84: Second Opinions

In this episode John and Gregg discuss the notion of Christians getting a “second opinion” on matters concerning their faith, and even on their faith itself.

Gregg introduces the topic by explaining how his spouse was reading a book on Christianity late one evening and was troubled by its contents. However, she was unable to articulate fully what she found disturbing. Gregg likens this to John’s request some years ago for he and Gregg to read Kyle Idleman’s not a fan side-by-side in order to decipher what John found problematic with that book.

In both cases Gregg sees these as instances where people needed second opinions on the versions of Christianity with which they were being presented. So Gregg asks: What is a second opinion? What does it mean to be a Christian and get a second opinion on your faith? How does one assess the validity of such a “second opinion”?

John re-situates his need with not a fan in terms of re-ordering chaos and clarifying confusion. So John explains that what he valued most in Gregg’s approach to the book was that Gregg was able to lay out the issues in a systematic way and coherently relate them to real life (i.e., showing where they did not reconcile, how, and what might be a better option).

John then likens his joint reading of not a fan with Gregg to his financial background in auditing. In that context, he was particularly focused on finding errors that more significant than a certain, minimum threshold: so-called “material” errors. In the financial world, encountering a “material” error might make an investor think twice before investing in this company. Similarly, John notes notes that in the process of reading not a fan he encountered so many material errors that he could not accept the book’s presentation of Christianity as being legitimate!

Gregg sees the situation with both John and his spouse, Susan: they both had a sense that things were problematic without being able fully to “audit” the book (and get to the root causes / see the bigger picture). So Gregg wonders: when one has this “sense,” what makes them continue reading rather than putting the book down?

On the one hand, he speculates that any reader must have a degree of openness to (and interest in) the material, as well as an assumption that the author is sufficiently knowledgeable on the matter. But why continue reading beyond the point of becoming dissatisfied with the book? John responds that he had made a commitment to someone to read the book, and Gregg notes that Susan had similarly committed to discuss the book in an upcoming women’s group.

From this, Gregg wonders about how / when Christians have the sense of needing a second opinion. For example, both John and Susan had made a commitment to “keep reading,” and it was because their “material threshold” (i.e., a certain level of dissatisfaction) was reached but they still had to keep reading that they sought a second opinion. Yet how does this happen in other situations? Or what if the issue is not with the book, but how the book is creating discomfort because the problem is with the person’s church, beliefs, etc.

John hunches that there has to be a certain minimum level of awareness and interest in there being more than one possible way of formulating a matter (or solving a problem). And all of this requires a degree of motivation. Gregg then asks: what would the impact have been for John if there was a designated resource in his church that John could go to for a second opinion on such matters? Not the minister or pastor—this is the “first opinion.” John notes that this would likely give a sense of freedom and depth of conversation.

Further, where John retorts that the majority of Christians would not think a second opinion is necessary because the issues that Christians face are essentially obvious and straightforward (i.e., the Bible tells us what to do and either we do it or we don’t), Gregg counters that our conception of the matter is key.

In other words, where Christians have misconceived that the matters are obvious and the responses are equally straightforward (i.e., that either life or the Bible is clear-cut and needs no training and skill to decipher and engage with well), then naturally we will fail to think that something like a “second opinion” is on any value.

Yet as Gregg notes, Christianity is instead something that requires our full intellectual, emotional, and imaginative engagement—something like a combination of a research project and a dramatic production. As such, just like life, while it has moments of being ‘sweet and easy’ Christianity is typically complicate and involved.  So Gregg characterizes the podcast as offering “second opinions.”

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