We’re bombarded, it seems, with the demand to have a ready answer for every issue: cultural, social, political, medical, and so on. Social media is replete with neighbors, friends, relatives, and church members sounding off on just about everything under the sun: systemic racism, abortion, vaccines, social distancing, police brutality, housing inequality, transgenderism, etc. I see more and more people taking a “break” from social media because of shear exhaustion. The unsurprising truth is, we can’t be experts in everything. In all likelihood, you are not an infectious disease specialist. You are probably not engaged in full-time research in post-colonial history. I doubt that many readers of this article (if any!) will have obtained advanced degrees in criminal justice or economic theory. And that’s okay! I want to relieve you of the burden of becoming an expert armchair economist, historian, philosopher, and doctor.
I am convinced that a great deal of the anxiety most of us are experiencing these days is due to the pressure to have an opinion about every issue, to be well-informed on an impossibly broad array of social ills, historical events, and medical studies. To find freedom from these anxieties, we need to find a way to care without the burden of perceived expertise. We need to be comfortable trusting others to carry the weight of a conversation when we’re out of our league. Quite frankly, you are more likely to play professional baseball and win a starting spot on an NFL roster than to obtain genuine expertise in a dozen fields. Get out from under that load that you cannot lift. You’re being crushed by something you should not expect yourself to carry.
More importantly, God’s Word doesn’t ask us to engage in every intellectual battle. Nor are we expected to live in total ignorance, marching to the beats of competing drums. Instead, we are called be a part of a larger body, the church, and to both give and receive within the local church and the broader body of Christ. In addition, we need to be thankful for God’s common grace, enabling those outside of Christ to make true observations and discoveries about the world. We can faithfully and wisely build upon the insights of others without needing to walk down every path they have trod.
Consider the most important issue for the Christian (what Paul calls “first things”). We have to get the Gospel right. We don’t want to be like the Apostle’s brethren who, “have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge,” (Romans 10:1). But you can get the Gospel right without learning Ancient Greek (the language of the New Testament). You can get the Gospel right without ever reading and analyzing the ancient sources that inform our understanding of the biblical world. Why? Because, in addition to the work of the Holy Spirit within us, Christian scholars have labored and continue to labor to provide accurate translations and helpful commentaries on the Bible. Because local pastors have (or at least should have) devoted time to learning biblical languages, hermeneutical theory, and systematic theology, and they now share the fruits of their labors with you and your fellow church members. Because the basic, essential truths of the faith and those things necessary for Christian living are communicated with clarity you can understand and depth you can never fully discover. In the same vein, you can navigate social, moral, and political issues by listening to experts rather than debating them, talking to the well-informed rather than outperforming them, and letting the principles laid down in God’s Word guide you in discerning right from wrong.
Some issues will, of course, require more direct knowledge. Some will demand more reflection. When God’s Word speaks clearly we need to know and be confident in its teachings. When the actual events and people in our lives (hint: not those we only see in our online lives!) require more knowledge, we should devote a little more time to reading and thinking through the problems that confront us personally from a biblical worldview. If, for instance, your child suffers from cystic fibrosis, you can be expected to know a great deal more about this disease than your friends. You don’t have to obtain a medical degree and become a professional researcher in cystic fibrosis, though. If your spouse suffers from dementia or schizophrenia, you will need to know more about what ails them than your neighbor. You can be thankful for the doctors and medical researchers, listen to them, and then discern how to apply their findings and advice to your own child or spouse, about whom you actually are the foremost expert. This means we listen and learn, and then reflect and discern in light of God’s Word.
Having said all of these things, we do need to be prepared to give basic biblical answers to common moral issues. You don’t need to learn Hebrew in order to fully exegete Exodus 21:22-25 before you can have and share a biblical perspective on abortion. You don’t need to be able to painstakingly trace the background of the Greek word arsenokoitēs before you can affirm with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that homosexual behavior is sinful in God’s eyes. You certainly don’t need to conduct a detailed study of the word ethnē before you conclude that God loves people from every ethnicity and background and expects us to do likewise. You should, however, know the broad outline of the Bible’s teachings related to racism and ethnocentrism. So, while you may not be able to give a learned definition of the meaning of “image of God,” you can affirm that all people are made in his image and therefore have intrinsic value, a truth that affects all our moral reasoning.
In light of this (much lighter) burden, this article will be followed by a series of very short articles summarizing the Bible’s teachings on a handful of important and pressing ethical matters. I do not intend to answer every question or provide detailed exegesis for every or even the most relevant biblical passages. Instead, I’d like to provide the kind of answers that you can reasonably be expected to give when confronted or asked about a few important and pressing moral matters. These articles will not assume or impose the need for expertise in any area of study. They will be short (not exhaustive or complete) statements about racism, abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, environmentalism, and the treatment of the poor (not necessarily in that order).
I myself am not an expert on any of these matters. I’m a pastor, an “in-betweener.” I require myself to know more than the average Christian for the sake of teaching, but I know that I cannot be an expert on every matter related to biblical interpretation and Christian moral reflection. I aim, in these articles, to faithfully execute my role as an “in-betweener.” I will summarize the Bible’s teachings, noting plausible alternatives and occasionally addressing well-known objections, and then pass these summaries on in a memorable format. To that end, I hope that I can serve my church and (perhaps) a slightly broader subsection of Christ’s body well.