(Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary).
I don’t like it when people are dogmatic. I don’t know very many people who do. It doesn’t really matter what a person happens to be dogmatic about. It could be politics, theology, science, literature, music, movies, sports, what the best vacation places are, what the best place to live is, or which taco shop is the best. I find it annoying and decidedly unappealing when someone is opinionated and asserts their opinions in “a doctrinaire or arrogant manner” about nearly anything. Although, not to be too dogmatic, there is no question in my mind that El Indio is the best taco shop in San Diego County, bar none.
Ah, but therein lies the rub. It seems to me that dogmatism is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. I would surely be viewed by some, perhaps many, people in our society as dogmatic. That’s because we have reached a place in our culture where anyone who believes there is truth and takes a stand on it is likely to be viewed as narrow, opinionated and dogmatic. I surely believe there is truth, there is right and wrong, and I am not embarrassed to say so. That is taken in many quarters as rank dogmatism.
I sympathize with some of the younger church leaders who find a rigid, unbending theology that is definitive and narrow at every point to be both intellectually dubious and relationally unappealing. I personally find that I am certain of and draw hard and fast lines on way fewer matters now than I did when I was 25. I have lots of questions too. So I get where they are coming from. However, I also find that in the things I am sure of, I am more certain than ever, more confident than ever.
G. K. Chesterton once said, “Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” Regardless of what they say everyone in a sense thinks he or she has a “monopoly on the truth” to some extent. As Chesterton pointed out if we question whether our view of something is right then it is no longer our view of the thing. Some may see virtue in thinking that either there is no “right” view of anything or that one can never know whether one’s view is right, thus becoming agnostic about nearly everything. However, even a cursory reading of the Bible will reveal that this is not a scriptural view.
Jesus said in John 8:32 “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He did not say “you will wonder if some things are in some sense true, and even hope that maybe they are.” He said “you will know the truth.” Know. Go through the gospels some time and count how many times Jesus said, “I tell you the truth.” In John 14:17 Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. Romans 1:18 tells us that problems for all humans begin from suppressing the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says we should all be speaking the truth in love. So we are to know truth and we are to not only stand on it but proclaim it. In Acts 4:29 the apostles prayed and asked God to enable them to “speak your word with great boldness.” The word translated “boldness” there is often rendered “confidence.” We are to have confidence in the truth and not be bashful about speaking it.
Uh oh. Does this mean we are doomed to be rejected as repulsive dogmatists in our society? Are we to be going through our world loudly lambasting people with the truth to shake them out of their lethargy? Are we to dot every theological I and cross every T and then die for it?
Fortunately God’s word speaks to our dilemma. Colossians 4:6 says, “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” I have to admit that I like salt. Love to put it on my popcorn or on French fries or tortilla chips. However, I also am careful with it (at least I think I am. Laurie might argue the point at times). Overload one of those items with too much salt and it will make you gag. Overly salty items become inedible. Salt is seasoning, which means it must be applied with a light touch. It can easily overwhelm the flavor of the food being seasoned. Salt is intended to enhance the flavor, not become the flavor. It is, then, a brilliant analogy for the “salt” of the truth in our conversation with others. It must always be applied with a light and sensitive touch. It must “be always full of grace.”
We can get some help in seasoning our conversation with grace by going back and noticing again the definition of dogmatism. It is “asserting an opinion in an arrogant way.” Arrogance has no place in a follower of Jesus. We, of all people, should most be marked by humility and gentleness, for we know that it is only by the unfathomable grace of God that we have been given life. Humility and kindness should be the mark of everything we do and everything we say. So when we assert what we believe to be the truth, it should always, always, be full of grace, full of humility and heavily dosed with gentleness.
Jesus said that we can know the truth. There is no great virtue in not knowing. We will not know the truth about everything, so in many things we must admit our ignorance and hold our opinions lightly. In the things that we know are true because God has revealed them clearly we must stand firm and be bold. But…and this is a big “but”…but we must always be gentle and humble. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminds us that whatever we do, if we do it without love, if we do it without compassion and kindness and caring for others, if we do it without sensitivity and grace, then we are nothing more than irritating noisemakers.