John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Belief: Content vs Quality

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the friend I wrote about yesterday and how things had gotten off track for him. He’d become a kind of caricature of Christianity – always right, always proud, always yelling his truth with a bullhorn. How did he get there? And then it hit me: he had been believing right – he just hadn’t been believing well.

The man on the other end of my phone that day is a bona fide theologian. He’s taught in seminaries. He knows Greek. I mean he really knows Greek. He can recite lengthy passages of the New Testament in the original language. He’s read many of the same orthodox, conservative scholars I’ve read. He’s especially fond of Francis Schaeffer. The content of his faith is pretty solid. It’s the quality of his faith that was causing him problems.

See, there’s what we believe (content), and then there’s how we hold those beliefs (quality).

It’s possible to believe all the right things in all the wrong ways.

Most of our conversations about faith focus on content. We get all worked up trying to convince someone whose faith content is different from ours that our content is better than their content.

What we don’t often realize is that many of our friends and neighbors don’t think content is that important anymore. They’ll say things like, “What you believe isn’t that important as long as you’re sincere.” Of course, even the most politically correct or spiritually enlightened person has limits, and they’ll admit that the whole 9/11-thing was a fly in the ointment for this sentiment. On that day, men of sincere conviction flew airplanes into buildings full of tolerant people. Clearly, what they did was wrong, but what’s a tolerant person to say in light of such terrible events?

So, now the statement has to be modified appropriately: “What you believe isn’t that important as long as you’re sincere…and you don’t hurt anyone.”

In other words, “Believe whatever you believe. Just be sincere and leave the rest of us alone.”

Christians are often quick to dismiss this as sloppy thinking, the worst postmodernism, pluralism, and relativism have to offer. But, while it is an overstatement, we should be cautious about dismissing it altogether. There is a kernel of truth hiding behind the fuzzy sentiments. What we believe is important, but it is not the only important thing. How we believe is also important, and we would be wise to consider the quality of our faith alongside its content.

Wade Hodges, another of my friends, may be correct when he says, “In the long run, quality trumps content.” Of course, Wade was just restating something the philosopher Peter Kreeft had said years ago, “An honest atheist in search of truth will find it; a dishonest Christian won’t.” Given a long enough runway, an honest and authentic search for truth will lead to the desired destination. But right beliefs pointed in the wrong direction will inevitably lead to error.