What I am about to write very much falls under the banner of wisdom. It is not expressly stated in the Bible. Nor do I think it is a straight up principle. There are biblical principles involved in how I get to where I do, but it wouldn’t be right to say this is specifically the product and application of a particular biblical principle. It is very much located in the world of what I think to be wise. So, take the rest of this with that caveat in mind.
I also want to add a qualifier to what follows too. I do think it can be helpful, sometimes even good, to read stuff from outside your stable. I may well be a strict and particular baptist of the most strict and particular kind, but I recognise it is helpful to read beyond that particular branch of Christendom. More than that, I think it is okay and (can even be) helpful to read beyond Evangelicalism or even Protestantism. We all read stuff with which we disagree all the time – specifically if we ever read anything written by anyone who isn’t any form of professing Christian – and if we’re fine with that, choosing to assess it in light of our scriptural commitments, I struggle to see why we wouldn’t do that with those who purport to be Christians from an altogether different stable to us.
The point I am making, before I go on to say what I really want to say, is that we shouldn’t limit ourselves in what we read. I think reading beyond our stable helps us to ask questions that we might have assumed because of the background we come from and circles we move in. It also challenges us to reassess what we believe and ask hard questions of our beliefs. If our beliefs really are up to much, they should be easily able to withstand such challenges and it does us good to see what people who disagree with us say about the things we think. We are least confronted with their objections and forced to think through why we reckon them to be wrong.
We also have to leave a little bit of room – because it is inevitable – that people from beyond our stable might be right sometimes. I mean, I’m not a Catholic but I can at least recognise at a very basic level, on the question of the existence of God, I think the Pope is right on that question. If he is right on that, there may be some other areas on which he is right too, even if I do happen to disagree with him on some other fairly significant areas too. But we only know that if we actually engage with what they think. I don’t have any problem with that. Nothing I am arguing in what follows is some sort of unwillingness to read widely nor engage with people with whom we disagree. I am just making these things clear from the front end.
I do think there is a difference between reading and engaging with people we disagree, even acknowledging they might be right some of the time, and continually liking and sharing their content. Particularly, if we like and share their content without any qualification. Indeed, I think we need to be quite careful whose content we regularly share.
Again, I have room for acknowledging the pope may be right about some things some of the time. I don’t suspect, if I shared a single article by a leading Catholic voice, there would be much danger of anyone thinking I was proposing said person as a helpful authority for Evangelical believers. This is even less the case if those things are shared with qualifiers of one sort or another. But I do think it might appear a little different if I was repeatedly sharing that sort of content. If I was constantly reproducing things from people with whom I may have profound disagreements, it can easily begin to look as though I am not just agreeing with this person – with all their theological and ecclesiological deficiencies (as I judge it) – on this specific issue, but that I am in effect recognising this person as someone worth hearing regularly on a far wider range of issues.
Now, again, I want to reiterate this stuff falls under the category of wisdom. But I am conscious that people read my blog regularly and see me linking to all sorts of articles and posts. Often those lists are viewed as good articles and the authors seen to be people I think are alright. Whilst I might well share the occasional article from someone I am clearly not in line with on various things (by which I mean important and significant issues, not tertiary matters), I wouldn’t want to share such things regularly from those sources because it may begin to look like more of an endorsement than intended. It raises a wider platform of a person as an authority to be heeded when I might only be hoping to say they are worth hearing on this issues. Minimally, I would want to flag such if I am sharing this particular person regularly.
In one sense, the further away from us someone is, the less significant this is. So, if I go sharing something by Richard Dawkins or AC Grayling (for some reason), there isn’t much danger anyone would think I subscribe to their New Atheistic worldview or subscribe to much of any of where they’re at theologically. In a similar way, to return to Catholicism, whilst that’s a little closer to home than New Atheism, again there isn’t much danger of people thinking any such thing. And the reality is, because of the distance, it is that much less likely I will be sharing those sorts of articles and posts regularly anyway. And when I do, they’re likely to be coming with various qualifiers explaining why I am sharing this thing given the distance between where they and I are coming from.
Of course, when you get into the world of Protestantism, things seem closer to me and regularly sharing a Protestant voice might seem as though I am recognising them as authoritative. That wouldn’t be an odd assumption if I keep sharing articles by the same person positively. And then we get into the world of Evangelicalism and the same applies even harder. As an Evangelical, if I go regularly sharing content from others who call themselves Evangelical, it isn’t an incredible leap of logic to think that because I keep sharing content from Ligonier, 9 Marks, 20 Schemes, FIEC, John Piper, Tim Challies, whoever, I am broadly saying I think these guys are solid and can be trusted. It doesn’t mean I endorse every view and opinion of theirs, of course, but it does mean I broadly think these are good organisations and people to be read and followed.
There are people who call themselves Evangelical who I do not think are helpful voices. I recognise that they might sometimes say good things and be helpful on certain issues. I might even share an article of theirs with qualifiers on specifically why I am sharing their stuff on this thing. But I think we need to be a bit more careful about who we share regularly, perhaps especially if they purport to be Evangelical, because I think the more regularly we share content from people who at least appear to be from our stable, the more it appears like we are endorsing them as a solid person and authority worth heeding more broadly. Again, let me reiterate, I think this is a matter of wisdom about how much to do this and when to do this. But I do think it wise to at least think about this a bit.
Why does this matter? Ultimately because the more we share of particular people the more we imply they are people to be heeded and trusted more broadly. Which is, of course, absolutely fine when we know they are broadly very sound. But when we are sharing people who might be sound on cultural issues of the day but have other troubling and unbiblical views, whilst we may recognise they are right in one area, we surely would not want to be encouraging people to listen to them in other areas. Nor, I assume, would we want to be helping them build their platform in those other areas. We might happen to agree with someone on same-sex marriage, for example, but find their views on the atonement quite troubling from an Evangelical perspective. We may agree on the theology of the incarnation with someone but find their position on complementarianism something of a problem, knowing that egalitarian arguments they are advancing, and the same hermeneutical principles they have advocated for that position, are the very ones being used to undermine other first order biblical doctrines.
That isn’t to say we shouldn’t read such people. I think we would all do well to read as widely as possible. But when it comes to advocating for the books, blogs, vlogs and content of such people, wisdom suggests to me we ought to do so with some qualifiers at least. And, it seems to me, advocating and publicising particular books/posts/content sparingly so that it is clear we are only sharing specific things that we think are right on particular matters rather than holding this voice up as one to be heeded more broadly or to be pushed as a helpful Evangelical voice in the public domain.
The truth is, with the internet, there is no end of things to share and no end of our ability to share them. I’m all for sharing other people’s content such as it is helpful. I can even get behind sharing stuff from people we wouldn’t otherwise endorse, some of the time and sparingly so, when they have said a particular thing especially helpfully. I might add some qualifiers as I share it, but I can see grounds for doing that sometimes. But I would want to be careful about regularly sharing and advocating for and with people I find problematic. Not because they can’t ever say anything right, but because I don’t want to suggest the person who may be right on this thing, and who I keep sharing as apparently helpful on loads of other things, is somehow helpful and worth heeding on most things. That, I think, will get us into trouble.
I suppose what I am calling for is a bit of caution. A bit of care. A bit of consideration in whom we promote and share widely lest we find our sharing and promoting might lead to people adopting views from that same source that are less than excellent. Indeed, lest we find the views being promoted by that source lead to people adopting hermeneutics and positions that undercut things we might be fighting hard to stop people advocating. We have to think, at least a bit, of what we might inadvertently end up promoting.