“But I Could Be Wrong”

Those are the five words that this contributor to Fox News thinks will save the Church, and it seems to be a fairly common sentiment among the Emergent crowd. Different theological and moral beliefs are a frequent source of friction, and many imagine that if we are only less confident in expressing them, the friction will begin to resolve.

Many people believe along with the author that this “humility” regarding our beliefs will “prevent public brawls between Christians who differ in their opinions on social and theological issues.” Would this approach really be successful, though? It seems to me that this sentiment already seems to underlie every such conversation. At the very least, most of us already believe those who disagree with us could be wrong without their having to confirm it for us. Likewise, aside from a very few arrogant exceptions, most of us have experience discovering that we were wrong about things, and the ongoing possibility of it really does occur to us from time to time. The big issue in these brawls doesn’t seem to be that people admit no possibility of being wrong, but that people act as though they are right. For example, I doubt a pro-choice person will be very satisfied if a pro-life Christian added a few but-we-could-be-wrong’s in their speech but continued to vote and otherwise staunchly support the pro-life cause. Likewise, I would take no comfort in a pro-choice person verbally admitting she might be wrong and then going right on supporting the ongoing slaughter of the unborn. If “but I could be wrong” provides us with any comfort in such disagreements, it’s because we think it indicates that the other side will be less likely to behave against our own wishes in the future.

Now there’s no question that there are Christians who are huge jerks even when they talk about Christ—the Church is full of sinners, after all. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I’ve observed an excess of confidence in our own message among my fellow American Christians—quite the opposite. Take, for example, the author of this piece who seems to think the Church needs us to save it. I suppose he thinks Jesus should have added that He could be wrong when He promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18). Perhaps something like this would be more appealing to him:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! [but I could be wrong]. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father who is in heaven. [but I could be wrong]. And I tell you, you are Peter [but I could be wrong], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [but I could be wrong]. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [but I could be wrong], and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven [but I could be wrong].”

Gee, it’s almost like the insertions contradict with what Jesus is actually teaching. I can’t help but notice that if we understand all of Jesus’ teachings in such a way, we would cease to be Christians at all.

Now, God works through means, so He might very well save His Church through the actions of Christians and non-Christians alike—He certainly has before. Nevertheless, as far Christians are concerned, our goal is not to find a pragmatic means of saving the Church, but to do what has been given us to do. For the jerks among us, that means giving answers with gentleness and respect (2 Peter 3:15-16). Maybe that means actually listening to those who disagree. Maybe that means being more genuine about our own doubts and experiences as well as those of others. None of these things, however, have anything at all to do with adding a hint of “but I could be wrong” to our assertions.

This is the tragic flaw in most of postmodernism, including its religious expressions in the so-called emerging church. It seeks to resolve conflicts and provide peace by encouraging people to be weak-kneed about their convictions. Unfortunately, the motivation to resolve conflicts and provide peace can only come from confident convictions about peace being valuable. What is more, it takes very little time before you see that people have all sorts of confident ideas about what peace is supposed to look like—ideas that speak to further values.  If we are going to live in any measure of happiness, it will only be because people become more right about what is valuable—not more wishy-washy. Likewise, if the Church is to be “saved,” it will because Christians begin to be everything that Christ has given us to be. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is already at work making us precisely that.

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