LeBron James recently completed perhaps the greatest performance in the history of the NBA Finals, averaging 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists, something that has never been accomplished before,[i] and against one of the greatest teams in NBA history no less. And yet there was no space for us to stop and appreciate James’s performance. Judgment was our first impulse. Every fan had an opinion on what this means to James’s legacy. Many declared that by losing these finals, the fifth NBA Finals he’s lost, he forfeited his right to be considered one of the greatest basketball player of all time.
Let’s set aside the argument of whether or not James ought to be considered the one of the greatest (although, he is!). My point is that, in a society driven by social media, we become, more than ever, agents of judgment and identified by our opinions. Hot-takes don’t just fill the waves of sports talk radio, they fill our social media feeds, and even our souls. We are taught to have strong and quick opinions on all matter of subjects. We build up and tear down social icons like skilled contractors.
We enter our churches with the same disposition, quick to form judgments. But what is the content of these judgments? We evaluate a pastor by our own measuring rod: how much does my pastor agree with me? How much does the church’s doctrinal statement align with my theology?
I am not being dismissive of theology. I would be the first to put forward how important good theology is in our spiritual formation. But there are many in my theological tribe I wouldn’t trust as my pastor, and there are many outside of my tribe I would be honored and blessed to sit under.
Part of the disease of the hot-take world we live in is that it has undermined the importance of the slow work of Christian formation. Christian discipleship is a long and windy road of growing in character and conformity to Jesus Christ. Your pastor’s character and commitment to building a community committed to spiritual formation is of more importance than his opinion on peripheral theological matters. Whether I am a man of my word should matter much more to you than what my stance on the end times is; whether I treat my wife with love and respect should speak volumes more than my position on the ecstatic gifts.
As Christians we are called to be discerning and to make wise judgments, but we ought to be invested much more deeply in being shaped personally and corporately into the image of Jesus Christ. I am convinced some of the people I have the most to learn and gain from are those whose theological edges are rougher than a Draymond Green jumper.
Christ levels a double-barreled admonition against judgment in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”[ii] The point of this, of course, is not that we suspend our critical faculties, or not be discerning, but rather that we do not lace our discernment with condemnation. Filtering our judgment in this manner creates space for us to grow in self-awareness and introspection.
Is your identity shaped more by your character or your carefully tailored image? More by your integrity or the force of your personality? May our character lead the way and our words follow. May our opinions on the church and theology trail behind our integrity that we might be known more by who we are than by what we say.
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[ii] Matthew 7:1-3