I don’t remember exactly when this idea sufficiently permeated my consciousness. I think it happened gradually, with ever increasing impact, over a period of five years or so in the mid-2000s. As I opened myself up to truly hearing those with whom I disagreed, I began to see that many other people were searching for understanding and even “truth” with as much energy and integrity as I had been doing and, in some cases, even more! While at the end of the class, lecture, article or book, I still disagreed, I neither felt threatened by that, nor saw their perspectives as entirely wrong and mine as entirely right. I still hold to many of the convictions I once had but with, I hope, a whole lot more humility than I did earlier in my life.
This concept is so clearly expressed by Edwin M. Good (1928–2014) in his book, Genesis 1–11: Tales of the Earliest World. At the time he wrote this book he was 83 years old (2011). His Preface captures exactly what I am striving to have in my own personal faith journey moving forward, both in terms of having beliefs that I strive to live by and yet sharing them with humility for others to consider. Please read this quotation from Edwin Good; otherwise, my thoughts afterwards won’t make much sense.
“If I read Genesis, chapters 1–11, with as much attention as I can, it may be one way to persuade those who read this discussion to do the same with their own eyes and minds. My point is not to set forth the Final Truth about these chapters. I am pretty well convinced that there is no Final Truth to them, which is not to say that they have no truth in them. But sometimes truth makes its way most persuasively by being unfamiliar. Or a proposal’s very unfamiliarity allows a reader to stop and ponder closely what she thinks—or has previously thought—is true. Then if she decides that she thinks something different from me, the thought may well be more precise, more focused, than it was before. One of my aims is to assist people to read with care and to make up their own minds more clearly.
Early in a long career of teaching at Stanford University, working with the most amazing students and faculty colleagues in many fields of study, I had knocked out of me any notion that my duty was to turn them into my intellectual clones. That experience has spilled over into how I feel about readers of what I write, and this book is perhaps even more centered on that kind of presentation. Not that I will be shy about saying what I think. But I deeply desire readers to understand that my intention is not to provide them with a predigested “true perception” of these stories, but to show what in my own ways I have perceived. I have no difficulty with the idea that one outcome of that reading may be a level of disagreement with me. Fine. Use your own eyes and mind with all their capabilities and qualities and see what you see. And I hope you will notice how many of my sentences end with question marks.
In fact, one of the surprises in pushing my way through the thickets of these chapters was how my perceptions have changed since I wrote earlier on the same material. There are some statements here that I could not have made twenty or thirty years ago. On the present trip through these texts, I saw a good many things that I simply never noticed before, and I think some of them were for me at those times unthinkable thoughts. Other things I thought back then prevented my seeing some of what I see now. I am grateful to whatever elements of life and experience have made possible such change.”
[Edwin M. Good. Genesis 1-11: Tales of the Earliest World. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. Kindle Edition.]
So many things in these three paragraphs resonate deeply with me, almost word-for-word, with regard to my life experiences, as well as my intentions for my blog and website.
As I re-explore in detail specific aspects of all things biblical, I hope my example will encourage others to do the same. The conclusions I reach and the beliefs that I embrace through such a re-examination will not be “the Final Truth…which is not to say there is not truth in them.” The goal of my blog and website is “to assist people to read with care and to make up their own minds more clearly.” I spent way too many years of my life certain that I had found and understood “the Final Truth” about so many things. So, I put much of my energy into trying to convince people that my convictions were the ones they must adopt as their own. I gave precious little space for others to truly “make up their own minds more clearly.”
Sadly, unlike Edwin Good, it was later, not earlier, in my rather long career as a teaching pastor before life’s experiences knocked out of me that it was my responsibility to turn my hearers into my spiritual clones. Unity meant uniformity until about 15 years ago, when gradually, I opened up to the idea that unity doesn’t require precise agreement but rather unity is the result of humility and mutual respect, especially when we see things differently. For several years now, thankfully and finally, I have striven not to give others “a predigested ‘true perception’” of all things biblical “but to show what in my own ways I have perceived.” My encouragement is for my readers “to use [their] own eyes and mind with all their capabilities and qualities and see what [they see].” And if that means they disagree with me, that is absolutely fine.
Some have asked, and others not doubt will ask, “Brian, why have your perceptions of many things biblical changed, especially in the last 15 years?” The reality is I could have not come to these changed perceptions 15 to 20 years ago. Why? There were things I simply did not notice because “other things I thought back then prevented my seeing some of what I see now.” And thus, like Edwin M. Good, “I am grateful to whatever elements of life and experience have made possible such change.”
I can still hold to my faith. Yet, I strive now to do so with a humility that keeps my mind open and allows me to respectfully interact with, and even learn from, those who have reached conclusions different than my own. To grow we must not only truly dialogue with those with whom we agree, but also, and more importantly, with those with whom we currently disagree, while we continue to do our best to live out our presently held beliefs.