Is it a Sin to be Wrong?

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I hope this comes as no surprise to you, but you’re wrong about something.

So am I.

In fact, we’re all wrong about a lot of things.

I blog about theology so, naturally, I have plenty of people telling me how I’m wrong. Also, I’m pretty good at telling others how they are wrong.

That’s the way it should be. We should challenge and push each other to become better people—to search for the truth.

However, sometimes we can take our attempts to challenge too far. Rather than dialogue, we attack. Rather than challenge, we demand repentance and conformity to our way of thinking.

I’ll be the first to admit guilt.

If you have spent any time in the Christian corner of the internet, you’ve seen the name-calling, labeling, and judging.

So-and-so is a…

…false teacher!
…bigot!
…heretic!
…Fundamentalist!
…Liberal!

Occasionally, these labels fit. They are harsh words, but harsh words are sometimes necessary.

However, most of the time these words are thrown around with little to no understanding of what they actually mean, let alone how they apply to those in the crosshairs.

All of the judgmentalism got me wondering: Is it a sin to be wrong?

For instance, as an advocate for total separation of church and state, I believe it is wrong to enforce the Judeo-Christian ethic via legislation. Conversely, those Christians who are heavily involved in politics (and they are legion) believe I am wrong for not voting against “sin.”

Or, as an Open Theist, I believe that Calvinism is wrong. Yet, Calvinists would say that I’m wrong. I’ve even heard one well-known Calvinist leader say that Open Theists are not even Christians!

Should I assume that Calvinists are in sin simply because I believe their theology is wrong? Should I presume to judge those who use the government to legislate their understanding of Christian morality?

Not at all.

We are saved—made right before God—by faith alone. In the Western World we have near unlimited books, preachers, theologians, etc. to develop a complex theological system before we ever even get to the point of placing our faith in Christ. On the other hand, those without privilege may only have a small amount of light to reveal the One True God, and they are justified by the faith they have in the revelation they have received—no matter how small. They are in right relationship with God no matter how wrong their theology is.

We Evangelicals (rightly, in my opinion) tout our belief that justification is by faith alone. We profess that one cannot earn citizenship in the Kingdom by good works or correct theology. Yet, once a person is on the “inside,” having the right theology becomes the only thing that matters. Like weeds picked before the harvest, dissenters are plucked out and cast in the burn-pile.

If faith is what makes us right with God, is it not also what keeps us right with God?

Before judging one another to be heretics or Pharisees, maybe we ought to consider why our brother or sister has come to believe something different. Is it because he is trying to remain faithful to his Savior? Is it because she is building God’s Kingdom in the only way she knows how?

Admittedly, this puts us in a sticky situation. It makes it difficult to judge each other because—contrary to our own self-perceptions—we aren’t very good judges of other people’s intentions, especially those with whom we disagree (even more especially, those with whom we disagree on the internet).

That’s not such a bad thing.

Though, such an argument can also be used to support the terrible deeds of Christians throughout history who were acting in “faith” when they lobbied for slavery…oppressed women…killed “false teachers”…we could go on and on.

At some point we must admit that wrong beliefs can lead to sin. So, at what point does that happen?

Perhaps the sin is in the actions our beliefs breed.

Think of it this way: it isn’t a sin to be mistaken about the nature of God’s sovereignty, but it is sin to proclaim (as some do) that God has ordained rape or child molestation. It isn’t a sin to be wrong about the nature of Scripture, but it is a sin to disregard/disobey it out of spite or, conversely, to make it an idol.

As I’ve said before, people on both sides of any theological disagreement have come to their conclusions because they love Jesus and his Body. They are being faithful to the truth as they understand it. If they promote faith, hope, and love, then we should be able to engage in healthy debate. If, on the other hand, they use theology to do harm to others, then we should not be afraid to call them to repentance.

Our beliefs become sin when they prevent us from loving God and our neighbors—when they prevent us from showing mercy. At that point, our theology is just a noisy gong or a clanging symbol that keeps people from hearing the Gospel of peace.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

I think he would say to us, “I desire mercy, not theology.”

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7 responses to “Is it a Sin to be Wrong?

  1. Pingback: What is Faith (For Those with Dangerous Questions)? | Tylor Standley·

  2. Reminds me of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quote:

    “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.”

  3. Thanks for this post. In a recent discussion on epistemology, a professor of mine remarked that a fundamentalist refusal to say, “I believe [x], but I might be wrong,” is itself a kind of relativism, for it leaves the believer more interested in defending their own belief than in learning the actual truth. I can only hope that in the future we’ll see a growing humility about our own knowledge, which I think produces both more loving people and a better starting point—ironically enough—for actually developing right theology.

    Side note: The reply you got on Twitter re: open theism was fascinating, if serious. A “learning God” is characteristic of process theology, not open theism, right? I lean fairly strongly toward open theism myself, and have always understood it more as a description of the nature of time than the nature of God.

    • I love your professor’s comment!

      Yes, the Twitter comment was totally real. He made an entire podcast about how Open Theists aren’t Christians. Interestingly, (as you point out) Open Theism does not propose that God “learns.” It’s simply the belief that possibilities exist and that God knows all possibilities which could exist. Since God is sovereign over his own sovereignty, he has created time in such a way that he does not know our choices, and yet he is completely prepared for any choice we might make because he knows all possibilities. At least, that’s Boyd’s argument, which I hold to. You’re right, it is largely concerning the nature of time, specifically the nature of the future.

  4. Thank you, Tyler. I really appreciated this post.

    If we knew what we were wrong about, and we are all wrong about something, we wouldn’t hold to or espouse those false beliefs. That thought should make us humble. Everyone of us is wrong about something – theologically and in the way I/we treat others. That, I think, is a foundational thought that breeds epistemic humility, especially in matters of debate within historic Christianity.

    • Thank you for the encouragement. 🙂

      I totally agree. It’s hard to treat others with grace in theological debates, but I have to keep in mind that I’m on the same journey as them and we are all just trying with finite minds to comprehend an infinite God.

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