Heads, I win; tails, you lose: 5 spiritual flip-flops Christians must avoid.
Remember the other day, when I wrote about Trendianity, Christianity’s copycat cousin? One way you can distinguish the two is when a disagreement arises.
Genuine, gospel-focused Christianity should lead us to be gracious in disagreement (Romans 14). In some situations, that means agreeing to disagree, while in others, we may be called to take a firm stand on something. When we do take a firm stand, I believe we’re called to do so in a way that is humble and gracious, demonstrating our love for the other person and our understanding of their position, even while carefully explaining where our own views differ and why.
Trendianity doesn’t bother with all of that. Trendianity has no room for humility or the possibility that I’m fallible and might have made a mistake. Trendianity insists only that I know I’m right and that I’m willing to resort to unfair, oversimplified arguments to win the debate at all costs.
One of Trendianity’s favorite tricks is like an old comedy routine about flipping a coin: “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.” In other words, whichever side of an argument I’m on, Trendianity has an overly simplistic argument I can use to “win” by pretending to be more spiritual than the other person.
Here are five scenarios where Trendianity stacks the deck with unfair spiritual trump cards. I’ll bet you’ve heard some of these before.
Someone gets a flat tire on the way to an event.
Trendianity Asks: Was it an event I approve of?
- Yes - “Well there you go; that’s proof you were doing the right thing, because the devil’s trying to stop you.”
- No - “Well there you go; that’s proof you were doing the wrong thing, and God’s trying to get your attention.”
Someone quotes a Bible passage to make a theological point.
Trendianity Asks: Do I agree with their point?
- Yes - “It’s right there, in black and white. If you disagree, you’re not just disagreeing with us; you’re disagreeing with God. God said it; I believe it; that settles it.”
- No - “That doesn’t mean anything. Even the devil can quote Scripture.”
In a disagreement about the right thing to do or believe, one person feels a strong internal conviction about the right way to go.
Trendianity Asks: Is that person me, or someone disagreeing with me?
- It’s me - “I’ve prayed about this, and the Holy Spirit has shown me the right answer. You can’t argue with what the Spirit says.”
- It’s someone else - “The Bible says that the heart is deceitful and untrustworthy. You can’t rely on your feelings in a situation like this; that’s just your heart leading you astray.”
Someone is questioning a church tradition or longstanding belief.
Trendianity Asks: Do I agree with the tradition?
- Yes - “How can you go against 2,000 years of the wisdom of the church? Do you think you’re better than all the great Christian thinkers who came before you?”
- No - "Traditions are just man-made. What really matters is what the Bible and/or Holy Spirit says about this, and if that contradicts the tradition then so be it."
A controversial issue is being discussed, and someone brings up a Bible passage. On the surface, the passage would seem to make one point, but many Christians argue for an alternate understanding.
Trendianity Asks: Do I agree with the surface reading, or with the alternate reading?
- Alternate reading - "You have to understand this passage in context. It’s actually talking about [insert historical explanation here]. It doesn’t apply in the same way to Christians today."
- Surface reading - "The Bible is written so we can understand it. Why would God allow this passage be here if it didn’t mean what it seems to mean on the surface? God wouldn’t want to confuse us."
A few final words:
Some of these arguments do have a legitimate place in Christian theology. For instance, some passages do need to be read in proper historical context to be understood, and the heart can be deceitful and untrustworthy. The issue here isn’t with those ideas themselves; it’s with their use as simplistic trump cards to “prove” that I’m right and you’re wrong. In reality, the questions of whether historical context changes the meaning of a passage or whether someone’s inner feelings are deceitful are often challenging questions that deserve more than bumper-sticker slogans. These kinds of discussions require careful examination of all the facts and the humble acknowledgement that I might be wrong even when I’m sure I’m right.
Why is it important for us to avoid flippantly using these kinds of arguments? Because this is precisely what discredits Christianity in the eyes of non-Christians. If Christians use these kinds of arguments, it only lends legitimacy to the idea that Christianity is built on self-serving logic, when in fact this approach isn’t Christian at all.
Can you think of more of these unfair flip-flops? Share yours in the comments.
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