definitions of Learning.” ]

Change makes people anxious, though, and anxiety interferes with learning.

We can just see the vicious feedback loop taking shape: the more we sense the knock of learning/change at the door, the more our inner watchdog reacts and the more we defend, so the louder it knocks, so the louder the dog’s barking and the more and bigger the deadbolts we install.

If I want to step out of that vicious cycle, and invite others do the same, maybe one of the first things I need to learn is how to stay non-anxious enough to learn, instead of shutting down and shutting out, when I meet change agents: truth tellers, truth makers, truth that comes along with revisions for some of my cherished ideas about “how things are.”

Maybe remembering that Jesus was that kind of “change agent” would be a step in that direction.

[This all seemed related to something else that came in email that day. About constructing “angles of vision” that allow us to see that our own perspective, whatever that is, is invariably limited and might be less so. Somebody was really trying to tell me something. Or maybe it was just a coincidence.]

red line embellished

Image: “The Double Locked Door,” momentcaptured1, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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