Recently, my friend and I discussed an interesting blog debate on a theological topic dividing our denomination. He responded that the original blogger would have no influence in the debate because he was not widely known and he lacked the right degree from the right university.
Unfortunately, my friend is exactly right: The blogger will be evaluated on his pedigree, not whether his argument is biblical, insightful or right.
Style over substance?
It’s not just education, of course. Modern folks also tend to judge a speaker’s wisdom by appearance, charisma, and entertainment value. If a beautiful person shares an opinion, we take heed. If an academic weighs in, we listen. If the message consists of sound-bite zingers, so much the better. But if the not-so-beautiful, the boring, or the uneducated deliver a thought, we ignore it.
The Apostle Paul’s opinion
The Apostle Paul scolded the Corinthian church for exactly this kind of misplaced values.
Some in the Corinthian church were judging and rejecting Paul because he was not an eloquent and impressive teacher (2 Cor 10:9-11) like Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Divisions in the church resulted as they took sides (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
Content, not charisma
Paul argues their split results from bad theology: some believe that rhetoric, style, and flair are more important than content. Paul argues that the content of the message — not the charisma of the messenger — is critical, and they are fools to think otherwise (1 Corinthians 1:17-31).
In our age of Facebook, Pinterest, and tweets, we ought to reflect deeply on Paul’s warnings about valuing style over substance. Today the person who wins the debate is usually the person who looks the best and delivers the most memorable sound bite. Our culture debates serious issues in 140 character tweets.
That bleeds over in the church so that we seek preachers who tell us stories, make us laugh, and tickle our ears with poetry and platitudes. We would rather listen to Jon Stewart than Jonathan Edwards.
We ought to take Paul’s warnings seriously and consider whether we are guilty of rejecting the Word of Life because we find the teacher dry. Are we missing the deeper truth of the gospel because we crave a diet of stories and zingers? Sure, no one wants to be bored. But like the Corinthians, we can cross a line.
We ought to think critically about how far we have slipped down the slope of valuing style over substance. The content of the message is more crucial than the letters after the messenger’s name.