I follow and post in several Christian internet groups. Some of them are evangelistic groups, some are theological, and some are philosophical or apologetics based. Some groups are simply people who love Jesus and want to talk about Him. I enjoy reading the posts, but like others who visit or post on these sites, I rarely comment unless I am particularly moved or interested in a topic. In the thousands of interactions I’ve had with Christians who post and comment in these groups, I can honestly say the most contentious and un-Christlike comments typically come from those Christians who consider themselves the most educated and theologically (or philosophically) knowledgeable. I see it repeatedly: the more someone thinks they know, the more likely they are to act pridefully, write condemningly, or speak harshly. I bet you’ve seen the same pattern. Knowledge can become a curse for many of us, leading to us to puff up and treat others poorly, especially if they disagree with a position we’ve examined carefully or hold dearly.
I am no exception to this distasteful inclination. I noticed it in my own attitude even as a relatively new Christian. I grew up playing guitar and when I first started watching worship teams, I found myself focused solely on the guitar players. I was distracted by them at the very least, often critical of them if I saw something I thought I could do better. I caught myself early and had to work hard to check my pride at the door. After all, I was supposed to be worshiping God, yet here I was, critiquing the guitar players! I’ve known a few speakers who have confided a similar experience when watching other speakers. Instead of hearing (and enjoying) what a speaker had to say, they found themselves critiquing and evaluating the delivery of the speaker or the content of his (or her) message.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? If you’ve studied theology or philosophy, have you ever caught yourself judging a sermon or speech? Do you find yourself more critical of your pastor than you were when you were a younger, less knowledgeable Christian? It’s easy to become critical when you think you know something. Knowledge can become a curse when it’s inflated by pride. I wish I was immune to this form of pride and arrogance, but I know I’m not. So I have to actively engage the “curse of knowledge” to make sure it doesn’t become the source of my own bitterness, sarcasm or criticism. Here are three simple steps I employ to make sure the curse of knowledge doesn’t become a source of cursing, particularly when I’m interacting online:
Don’t Forget Your Failures
I’ve had plenty of train-wrecks in my short history as a writer, blogger, and speaker. While I tend to push those disasters out of my mind, they’re useful when I start thinking too much of myself. When I start to feel like I want to correct someone harshly or critique someone unnecessarily, I stop and ask myself if my criticism is rooted more in my own pride than an effort to defend truth. If it is, I simply recall my latest train-wreck and try to remember I’m not all that great. Humility isn’t difficult for me if I can simply recall my latest failure.
Pause Before Your Post
Whenever I think I just have to say something (and have to say it powerfully), I push away from the computer and force myself to return to it at the end of the day. When I return several hours later, the urgency is gone, my foolish impulse has usually been quelled and I seldom post anything at all. How many celebrities could benefit from such an approach before using Twitter? Time heals and it also slows stupidity. If I can take a break, I’ll usually avoid doing the wrong thing.
Let Your Spouse Read Your Stuff
When I’m really committed to making a harsh comment, I get Susie involved. My wife is usually in a far better position to tell me if my words are incisive or simply divisive. If my post or comment passes her standard, I’m probably heading in the right direction. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I seldom even ask her to preview my writing. I know her well enough to simply imagine what she would say about my comments. When I write anything these days, I do so with Susie’s filter in mind. Try it yourself. Run your comments by the person who loves you most to see if you are about to make a fool of yourself or say something you shouldn’t.
These three simple strategies may help you maintain your character when you’re tempted to forfeit it in a moment of online combat. But I’ll be honest with you: when I find myself in an online community where the curse of knowledge consistently causes cursing or condemnation, I simply unsubscribe. Life is short, attitudes are contagious, and my character is more important than the combat:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
If you’re a Christian Case Maker, pick your opportunities wisely and check your attitude at the door. May your comments and posts be peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
For more information about the nature of Biblical faith and a strategy for communicating the truth of Christianity, please read Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith. This book teaches readers four reasonable, evidential characteristics of Christianity and provides a strategy for sharing Christianity with others. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Forensic Faith DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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