What do a Jewish Rabbi, a Protestant Pastor and an Evangelical missionary have in common? Not much usually. But in discussions with three such people, I found that they were all “either-or” thinkers. “Both-and thinking” didn’t seem like a practical option for them.
My discussions with these three unearthed a profound frustration I have with what I consider simplistic thinking. Between you and me, “either-or” thinkers drive me crazy. Yes there are times we must choose between two options. I have no problem with that. But there are also numerous cases in areas of logic, evidence or theology that points toward the need for “both-and” thinking. More on that in a second. First let me tell you about my discussions.
The Protestant Pastor was suspicious of my commitment to peacemaking. He assumed that I did peacemaking to further my “hidden agenda” which was to share my faith. I assured him that peacemaking is a good work in and of itself that pleases God. If want to obey Jesus, I must pursue peace. I also said that bearing witness to Jesus is not a hidden agenda! As an evangelical, I am a good news person who wants to share my faith. The pastor thought I had to be either a peacemaker or a witness. He didn’t think I could be committed to both pursuing peace and bearing witness. He was an either-or thinker.
The Evangelical Missionary was clearly exasperated at my strong emphasis on peacemaking. Apparently this missionary feared that I was compromising the gospel. How could I be so concerned about peace when so many people need Jesus? I am concerned about pursuing peace because God is. But I am just as concerned about witnessing (and have been for the entire 40 years I have walked with Jesus). The missionary couldn’t imagine that I could be equally devoted to both. This missionary was an either-or thinker.
The Jewish Rabbi boldly declared during an interfaith dialogue, “Any religion that makes exclusive truth claims is a bad religion.” Pretty bold and pretty simplistic. (The vast majority of Muslims and Christians in the world make exclusive claims!)
But I understand the Rabbi’s concerns. People who affirm exclusive truth claims can often be unloving, puritanical, adversarial, and legalistic (the list could be shorter or longer, depending on the person or school of thought). Apparently this Rabbi couldn’t conceive of someone affirming exclusive truth claims, yet also being loving, generous and committed to peace. The Rabbi was an either-or thinker.
Ok, why does either-or thinking frustrate me, and why am I a both-and thinker?
- Jesus says we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4)
- Jesus teaches us to obey all that he commanded (Matt 28:20)
- Paul taught that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16)
- Paul taught the church at Ephesus the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27)
I am a both-and thinker because I want to please Jesus. We can’t pick and choose what verses we want to obey. Thus, I believe that evangelical peacemakers must be both-and thinkers … and doers! What kind of thinker are you?
(If you find this topic interesting, you should read the excellent article by Pastor Rich Nathan on “Building a Both-And Church Rather than an Either-Or Church.”)