Amy Zegart published a fascinating piece on The Atlantic entitled, “The Three Paradoxes Disrupting American Politics.” I think that her insights are well taken particularly in regards to politics, but I think that they apply Christianity in America as well.
Her three paradoxes are:
Paradox #1: More information, less credibility
I think it is rather obvious to see how the first one plays out in our churches and our Christian culture. After all, if a random guy like me can have a website, just about anybody can do it. The difference is that I do try to adhere to the Christian orthodoxy and try to, whenever I write on theological matters, refer right back to the text. After all, as Christians, we are people of the book.
Not everyone feels that way however, and that is a problem in Christendom. All you have to do is try to Google a Bible verse, and you are going to find people who have created their entire theology based on a reading of Scripture that, somewhat miraculously, no one else has espoused in the approximately 2000 years since Jesus Christ was on the earth.
I am generally of the opinion that if something has not been uncovered in the text for 2000 years, it is probably not there to be uncovered. If you have a reading of the Bible that no one has ever thought of before, you need to double check your theology because a lot of really smart people have gone over that book time and time again, and while I am not saying that people are perfect, I am saying that we need to exercise great caution when we try to revolutionize theology.
Consequently, we can see this play out in the church. We have so much information available to us, but not all information is good information.
Paradox #2: More connectivity, less civility
Obviously, we are all connected all the time. That really goes without saying, and you would think that it would be a benefit of being able to do life together. Churches talk all the time about being connected, so while it is very important to get together in person, you would think that having even more connection in the virtual world might be a good thing. After all, I might be on vacation far away, but I can still get in touch with the members of my Bible study if I need to. It is nice to be able to be connected to the people that you care about.
On the flipside, being connected all the time can certainly lead to burnout. There is no time to cool down or think twice, so many people just get angry and uncivil in a way that they never would face to face. There is no denying that personal relationships are different than virtual relationships, and it is no surprise that the comments people leave on social media are not what they would ever say in person. Churches are not immune to this type of behavior. People do have bad experiences in churches, and sometimes, those experiences are exacerbated by this type of constant connectivity without civility. As the church, obviously we need to remain civil, but sadly that does not always happen.
Paradox #3: The wisdom of crowds, the duplicity of crowds
Christianity is not a democracy. God’s truth is God’s truth. His truth is not how you or I define it. However, that being said, there is certainly wisdom to be gained from other people. We can learn from those around us, and in our Christian lives, there is no doubt that one of the best ways to learn how to walk the walk is to learn from those who have gone before us or are going with us. There’s plenty of wisdom to be taken from the crowds of people around us. That is the beginning of Hebrews 12 after all.
Undoubtedly though, there are plenty of crowds out there that are not good to listen to. There are plenty of people who want to twist Christianity to their own purposes. These might be political or financial purposes. They might be any kind of purpose to be honest, but often times heresies do draw a crowd. As a result, we have to be very careful which crowds we follow. We want to make sure that, as with all these potential drawbacks, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ. We don’t want to follow the crowd in the wrong way just like we don’t want to lose our civility or get wrapped up in bad information. We have a goal, and we have to strive for it just like, as Amy Zegart pointed out, we have to watch these things in our politics as well.