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Don’t Be Horrified At Christian Conflict

By John G. Stackhouse Jr.

“Our steady resolve not to learn anything very much different from what we currently think we know shows up in families, churches, and other societies as the horrified repression of all conflict.” -John Stackhouse

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a nice way of saying, “We don’t generally bother to think new things until circumstances compel us to do so.”

Organizations die that aim only at being “five per cent better than last year.” Teams get beat by running the same plays that worked well last season. Generals lose wars, as the saying goes, by skillfully fighting the last one. Why are we not more creative?

Creativity comes in response to a challenge, not to a cloudless day at the beach. Innovation arises out of the threat of competition or obsolescence, not out of a board meeting filled with mutual congratulations on another job adequately done.

The great English preacher John Stott used to testify occasionally to his “struggle to think Christianly” about the issues facing his congregation and his nation – and, indeed, of global Christianity. Such intellectual wrestlings were provoked by what Stott called “PIM” – namely, “pain in the mind.”

It was a phrase beloved of certain English evangelical intellectuals in the mid-20th century (Lesslie Newbigin liked it too), who were constantly working to get their minds around Scripture and tradition and reason and revelation and church and world. Thinking new thoughts was, even for these brilliant leaders, often not so much joyful artistry as sorrowful discipline (Hebrews 12:11).

How much more pleasant it is to avoid pain, including “pain in the mind.” How much more comfortable and comforting it is to encounter a new thought or a novel practice and dismiss it out of hand. How much time do we spend instead visiting websites, listening to podcasts, watching programs, viewing videos, and reading books and magazines that only reinforce what we already think?

Our steady resolve not to learn anything very much different from what we currently think we know shows up in families, churches, and other societies as the horrified repression of all conflict. Indeed, in some Christian traditions the presence of conflict is simply equated with the presence of the devil. Christians, after all, are supposed to be unified, and conflict in its essence is disunity.
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