Evolution, Eccentrics and Evangelism (Image Vol 9, No 1 – Jan/Feb 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

By Joe Beam

Welcome to the most exciting and most terrifying decade of the twentieth century.

Some researchers say that more technological and sociological change will occur in this one decade than has taken place in the first ninety years of this century. What used to take a hundred years to change, now takes ten. What used to take ten, now takes one. What used to take a year, now changes in a month.

Most of us don’t like these rapid changes. We like things to stay the same or, if they must change, to change slowly enough that we can find our way to be efficient and comfortable in the new way.

As a matter of fact, there is a current “buzzword” that has come into our common usage that relates to our reluctance to embrace change. The word is paradigm. Its current usage often refers to the boundaries we set in our own minds of how things ought to be.

We all have paradigms. When we are confronted with something we aren’t use to or aren’t ready to accept, we react on three different and sometimes progressive-levels. Our first reaction may be that we don’t even see or hear this new concept or occurrence. It is so foreign to our way of thinking that we can’t even acknowledge its reality. It simply doesn’t register. Our mind chooses not to recognize it because it is outside our paradigm or our boundaries.

If we move past this view, the second level is to explain how things aren’t what they seem to be. After a particular things happens enough, we may have to recognize its existence, but we still don’t want to accept it, so we explain how it isn’t what it appears to be. My grandfather told me with great conviction and vigor that men had not gone to the moon. It was a great hoax. Those guys were actually in Arizona.

Finally, if we continue to progress in our thinking, we acknowledge this new thing as a reality. We realize that we can no longer deny its existence. We accept it, and we begin learning how to operate with it.

But acceptance doesn’t come easy. Some folks simply will not grow past the first and second levels. The majority passes them by and, left behind, they become living idiosyncrasies. For a while they are interesting to watch and talk about. After a little longer, people forget they exist.

Understanding paradigms gives some insight into conflicts between people. For example, think about the emotional confrontations between the right-to-life and pro-choice groups. Each approaches the question of abortion with a different set of rules (paradigms). They can’t have meaningful dialog because they speak different languages. Each group refuses to see any viable logic or true selfless emotions on the part of the other. When they must confront the other’s arguments, they quickly explain that what you see or hear isn’t the true story. In their own minds, each is right and the other group is a terrible enemy, attempting to destroy a human being.

How did you react to that preceding sentence? If you have any views on abortion, you are probably ready to rip this article out and use it for a torch to guide you in your search to find me. And that’s exactly my point. Paradigms are the set of rules an individual lives by, and that person becomes emotional and unstable when those paradigms are threatened. For the record I am against abortion on demand. Your reactions to my statements in the preceding paragraph don’t say anything about me. They simply reveal the depth and strength of your own paradigms.

Now let’s carry that principle a little farther. A few years ago, I was part of a business seminar on the campus of Lincoln Christian College and Seminary, a school supported by the Independent Christian Churches. Quite a few years back, they and the Churches of Christ, my fellowship, had been part of the same religious movement. I knew they used musical instruments in their worship services…something I was taught was wrong. I was also taught they did so because they cared little for biblical authority-that’s why they had abandoned us. I walked onto this campus feeling somewhat superior and very holy.

It wasn’t long before I embroiled one of them in debate. I reeled in shock when he began arguing on the basis of Bible authority and the meaning of the word psallo in Ephesians 5:19. He used by arguments before I could and drew exactly opposite conclusions. I was so disordered by this trickery that I withdrew and engaged another of their faculty just down the hall.

With a gentle spirit, he began the same arguments as his peer. Disoriented, I dropped the subject and took care of the business I had come to do. But now, years later, I see that their viewpoint was not a result of disrespect for the Word or a denial of biblical authority or disregard for serving God as best they could. I had been misinformed about them. These were good people who loved God and wanted to do right. Our disagreement is in our rules (paradigms) or interpretation.

Some Christians are entering the decade of change still refusing to see what others really believe or hear what they really have to say, because their paradigms won’t let them. Some of us have been through the three steps of altering our paradigm and are becoming distanced from those who adhere to their old paradigms. While we both acknowledge brotherhood, it is in concept rather than in action. We don’t have much to do with each other. Paradigms are effected insulators.

Changing paradigms is a painful process. I remember what it was like to work through the emotional decisions of whether I could use any translation other than the King James Version, whether I could pray without saying “thee” and “thou,” and whether i could associate with people who interpreted the Word differently than I. I remember being emotionally distraught as I tumbled into restless sleep one night, tormented by the inconsistencies I saw in my brotherhood. When I awoke the next morning, I couldn’t remember any one of the things I had analyzed the evening before. They were such a threat to my paradigm, my own mind had blocked them out.

Now I preach from the New International Version, pray with intimacy not hindered by archaic grammar, and speak on programs without a moment’s thought as to whether or not I should approve of all the other speakers. I don’t find myself cut off from or sitting in judgment of other Christians who don’t understand the Word as I do. I have learned that the two greatest commandments are pretty simple to understand, while difficult to obey, and am much more interested in interacting with loving people who are students of the Word than with non-loving people who long ago ceased to be anything but defenders of their own beliefs. I have learned that thinking and studying with an open mind isn’t the same as spinelessness and indecision. I have a peace that will sustain me through this decade of change because I have been able to separate the will of a changeless God from the unchanging wills of stubborn or fearful people.

For me, and so many more like me, those who are still living by the paradigms of the 1950s, or even the 1970s, have become living idiosyncrasies. They are occasionally interesting to watch or listen to as they work their convoluted logic to defend their personal paradigms. But the work of God goes on. Learning to adapt our methods…and to keep our minds open to Him without filtering his Word too much through our paradigms…is hard work God hasn’t changed. His Word hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. But times have.

With sadness, I have accepted the distance between some of my brothers and me. I love them and wish them well. I’ll do anything I can to keep fellowship with them…except close my mind and heart to God and his call to love. I must grow. I must do what my study and learning lead me to do. The large majority of our fellowship is struggling to learn and then to take what we learn to the people of the 1990s. We will miss our brothers who choose to live in the past. We listened to them for a while and tried our best to placate them We can’t take the time to do so any longer.

We will be too busy presenting and unchanging God to the unchanging needs of human nature in the mist of a rapidly changing world.

Joe Beam – Augusta, GA

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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