By: Lance King
I heard a pastor recently remark that “nobody ever changes their mind anymore.” He was lamenting the widespread reluctance people have over allowing their perspective to be changed by new information. In politics, I’ve heard mind-changing denounced as flip-flopping. Politics aside, changing one’s mind can be considered as weak or fickle. Have you allowed your perspective to grow or your mind to be changed recently? The question itself may create dis-comfort.
Relationship expert and mental health trainer Dr. Jenny Brown suggests that much of the difficulty we face in having our perspective changed is that our beliefs are often tangled up with our relationships. We inherit a set of beliefs and norms from our family and other close relational networks. We find enduring affinity alongside others with similar perspectives. Adopting differing beliefs risks interfering with those relationships. Thus, many people resist the work of independent thinking altogether.
Yet, I think the risks of not thinking independently might be greater still. Living life with inherited or borrowed beliefs yields us unable to express a thoughtful view on many important ethical, political, or theological issues. Instead, we’re limited to our preferred “group think.” When a challenging issue arises, we don’t actually know where we really stand- only what the party/family/company line is. This has proven historically catastrophic on various scales- from Jim Jones to Holocaust.
I’ve been impressed recently by how much Peter and Paul each allowed their perspective to change over the relatively short span of their New Testament exposures.
In Acts 10, Peter faced a monumental “belief crisis” when God called him beyond his previously held orthodox belief about diet. “Kill and eat!” This is scary on numerous levels. Should Peter disregard his childhood Rabbi’s teachings? There is also a strong possibility that neither his family nor his former lunch buddies will ever again welcome Peter to a shared meal. Can you imagine such isolation? We also witness Peter evolve in his perspective of “enemy” outsiders. He matures from being a sword-wielder at Gethsemane to a bridge-builder at Caesarea-among foreign militants! Peter’s view changes radically in a relatively short time. Jesus has this effect it seems.
The apostle Paul experiences comparable perspective shift. One week, he violently persecutes his religious enemies. The next week, he joins them. Can you imagine the razzing of his rabbinic guild he later received for welcoming Gentilesinto God’s beloved community? Oy vey!
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways,” said Paul. Our inherited beliefs are perfectly appropriate for childhood. But as we mature, I think the hard work of thinking for ourselves is as important as diet and exercise, prayer and worship. What do you think?
In an era of soundbites, re-tweets, and prolific partisan pundits, I invite us to engage more and more in doing our own thinking, both for our own benefit, but also for the sake of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. After all, if Peter and Paul are any indication, continued transformation is a critical aspect of how God seeks to redeem the world. To me, that sounds both exciting and challenging…though I haven’t always thought so.