Want the truth? Check your assumptions….

I’ve been enjoying all the signs, blog posts and comments going around this week during the “Rally to Restore Unity”.  I feel kind of like the kid on the bench, hoping for a chance to get in the game… sort of. What if I get in the game, a fly ball actually comes my way, and I drop it?  Why worry? Well, the truth is…  I’m a math geek, and I’m a little intimidated.

If writing was like solving an algebraic equation, I’d have been done with this post days ago.  We talk about restoring unity among people with differing beliefs, and what pops in my head? A Venn diagram that shows how various beliefs intersect. (Don’t know what a Venn diagram is? No worries… that means you’re not a math geek.) 

I don’t think in words first.  I think in images, graphs and timelines. Occasionally, I’ll have a concept/thought come to mind and I instantaneously understand it!  But I can’t describe it…. 

“Hey, I just had an idea….”  “Yeah? What is it?”   “Uhhh….”    (Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that exact conversation.)   

What does this have to do with the topic of unity?  Well, let me expound by explaining the logo/picture on my blog while giving background on building mathematical models.

In my day job as an actuary, we build mathematical models that use assumptions based on experience data in order to predict the most likely outcome of future events.  After creating an initial model, we compare expected results to actual and revise assumptions as necessary. 

An English translation that’s pertinent to our discussion?  We all have an image of reality in our mind, and underlying assumptions support that image based on our perceptions of various “data”: life experiences, scripture, other reading, and so on. And as we proceed, we tweak our image of reality as our assumptions change.

What sort of assumptions do we make? For starters, we all have one assumption in common: we believe we are right.  How’s that for a kicker?  The one assumption that we all have in common turns out to be a false assumption, because none of us ever gets it completely right.    

Sigh….

What are some assumptions that we can or should agree on when we build our “model” of reality coming from a Christian perspective?  Well, here’s the list I’d start with:

1)      God exists.  And He’s always right.

2)      The Resurrection is a real, historic event, and therefore, Jesus can be trusted.

3)      Nobody is perfect (except Jesus). We all make mistakes and get things wrong at times.  (This applies both to “sin” as well as intellectual issues.)  

Ok, let’s build a model.  Here’s the first image/primary thought:

 I call this graphic the “Circle of Truth”.   What does it represent?  God exists and all Truth can be found in Him and through Him.  If we also believe that the Resurrection is true, then Jesus becomes the center of our reality, the Truth that we live by. 

However, we are limited by our imperfections.  No matter how hard we try to understand God, we never quite get there.  Our view of God never lines up perfectly — we end up with with something more like this graphic: 

In this picture, the red circle on the right and the blue circle on the left represent the beliefs of Christians that are a little “off” to one side or the other.  Both believe many truths, but they also have some beliefs that are false.  {By the way, any tie to political leanings – red Republicans lean right while blue Democrats lean left – in this graph was purely incidental.}

The thing is, when Christians of different flavors get into debates, they are quick to notice and point out the “false belief” in the other guy’s circle, but the foundation that they are standing on has some false beliefs too.  In fact, the more vehemently someone argues, the more inclined I am to think the foundation of their argument has one foot rooted in the Truth and the other foot firmly planted outside the boundary. 

What was that Jesus said?  Something about “specks” and “logs”?  I dunno.  Doesn’t have anything to do with me, right?      

In this graph, the additional circle that only contains a portion of the cross would represent someone who has some beliefs about Jesus, but doesn’t believe He is the Son of God the way that most of us “Christians” do.  Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.   In fact, I’d even say atheists would be represented by this circle:  atheists typically believe that Jesus lived and was a good teacher, etc., even if they don’t believe he was the Son of God. 

So, what does this all have to do with restoring unity in the Church?  A couple thoughts, some of which have been voiced by other bloggers this week (and probably explained more eloquently than by this math geek):

  • First, when we have differences in opinion with a fellow believer, we should keep in mind that we are just as likely to have some false assumptions and/or perceptions as they are.
  • If we focus on the things we have in common – shared beliefs within the Circle of Truth – we can have fellowship and unity with believers of all types.  In fact, I’d say we can have fellowship with nonbelievers if we focus on what we have in common.
  • When supposed “truths” are in conflict, we should reexamine the underlying assumptions and see what makes sense.

Reexamining underlying assumptions is a very difficult thing to do.  Like admitting you’ve sinned and truly repenting – it is hard to truthfully examine what you believe and consider that maybe you’re wrong.  And that’s understandable – no one wants to look at the foundation they are standing on and discover it’s full of cracks and is about to collapse.   

Is it worth reexamining our assumptions to make progress towards attaining the Truth?  I think so.  About 700 years ago, most people still thought the world was flat; then assumptions were challenged, exploring began and “New Worlds” were discovered.  About 200 years ago, many “good Christians” in the US still believed that slavery was justified due to the false assumptions they believed about those that were slaves. Assumptions were challenged, a war was waged and slaves were set free.

Today, where are we at?  In one of her blog posts announcing the Rally (found here: http://rachelheldevans.com/bible-rules-of-engagement) Rachel Held Evan’s noted that:  

“…evangelicals in the U.S. are about to engage in a big conversation about the Bible—a conversation about how we interpret it, how we apply it, how we talk about it, and how we relate to it.”

I also think we are about to engage in a big conversation about the Bible, but the particular focus of the discussion that I hope to be involved in is related to those “underlying assumptions” that I keep talking about. 

When the “thought leaders” of various factions within the church (Driscoll, Bell, Piper, et al) have disparate views regarding issues where there should be some semblance of unity, that indicates to me that the “model” is broken and we need to review our assumptions… and perhaps it’s time for a “paradigm shift” in our understanding on certain issues.

Basically, I believe that the church as a whole can come closer to living in unity within that “Circle of Truth”.  How?  Check our assumptions.  Test the model. Revise our assumptions.  Test the model again.   This is why I’m blogging/writing – it’s my small attempt to aid in this effort.  In fact, I put together a mission statement for the blog 4 or 5 years before I actually started blogging.  (I do have a purpose in doing this… it’s not like I write because it’s fun!)

My two-fold mission statement for Reconciling Viewpoints is to:

  1. Promote unity among believers by finding common ground where there have been differences in belief based on biblical interpretation and theological understanding, and
  2. Promote the gospel among nonbelievers by reducing or removing stumbling blocks that arise from intellectual objections that deter people from coming to faith.

Changes are coming and God has a plan… a plan that will unify His church, help us all to become more like Him, and give God the glory along the way.  I’m excited for what’s coming.  How about you?

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