On Christian know-it-alls

by Kim on September 30, 2008

“My own awareness of my failure and weakness is indispensable to my communicating the gospel to my neighbour. I put the neighbour in touch with God by a particular kind of detachment from him or her…. The desert monastics are keenly interested in diagnosing what sort of things get in the way here, what things count as blocking someone else’s relation with Christ. They seem very well aware that one of the greatest temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude betwen God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God than others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try and control the access of others to God…. The desert teachers are well aware that by fleeing to the isolation of prayerful communities they do not automatically leave behind this deep-rooted longing to manage the access of other people to God… One of the most frequent ways n which this becomes visible, they suggest, is inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of us - because our own vision is clouded by self-obsession or self-satisfaction…. And the desert literature suggests pretty consistently that excessive harshness - readiness to judge and prescribe - normally has its roots in that kind of inattention to ourselves. Abba Joseph responds to the invitation to join condemning someone by saying, ‘Who am I?’ And the phrase might suggest not just ‘Who am I to be judging?’ but ‘How can I pass judgment when I don’t know the full truth about myself?’”

From Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert (Oxford: Medio Media, 2003), pp. 25-26.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }


dh 09.30.08 at 2:40 pm

Who is “Abba Joseph”? Also, if Scripture says a definitive truth and we care about people and it is God saying it in Scripture then wouldn’t it be God who is stating that a change needs to happen as opposed to the people specifically saying it? Wouldn’t it be wrong if we see a person in the street about to get hit from a car not to say something at least let alone go in the street and rescue the person as opposed to calling the person who is saying “get out of the street” as “judging”?


graham 09.30.08 at 6:16 pm

Surely there are levels of this DH, and you have gone to the extreme in an attempt to prove your viewpoint here. We all know the kind of judgemental and annoying ‘know it all’ that is being talked about here. There are ways of telling people they need to change, and appropriate times to do it. Naturally the first thing that sprung to mind here was Jesus in Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We all have our own faults, and we need to get those into perspective before we dive into correcting and rebuking others at the drop of a hat.


dh 09.30.08 at 10:31 pm

Graham, I agree to a great extent on what you say hear. For me and what God’s attitude is is in reference to our heart aka attitudes, how it is presented, etc. If it is presented in love and care for the person like I try to do here and elsewhere. I understand we all mess up but that doesn’t mean when Scripture is clear on something that we can’t say something Scripture says as long as our attitude is right before the Lord in our attitudes heart, word and deed.

For me the Pharisee’s were rebuked more for their attitudes toward the people and their lack of love for people. Remember John the Baptist would say “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” I have heard people when I was in high school (many ions ago) who would say he was harsh and seemd to contradict Jesus in his attitude. After hearing these people and reading how God in the OT and NT responded to people it was always in relation to attitude and heart. From that I understood that while what John the Baptist said at face value seemed harsh it was for love of the people not unlike the analogy I gave (the extreme to make a point). I personally believe that the majority of people who address these issues from the standpoint like myself are really being like John the Baptist as opposed to the Pharisee’s.

Graham, I will say that I appreciate your balance and admonishment. God help me if my rebuke for homosexuality and many other things are not from an attitude of love for people. Thanks again for the encouraging words, Graham. :)


Joel Betow 09.30.08 at 11:46 pm

One of the very reasons I won’t use church to endorse or promote candidates (besides legal provisions on the matter) is the repulsiveness of the idea that my limited knowledge and understanding is somehow an acceptable substitute for an omniscient and all-loving God. We are called to witness, to take prophetic stands, and to be daring in service, but unless some essence of humility remains, our vanity can easily lead us from endorsing candidates one day to camoflauging profit profit-making airplane run as chairy into the idea that prophets are self-annointed as opposed to “a calling from God” confirmed in scriptural truth as brought to life through “tradition, reason, and experience.”


dh 10.01.08 at 2:22 pm

Joel, I’m not being harsh here, but what does your repsonse have to do with the thread? I would be interested in what people thought about my recent post on this thread.


Kim 10.01.08 at 3:34 pm

Joel, of course, can, and maybe will, answer for himself, but he’s certainly on the same page here: he doesn’t presume to tell his congregation for whom to vote because of his “limited knowledge”, because he’s not “omniscient”, i.e. he doesn’t presume to be “a Christian know-it-all” (see the title of this post).


dh 10.01.08 at 4:32 pm

Kim, I don’t believe those churches who endorse a candidate are saying or suggesting that they know it all. Therefore I have no idea how this pertains to the title of this thread.

With regard to humility. I believe that those pastors who are being rebuked on this site might be more humble than one realizes. These are people who gave their lives over to Christ. Joel you mention that God calls us to take prophetic stands. What is wrong with taking a prophetic stand against sin not unlike John the Baptist did?

I also don’t believe that all of those people who say they are prophets are self appointed. Maybe they ARE called from God and maybe Scripture is more important than reason, tradition and experience?


Joel 10.05.08 at 8:19 pm


My comment, if not a brother or sister to the post, is at least a second cousin.


Joel 10.06.08 at 7:20 am


When I as an individual endorse a candidate, as I have done with Barack Obama with comments and posts on blogs and modest finanancial contributions, I can still recognize the flaws and shortcomings in my candidate. I may equate many of the general causes which my candidate is affliliated with as a stab at righteousness, but even if right, many of these causes are but a faint reflection of the Kingdom. If I endorse as pastor and use church resources, I’m saying in effect that God’s countenance is shined on a particular candidate and that God has imparted me with special knowledge of that shining. In reality, God is probably thinking, as to the two major candidates, “wow I love you both without qualificatiion, but the best I can do to respond to your campaigns is “yuck, yuck as to candidate one,” and “yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck” as to candidate two.”

Even as an Obama supporter, I keep some distance. I do not attend Obama campaign events, make telephone calls, distribute pro-Obama literature, etc. I have rights as an individual who is a pastor, but I’m aware that many people see us as pastor 24-7

Let’s say that when Pat Robertson was running for president, you were a pastor and both your and church resources were used to promote his candidacy. You associated his candidacy with God’s righteosness. Then later, Robertson is accused of using airplanes engaged to transport charitable goods to actually mostly transport “for-profit” goods to Robertson’s beneit. And in the meantime, Robertson becomes pretty chummy with a brutal, murdering dictator.

The church and the pastor have associted Robertson with righteosness. What does the church do now? Say that God chose in Robertson the lesser of evils? That God’s vision isn’t perfect? With official pastoral and church endorsement there is an air that God favors a particular candidate. With personal pastoral endorsements, ideally the pastor as an individual simply engages the logic and reason that God has imparted to him or her. But the pastor might also undertake a flawed discernment process. The temptation is to work backwards toward an endorsement rather than forward — actually a hard temptation to deal with in preaching, too — here the pastor first supports a candidate and then finds all the Biblical reasons for doing so. In using that process, I could produce an endorsement for either Obama or McCain. Others would always support Democrats or always support Republicans.


Joel 10.06.08 at 7:43 am


I also think the historical difference between the white church and the black church in the U.S. should be recognized, even as I favor enforcement of politics restrictions.

Historically, whites were allowed, for the purpose of conducting campaign rallies and events, to gather in union halls, stadiums, city halls, city parks, privat and public parking lots, libraries, civic centers, movie theaters and such. As well, blacks had far fewer private farmland on which to gather, and if they did they were often broken up gy white law enforcement for “illegal assembly” or “public nuisance” for instance. Blacks engaging in politics were usually denieds rights afforded whites and found their churches as the only place to retreat to. In other words, white society pretty much forced Blacks to engage in politics mostly in the church, and having created such a historical reality, may need to be patient as change is adapted to.


dh 10.06.08 at 3:11 pm

Joel, I still stand by what I have said. I also totally abhore you using Robertson in this type of example. Also, when two candidates run it CAN be the lessor of two evils. It also doesn’t take away from God’s vision because God knows that both candidates are not perfect. It is a matter of who promotes more of what God from His Word say.

I do see in your next to last statement some points but I still focus on the double standard and I believe it is the bias toward the right that actions likethese are taken toward people who endorse candidates at the pulpit.
On the last one: I still stand by this apparent double standard and I really don’t buy your argument that you are saying here especially since if it wasn’t for some of the Republicans in 1964 voting FOR the Civil Rights Bill we wouldn’t be here today. In fact if one looks at the Democrat South during that time one can see how racist some were: in fact (D) Sen Byrd of West Virginia was a member of the KKK.


Joel 10.07.08 at 8:12 pm


With the fanatacism I often see on display, I fear that many in the church don’t see God as picking among the lesser of evils, but as annointing the righteous versus the evil.

It is fair for you to mention Robert Byrd’s involvement in the KKK, but could have also mentioned that he left the organization 55 years ago.

Yes, Republicans in Congress voted for the 1964 Civl Rights bill in larger percentages than Democras, but most of the Democrats were conservative Southerners, some of whom later switched to the Republican party and others were replaced by conservative Republicans. Republican 1964 presidential nominee Barry Goldwater opposed the civil rights legilation while Democratic nominee Lyndon Johnson supported the bill. The bill could not have been enacted without Democratic support, either.

In fact, the greatest identifying factor for whether a Senator or Congressman voted for the civil rights act was where they came from, not which party they belonged to. For instance, in the Senate 95% of Southern Senators voted against the bill. It might be noted, too, that Senate Democrats from the South were 93% against the bill, while Senate Republicans from the South were 100% against the bill.


dh 10.07.08 at 8:36 pm

Well, Joel you just keep the spin up. I’m really sick and tired of all o the Democrats are more good than evil and the Republicans are more evil than good philosophy that you project on your most recent reply.

“Republicans in Congress voted for the 1964 Civl Rights bill in larger percentages than Democrats.”

Thanks for acknowledging the fact. Just don’t appreciate the spin.

The fact remains that if it weren’t for Republicans voting for the Civil Rights Bill then none of the progress that we whave seen would have taken place.

I just really get sick and tired of the Republicans are more racist than Democrat nonsense that so many people project from the other side.

I would venture to say in reference to your Byrd response that if I replaced the “D” with an “R” you would not have recognized that he did leave the organization. I already knew he left the organization I’m just using the same logic that people who are “D” who say toward’s people who are an “R” and the bogus attitudes therein.


dh 10.07.08 at 8:48 pm

Well the fanaticism is shown in both parties so don’t sit back and just say it is one party. I’m sick and tired of bias and misrepresentation of the right.


Joel 10.07.08 at 11:52 pm


You are the one doing the spining. I replied in a factual way ackmowleging that both political parties were important to the civil rights victory. All I am doing is correcting the distortions your own comments imply. My comments leave the distinct impression, quite true, that the civl rights victories of 1964 were equally attributable to Democrats and Republicans in Congress. They do nothing beyond that. I haven’t tried to claim that George Wallace or Lester Maddox or Herman Taldmade were Republicans instead of segregationist Democrats. Segregation was largely the view of the South and the South was ruled by segregationist Democrats. That’s the extent of my claim.

What you have really descended into is attacks on my character, and that is growing a little tiresome.

I’ve voted for quite a number of Republicans over my life, including my first vote for U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, and more recentlly, for a Republican congressman from Maryland, with plenty of Republicans in between.


dh 10.08.08 at 2:38 pm

Thank you Joel for your most recent reply. I appreciate the balance you showed that it WAS both sides were equally responsibile for the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. I’m sorry if I projected discussions with other people outside of this site who don’t hold your balanced view. I didn’t mean to resort to taking offense.

I should have read the ENTIRE reply of you. I apologize for not being with the proper Godly attitude and heart that he desires. :( Will you forgive me? I’m truly sorry.

I truly appreciate you and your views. We may disagree and at times strongly but that doesn’t mean that I think any less of you as a person. I think it would be great if we can come full circle like I have with many on this site. Is that okay? :)

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