In secular culture, open-mindedness and tolerance are two inviolable codes of conduct. These ideas sound noble on the surface, but our world has changed their definitions and weaponized them against Christianity.
Just try to voice a strong opinion, and you will be berated with accusations of being judgemental (sounds kind of like a judgment, doesn’t it?).
According to D.A. Carson, open-mindedness “no longer means that you may or may not have strong views yet remain committed to listening honestly to countervailing arguments. Rather, it means you are dogmatically committed to the view that all convictions that any view whatsoever is wrong are improper and narrow-minded.”
Rather than remaining firm in our convictions, we have succumbed to the pressure and assimilated these false brands of “open-mindedness and tolerance” into our Christian faith. The result of this syncretism is a highly privatized Christianity with an eroded sense of absolute truth and a fear of making any judgments.
I see this in art, as well. Christian artists don’t want to be “judgmental” so they say nothing, or keep things as vague and ambiguous as possible to avoid this label. But, good art does make a judgment! As artists, we judge things to be good or evil, true or false, beautiful or ugly. Good art has a message, and a message always includes judgments.
I realize that this is a highly countercultural perspective, but is it biblical? The Bible seems to support both sides of the debate. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus simply says ‘do not judge”, apparently leaving little room for doubt. Yet elsewhere in Scripture, He is frequently seen rebuking and judging the Pharisees for their behavior. Paul, in the space of a few chapters of the first letter to the Corinthians, warns against judging others and then teaches the Church that they should judge sinful believers and leave judging those outside the Church to God (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
How can we make sense of these apparent contradictions? A balanced reading of the Bible suggests that there is a place for judgment, but it should be done with caution, and not before two critical steps are taken.
The first step is ruthless self-examination. It’s the “log in your eye vs. the speck in your neighbor's eye” principle (Matthew 7:3). We need humility in judgment. To be truly humble, we must ask God to show us our hearts on the very issue we are judging. In doing so, God will often reveal our own shortcomings, so that we will be appropriately cautious, gentle, and loving in removing the eye specks around us.
Secondly, we need to be very clear about our motivation. The Pharisees were experts in casting judgment, but they were harsh and legalistic. They judged others to parade their moral superiority. There is a place in Christian art for proclaiming the truth and for denouncing evil, but if we feel led to judge, the only right motivation is a heart of compassion. In the example of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus first cleared out her accusers before saying “go and sin no more.” His judgment of her former ways was motivated by mercy and the desire to see her life saved. Our judgments must come from the same place.
It is easy to join in with the culture of our day and denounce all judgments as wrong, but to do so is not to love people. If we allow the world’s false conception of open-mindedness to paralyze our ability to make godly judgments, at best our art will become meaningless wallpaper and, at worse, we will be guilty of standing by as the evil in our world destroys people’s lives.
If done gently and carefully, judging might just be the most loving thing you can do for someone.
- Ben Pierce