In this episode John and Gregg return to the topic of Gregg’s Sunday morning discussion group.
Gregg explains that last week, instead of pursuing the course of study (on self-deceit), he presented the group with 10-question Questionnaire to help them assess their expectations, energy and commitment level to the discussion group. Could it be that this study is not for everyone?
John finds Gregg’s approach surprising because, as John notes, at church, it’s “all for you” in the sense that people are accustomed to “everything being applicable for everyone all the time.” In other words, there would never be the idea that a Bible study would not be useful or appropriate for all?
However, Gregg explains that he framed the matter differently to the participants: he presented self-deceit as a “crucial” area of study such that, whether one is able or willing to study it right now, no Christian can be mature without becoming understanding how one deceives oneself (and becoming skilled at implementing counter-practices that reveal and diffuse self-deceit).
From Gregg’s perspective the participants seem divided into two groups. First, those participants that seem positively or neutrally disposed to the material seem to be looking to him to “provide the truth” rather than to “help them understand what truth is, find it, and apply it.” Second, those participants who are ill-disposed to the material seem not so much questioning or even disagreeing but offering “counter-discourses.” These counter-discourses act to “correct” Gregg’s “errors” but do so without these participants seeming to have even engaged with the material enough to understand it correctly.
Most worrying of these counter-discourses is the claim that Christians cannot know God’s will. When John believes that this viewpoint reflects Kyle Idleman’s “fire insurance” view (i.e., that Christianity is really about whether one goes to heaven or to hell). Gregg demurs: if one cannot know anything about God’s will then how can one know that one won’t “go to hell” in the end?
Gregg categorizes this view actually as a deviously crafted lie. This is because, on the one hand, it allows the holder to feel “safe” (by believing, contrary to their claim that God’s will is unknowable, that they are safe from hell), yet on the other hand it allows the holder also not to have to act against the bad things that happen in our world because–who knows?—God could be using any seemingly terrible / evil event for good (and so we do not have to commit ourselves against any such activity or even worry about it). Thus it removes from the Christian any sense of responsibility for—because s/he can have no understanding of—the world around us and those that live in it.
Further, Gregg believes that instead of being frustrated with these counter-discourse many participants are instead confused, because they too have not understood (or have not carefully considered) the discussion matter to this point.
John raises the point that if most Christians have been trained to listen to / accept what people tell them about Christianity rather than thinking about these matters (and deciding what they think about them) for themselves, then it would not be surprising to be confused. So by trying to encourage people to think and reflect on these matters—rather than simply “telling them what the answers are”—maybe Gregg makes no sense to the participants!
Gregg agrees. He notes that his aim throughout this course of study has been both to promote and to call into question the degree of “ownership” that the participants in this study have relative to their faith. Further, Gregg is not surprised that some folks hold their views (and even create counter-discourses) without engaging with Gregg’s ideas, but instead is surprised with how firmly embedded these needs are such that, when faced with significant reason to doubt the merits of holding such views (and creating such counter-discourses), they still hold their ground.
John also wonders: What has Gregg learned and what would he do differently? Gregg notes first the value of creating the proper format (including, for instance, the content and timing of the Questionnaire). Second, there is the need to address not only the issues raised but the tactics used (such as presenting “counter-discourses” at the end of a session), and understand that these likely result where the cost of taking this material seriously is very high, because it threatens views that function to console people, protect them, or make their lives comfortable.
Third, it is important to note that ignorance about various Christian beliefs is widespread. For example, the idea that someone can be a Christian for many years and yet claim not to know what God’s will is, in addition to being a rather devious lie, may also be related to confusing the idea of “knowing God’s will” with the idea of knowing God’s mind / what God may be “thinking.”