Editor’s Journal: From good to God
Richard Weaver’s 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences, helped entire generations to understand human culture by working to clearly examine the underlying reasons for each human action. Recognize and identify the philosophy in play, and you would be able to predict at least some of the consequences when the idea had fully worked its way through various groups or governments. Take away all manner of careful examination and a bad idea might gain traction and become very difficult to slow down or stop before the exact opposite of what was intended became reality.
John Kotter, a Harvard scholar, summed up how a good idea can easily be stopped through his new book, Buy In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down. His analysis could easily find a home for most business meetings in Southern Baptist churches. He identifies four common strategies for defeating good ideas: fear-mongering, death by delay, confusion and ridicule. Lest there by any doubt, he actually provides phrases to indicate that an idea is on its way to death. “We’ve been successful, why change? You exaggerate the problem; You’re implying that we’ve been failing; and You’re abandoning our core values” are found on a list of 24 statements that sound the alarm that there is blood in the water.
Kotter goes on to explain that an idea is good only when it can withstand severe scrutiny under pressure. Leaders should expect pushback and actually work to create it in some ways. Blind loyalty is an indication that the idea, while it may be good, has not been tested and strengthened through the process of examination. Without rigorous testing the idea becomes easy prey to the slightest hint of disagreement. Human anger, Kotter reveals, is often an indicator that the idea is achieving its goal—change. “Once aroused,” Kotter writes, “anxieties do not necessarily disappear when a person is confronted with an analytically sound rebuttal. If humans were only logical creatures, this would not be a problem. But we are not. Far from it.”
There seem to be few really good ideas. Most ideas emerge in a crisis and should be discarded, as they are merely emotional responses to perceived attacks or blocking maneuvers created to deal with pesky people who dare challenge the process. This begs the question: what makes something good? Is something good because it brings pleasure? If so, heroin could be considered by some as good. Is a process good because it is efficient? If so, the process whereby Jews were led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz might be rendered good. Is something good because it creates change on multiple levels? If so, a house fire might be classified as good.
And here we slam up against Weaver’s thesis: the reality of ideas is that they are far more complex than originally thought. The consequences of a bad idea can easily become unmanageable and lead to even worse problems than originally encountered when a new (supposedly good) idea was required. “Good” implies something moral that ultimately finds its foundation in God.
Jesus brought the theological implications of “good” to light in an encounter with a rich (and outwardly “good”) man. When a man came to him and asked him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus centered on the word, good. His response was nothing if not surprising. “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good,” Jesus said. That One was God—alone. The greatest ideas, therefore, are those in accordance with God’s revealed Word—in this instance Jesus referenced the Ten Commandments (Matt. 19:16-17). The sheer fact that the man considered himself one who had kept all the commandments is proof positive that few of his ideas were good since he was unable to recognize the only good idea that could get him on track. He, as a sinner, was far from good.
In like manner, it is natural for churches and ministries to want to embrace good ideas, systems, and practices. For the Church, however, her greatest ideas are not generated by human beings, but revealed by God alone. Problems arise when Christians begin to think that God’s good ideas—those ideas revealed in Holy Scripture—are somehow in need of revision or amendment. Among evangelicals, this does not often take place through an overt denial of the truth of a passage of Scripture. Rather, bad ideas mask themselves as “good” through a new process or a new perspective that (at the beginning anyway) is touted as good.
Human ideas occupy a difficult space between God’s revelation in Holy Scripture and modern realities. Closing that gap is the task of the Church. Tinkering with Scripture will seek to make old ideas bad. Magnifying a modern idea or system as ultimately good will seek to make all new ideas good. Essential goodness is always associated with biblical godliness. The job of the church leaders is to make sure they never separate what God has joined. Only God is good. All others and their ideas are always subject to scrutiny.