We all have opinions, and we all believe they’re informed and intelligent. Whenever we sense an opportunity, we can’t wait to share our perspective. But what if we’re wrong?
To grow in wisdom—to renew our minds (Romans 12:2)—seems like it would require laying aside opinions that have been proven weak, mistaken or just plain wrong. If we continue to hold onto terrible opinions, we’re inhibiting intellectual growth and maturity.
We know that not every opinion is a good one, but we generally only say so when we’re confronted with someone else’s faulty thinking. Finding people who are willing to say, “Here’s what I think, but I could be wrong” is extremely rare. The way we view our own assumptions will help us create the best opinions in the long run. Here are five tips for helping Christians form informed, thoughtful opinions.
1. Learn to Be Curious and Skeptical
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being skeptical and asking questions—even asking questions of yourself. If you want to develop an opinion that holds water, you need to poke and prod it from all angles to ensure it’s water tight.
Skepticism isn’t a bad word, and it isn’t a synonym for pessimism or cynicism. It’s the way a wise person entertains ideas. And a wise person knows she’s just as likely to cut corners when drawing a conclusion as anyone else.
Faith doesn’t take a blind leap into the unknown. We were created as rational beings, and we are able and responsible to make an educated step of faith.
It’s exactly what we would encourage from anyone else. If you were having a discussion with an non-Christian friend, you would encourage them to second-guess their assumptions. You’d want them to be skeptical of their perspective and entertain other scenarios outside of their experience. But when it comes to us and our doctrines, theology or politics, we consider ourselves pretty lucky to have been born into or stumbled onto the right track.
2. Get Comfortable Being Wrong
If you listen to a debate about a complex, hot-button issue, there is seldom a moment when someone says, “You know, I hadn’t considered that perspective. I’ll need to give that some thought.” Once a debate has started, both sides are more concerned that they’re going to be proven wrong than they are desirous to understand the problem better.
Wisdom is much more interested in enlightenment than esteem. A wise person can have strong convictions, but they’re not embarrassed to be corrected. No one is right about everything they think, and a sensible person knows this.
This is hard for Christians, because they often sincerely believe their convictions are biblical and therefore not open to debate. God said it; I believe it; that settles it, right? Well, not necessarily. It’s important to realize that our interpretations and deductions of the Bible could be mistaken.
There are so many areas where sincere and godly people disagree about doctrines that are mutually exclusive. Intellectual honesty demands that we learn how to be wrong.
3. Be Careful Gathering Information
I had a Facebook friend post a picture of Hillary Clinton shaking Osama bin Laden’s hand. It came with this warning: “Remember this picture when she wants your American vote!” I immediately laughed because it was the worst Photoshop job I had ever seen.
When we take in information and barely scrutinize it because it confirms what we already think, that’s called biased assimilation.
It is easy to let confirmation bias influence the way we sort information. We already have an opinion, and we’re just looking for facts that will confirm it. What makes it more difficult is that the whole Internet is hard at work serving up the information it knows we’ll consume. If you tend to read more liberal-leaning news, Google factors that into your searches, and Facebook actively prefers that information for you.
This means the whole Internet can become a closed loop of information that just reinforces what you already think. This does not make for intelligent or informed individuals. If you want credible opinions, you have to be exposing yourself to stuff that comes from outside your perspective—and that doesn’t mean just having people who agree with you translate other perspectives for you.
4. Expect Your Perspective to Mature
There are very few things more irritating than a teenager who’s learning how to drive. After a little exposure to a driver’s manual, they’re second-guessing everything you do. ”Hey Dad, you didn’t come to a complete stop at that stop sign.” ”Hey Mom, you didn’t look left right left.”
After 20 years, your view of driving becomes a lot more organic. You no longer drive through the lens of a teenager. The act of driving becomes second nature.
Christianity is a lot like that. When we’re young Christians, our understanding of Christ can be, in large part, filtered through our wooden view of the manual. But the longer you walk with Christ (hopefully), the more you develop a rhythm to your relationship that’s unique and comfortable.
You still have opinions and convictions, but the more you mature, the less you’re willing to go to war over them.
Being willing to grow means knowing that you’re in flux and some of your theology will certainly evolve (at least in little ways) over time. This should be making us all a little more humble in the ways we deal with each other.
5. Develop Objectivity (As Much as Possible)
All the information we take in is filtered through a closed system. Our family of origin, culture, education, nationality and a million other factors program the way we assimilate facts. We think we have worked hard to come to the conclusions that we have, and everyone who disagrees with us is simply intellectually lazy. But when we’re honest, we realize that we’re often as biased as everyone else.
An important step toward learning to become more objective is learning to accept that things are complex. Once we get to the place where we realize how ill prepared we are to deal with life’s intricacies, we’ll become a little more skeptical of the information our brains spit out in response to every stimulus.
We too need to consider whether we have arrived at our opinions by embracing certain information while ignoring others. Objectivity is about our willingness to weigh all the information available. this isn’t behavior we should only expect from people who disagree with us.
In the end, Proverbs 18:2 nails it, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” If we just want opinions to share, then any old opinion will do. But if we’re truly after understanding, we need to be intentional about how we arrive at our opinions.