“Don’t write me!”

That is the classic preemptive strike of Chuck Swindoll during a sermon. If he says something that he knows people will have problems with (and he often does), it’s his way of informing them that he already knows the issues with what he is saying and has resolved to say it anyway. Many people write him nonetheless!

I thought about titling this post “When to Write Your Pastor,” but I changed my mind. Writing your pastor is merely an illustration of the issue about which I wish to speak.

We have all been around those people who feel the need to correct everything we do and say. They are not much of a joy to be around. I have many people from this blog that when I see their name in my inbox, I know with unfailing certainty it is some sort of criticism. Some people are the watchdogs of the world and they cannot help it.

In theology, a critical spirit is something that is often hard to avoid. In these halls of truth, belief, and conviction, words like “defend,” “contend,” and “battle” can quickly mutate themselves and become like germs of a plague. They are on the sink, the bathroom door handle, the remote control for the TV, and on just about every book we pick up. They are even on the pillow cases. It’s easy to be critical. However, the more critical you are, the thinner the ranks of your audience will become. After a while, people will just stop listening to you. “Oh, here comes Michael…just smile and act like you are listening, but turn your hearing aid off.”

Why do we get like this? Because we are learners. And learners are understanders. And understanders believe they are right. And being right makes other people wrong. And if you are wrong, you need a teacher. And teachers need to correct others. We need to write people.

Some of us are this way. We just cannot help correcting people. When we are able to stay silent about it, we merely move the party indoors and begin correcting them in our mind. The problem is that nobody wants to be around us. We lose all our influence.

I don’t imagine that it was this way with Christ. Everyone wanted to be around him. Sinners and people who needed to be corrected avoided the plague that had set in with the Pharisees, who were always ready to correct, straighten out, and write people, but they were magnetically drawn to Christ. So much was this the case that he was called a “friend of tax-gathers and sinners.”

I wonder how many of us in my field could be accused of being a friend of the theologically wayward. I wonder how many Calvinists could be accused of being a friend of Arminians. How many Arminians could be accused of being a friend of Calvinists. God forbid that any Reformed fella be a friend of a Catholic! 

I remember not too long ago when I was talking positively about Francis Beckwith (that damn Catholic turncoat!), and someone in my camp looked as me like my Luther Latte (which I got at the Credo House!) had been laced with something. “He is a heretic. You should carry him in such a way. Don’t say anything positive about him until you qualify it by how bad he really is.” 

You know what? Ninety-five-percent of the time that is not my responsibility. I don’t have to qualify everything I say and everyone about whom I speak by explaining all the points of departure that we have. I don’t have to limit my circle of fellowship to only those who fit my theological leanings. I will do my best to go out of my way to show honor and grace to whomever God puts in front of me. Francis Beckwith, Paul Copan, Roger Olson, and Wayne Grudem can all come here to the Credo House and I hope they don’t sense any reservation in my love for them. Though I have some disagreements with each of them (some more significant than others), I will not feel the need to hide some scowl of my theological heart. It won’t be there. And my ultimate end will not be to secretly convert them. We will just hang out. When theological subjects about which we disagree come up, I will listen and stand by my convictions to the degree that I hold to them at the time. When the subject changes due to tension which arises, I will feel no need to tug-a-war it back to contention in the name of the Lord.

I have my particular theological convictions. Many are very strong. Many I am out of my mind passionate about. But what I have found is that if my ambition is to correct your theology at every point, I will have completely lost before I even begin.

Last week we had a guy here at the Credo House who sat down with me on the couch and told me his story. You cannot imagine how filled with theological problems it was. Bizarre is all I could say about it. As much as I had to fight off my desire to correct him at every turn (“But that is wrong,” “Let me correct one minor point here,” “Your are using that passage wrong”…), I made a decision while listening to this guy that I was not going to correct unless there was a very clear opportunity. I was just going to listen. I was going to be a friend now, maybe an admonisher later. As time went on (and we passed by about a thousand theological “bridge-out” signs without word), I sensed he was beginning to trust that I was not hiding a theological hammer behind my back. It was then that he asked me some key questions and I was able to explain to him what I believed and why.

Isn’t this the apologist’s mandate? Be ready . . . to give an answer . . . to everyone . . . who asks you . . . with gentleness and respect (1Pet 3:15). Many of us lack the gentleness and respect part, but I am beginning to think that what we lack even more is the waiting for someone to ask!

Ninety-five percent of the time, people don’t really care what you have to say. It is during this time that we sit, listen, and love the person. If we do, then the five percent of the time that opportunity is truly present, we will be ready.

This is why I tell young theologians who are so passionate about theology to be passionate, yet calm down. Let about ninety-five percent of what you hear roll off your back. Put down the hammer. Quit writing people so much.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    23 replies to "Let Ninety-Five Percent Roll off Your Back"

    • Stuart

      What an encouraging post and timely reminder…I don’t know how you do it.

      This nails it:

      Why do we get like this? Because we are learners. And learners are understanders. And understanders believe they are right. And being right makes other people wrong. And if you are wrong, you need a teacher. And teachers need to correct others. We need to write people.

      And now I must resist the temptation to think of those around me who could really do with reading this post and apply it to myself instead.

      This Scripture came straight to mind for some reason:

      Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      CMP,

      Good food for thought and application!

      I was also thinking of Billy Graham, as I read. I mean, the gentleman has a great passion for the Gospel and bringing people to Christ. But, he is also a great man of grace. He’s so centered on Christ that he so easily gels with people of differing theologies/opinins, and even his critics. He has the knack, and I believe that every Chrstian would do well to learn the same.

      I dunno, just my thoughts right off the bat!

    • […] Parchment & Pen – Let Ninty-Five Percent Roll off Your Back […]

    • Brian

      Such a breath of fresh air. Especially after reading comments on another blog about one of the speakers at a conference last weekend.

    • Barry Wallace

      It’s a little scary how often I discover that my thought processes and conclusions are so much like yours. Actually, I’m not sure if I should be scared, or you should be. Probably you.

    • Omar Lopez

      O.k. Mike, lets talk about the doctrin of pre-adamite creation now!! Just joking 😛

    • Gary Simmons

      Thanks for this, CMP. I’ll copy/paste this, make typo corrections, then send it back to you in an email. And at some point, I’ll really chew on it.

      But seriously: thank you. This definitely applies to me sometimes.

    • MShep2

      Hmmm. My spiritual gift is the gift of criticism. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in any more. ;-(

    • Dr Mike

      Wise words, Michael, and very well written. One of your best.

    • Francis Beckwith

      You’re okay in my book, Michael. (My book, for the record, has 73 books in it).

    • C Skiles

      Thanks CMP for this great post. Michael Spencer would have nodded in agreement. (just finished reading “Mere Churchianity” , have you read it yet?) My pastor always says “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. We all would do well to remember this.

    • Ishmael

      Your thoughtful post reminded me of a teaching moment I experienced — when my wife was being treated for the cancer that eventually claimed her life, HIV patients shared the waiting room at the infusion center. OK, these were homosexuals and was it tempting to nod sagely at “judgment in action”.

      There ain’t no strangers in the waiting room of an infusion center after a while — it’s not a happy place to be anyway and there’s absolutely nothing to do while your loved one is back being treated. I eventually got drawn into conversations with some of the “other way” fellows that were waiting there too. Suprisingly, well over half of the care-givers were not there with their partners. They were taking care of a member of the “community” that had been mostly abandoned by friends/family/partners (abandoned in the sense of being tossed out on the street in some cases). IOW, they were ministering to these people just because they were in need. Talk about being humbled!

      Yes, do listen, God might be sending you a message.

      — Ishmael

    • Greg

      Great post, Michael. I’m not a hard Calvinist; in fact, I’m probably a soft-Arminian. However, I enjoy reading all your articles if for no other reason than that you help me confront tensions in theology, and even learn to live with them. You have helped me immensely and I consider you a good friend.

    • Phil

      Hi,

      This post was right on the money! I’ve been the “gung ho” watchdog type and with God’s grace I’m learning how and when to pick my fights. Thank you for posting this!

      Phil

    • […] Let Ninety-Five Percent Roll Off Your Back […]

    • Ruben

      Great post and I heartily agree, why can’t we just be followers of Christ? We all need to calm down a bit and focus on the essentials, stop putting our faith in Theological systems and put it on God’s Son instead – everything else is secondary.

    • Jim

      I could use some advise on When to Write to Your Pastor… I agree with the article in principle, especially over doctrinal issues, as we will have differences until the Lord returns (that is, if he hasn’t already returned… : ) )

      But what about a preacher who preaches urban legends as if they are gospel. In the last year our preacher has told us that Darwin recanted evolution on his death bed, angels are hitching rides with people on deserted roads to let them know the Lord is coming soon, and a group of teens attended a revival cursed the Holy Spirit, and died in a crash that night as proof of that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable…

      What should I do?

    • Delwyn X. Campbell

      REgareding the last post, I see a lot of people with that “live and let live” mentality. the downside is that it opens the doors to heretics to share the stage with solid teachers. The balance is so delicate, it seems.
      On the whole, though, I enjoyed the article, an dI agree with it, and try to do likewise when I am in that kind of situation.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “I remember not too long ago when I was talking positively about Francis Beckwith (that damn Catholic turncoat!), and someone in my camp looked as me like my Luther Latte (which I got at the Credo House!) had been laced with something. “He is a heretic. You should carry him in such a way. Don’t say anything positive about him until you qualify it by how bad he really is.”

      You know what? Ninety-five-percent of the time that is not my responsibility.”

      Out of genuine curiosity, how do you recognize and act upon the five percent of the time that it is your responsibility?

      FWIW, I like Dr. Francis Beckwith too, even though I staunchly disagree with his swimming the Tiber.

    • leavingthegray

      a timely read for me- those who are attentive to the details and who passionately pursue excellence can feel justified in righting every wrong in their path- at the expense of a friend, family member, or just another human being, made in the image of God. i fell in to this pitfall not too long ago with a friend… i won the argument, but only at the expense of a friend. We would do well to take your advice here and shut up and listen and try to understand instead of correcting every flaw of their view.
      thanks again for the post

    • […] subscribe to Michael Patton’s blog, Parchment and Pen, and he reposted this old article this week from October 2010: We have all been around those people who feel the need to correct everything we do and say. They […]

    • John Ruffle

      Love this:

      “As time went on (and we passed by about a thousand theological “bridge-out” signs without word), I sensed he was beginning to trust that I was not hiding a theological hammer behind my back. It was then that he asked me some key questions and I was able to explain to him what I believed and why.”

      I’m going to post it to my Facebook, as part of my “‎101 FOR CATHOLICS”. We ALL need this! Bless you.

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