errorIf I were a bumper-sticker manufacturer “fear error, not terror” would be my next product.

I was thinking this morning about all the things people tend to fear in this world.  People fear local thieves and robbers, rapists and murderers.  We fear for our financial future (or present in many cases).  We worry about our relationships with other people, and the well-being of our loved ones.  We fear terrorist attacks on this nation.  But how often is it that we fear error?

I am bothered by the moral evil that runs rampant in our day.  I am concerned for personal, relational, and national safety.  But there is nothing I fear more than error.  I’m not referring to some sort of emotional fear that grips my heart, but an intellectual fear that grips my mind.  I am always cognizant of the existence of truth and error, and do my best to maximize true beliefs and minimize false beliefs.  Why?  Because nothing matters more in this world than the truth.  Nothing has greater power than truth, but likewise nothing can be more damaging than belief in that which is false.  You may live your whole life untouched by the egregious evils that occur in society, but if you embrace false ideas the consequences will be far worse than any terrorist attack.

The simple truth of life is that beliefs have consequences.  True beliefs have good consequences for both this life and the life to come; false beliefs have bad consequences for both this life and the life to come.  That’s why I am so concerned with false doctrine in the church.  If God is one way yet we think He is another, the results could be disastrous.  If the kingdom of God works in one manner and yet we think it works in another, some of our kingdom-efforts may be counter-productive or even spiritually dangerous for both ourselves and others.

Reality is not what we make of it.  Reality is what it is independent of what we think about it.  That’s why it’s so important that what we believe about reality actually matches up with reality.  The only way to ensure this is by continuing to develop the life of the mind.  We must continue to grow in knowledge and understanding, adding new knowledge to existing knowledge, and allowing new information to refine our current ideas about what is true and false.

We cannot be lackadaisical toward issues of truth.  We should not allow people to communicate error without being challenged.  Why?  Is it because we want to be nitpicky and contentious?  No.  It’s because too much is on the line.  We would never allow someone to believe that crack is good for the body without challenging that belief, so why do we think it’s ok (and even preferable) to allow someone to believe false religious ideas without challenging them about those beliefs in a loving way?  Their spiritual life may be on the line, and if they are in a position of teaching authority they may be endangering others’ as well.

My mind is the gateway to my soul, just like my mouth is the gateway to my body.  I wouldn’t think of eating poisoned food, and neither will I carelessly digest poisoned ideas.  There is a plethora of truth-claims in the world, many of which are religious, and the majority of which are false.  And the last I checked our churches do not have error-proof walls, and our people are not infallible.  That means at least some false ideas can be found within our own churches, and in our own minds (including my own).  If poisoned ideas are floating all around us we ought to be extremely cautious about which claims we accept as true.  That’s why we need to be careful in our thinking, and critical of both old and new ideas.  He who is easily persuaded to believe one thing is often easily persuaded to believe something to the contrary as well.  That’s why I regularly tell people not to believe what I say simply because I say it.  I want them to raise their best objections against my view.  I want them to study out contrary opinions.  I want them to challenge me.  Why?  Because that’s the best guarantee that we will arrive at truth, and the best way to be confident that what we believe is true is actually true.

We shouldn’t get upset when our ideas are questioned or challenged by a thoughtful dissenter.  It’s an opportunity for us to reconsider our own belief system—to reevaluate whether or not it corresponds to reality.  If it does, then we have the opportunity to help someone else dispel a false belief and acquire a true one.  If it does not, then we gained the opportunity to grow in knowledge of the truth.  Either way we are winners!

So fear error, not terror.