Richard Foster once made three profound observations about humility, stating:
‘…it soon becomes apparent that:
1. Study demands humility. Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to subject to the subject matter…we must come as a student, not teacher.
2. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it.
3. Arrogance and humility are mutually exclusive’ (2008:82)
Here Foster is concerned with the polarised disconnect between arrogance and humility in the context of study, viewed as being one of four inward spiritual disciplines.
Over the years I have learnt the importance of humility. The process involves having a loving conscience, and being open to the possibility that other Christians may stumble. Primarily due to my own advanced or under-developed theological and socio-political understandings. (1. Cor.8:11)
In 1975 Liberation theologian James Cone stated that:
‘most theologies [and other academic disciplines]are in fact an, [advantaged class] bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation’ (1975:43, words in brackets mine)
My most recent reflections on the issue of pride has in part been driven by this damning metaphorical indictment. It is a caveat, that I am in cautious agreement with. Only as far as this statement critiques pride and ‘disturbs the sinner in his or her sin’ (Karl Barth).
From a Western perspective, personally, I would not be designated as having come from the advantaged class. Nevertheless I do believe God’s love as expressed through Father, Son and Spirit in the biblical texts, summons us to wrestle with the pride that can be produced by the very knowledge which He rightly and richly encourages (Eph.1:7-10). Whether you are a Christian or not – God sends the rain to provide for both.
Therefore, I would argue that God’s blessings are to be nurtured because they can too easily become prey for the tempter.
Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor.8-10 when he invites the Church to identify its idols because:
‘Idolatry exposes people to serious danger…the strenuous self-denial of the athlete…is a rebuke to half-hearted, flabby Christian service. The athlete denies themselves many lawful pleasures and the Christian must similarly avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders spiritual progress…however God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life in this; he is concerned and active. He will always provide a way out…therefore our trust is in the faithfulness of God’ (Morris 1996:137, 141 & 142)
Zeal (whether it be labelled liberal, conservative, red-pill, blue-pill, extreme or otherwise) must not become arrogant, conceited, and over-empowering whereby it puffs up one person to dominate over another unjustly.
Pride is, and can only ever be an enemy of grace – pride is like a tool for the ‘nothing’ (Barth’s term for absolute evil) to corrupt God’s blessing. As a consequence pride becomes an enemy to freedom, and a threat to community, worship, marriage, family – progress.
I have interpreted this in light of the caveat ‘do not become the dragon you are fighting against’ (Nietzsche paraphrased by Phillip Yancey, 1997:232).
This means my response to pride must become ‘reflective instead of instinctive’ (Karl Barth C.D IV.4:182); putting off well-engrained, survival mechanisms that help me hide in bitter pride rather than heal in humility.
It may be too simple to suggest that humility wins. After all rejecting pride is not an easy task and mantra’s themselves can become tired, meaningless words. Suggesting that humility wins is not the same as saying ‘love wins’ because it is more specific. In addition, it does not mean allowing ourselves to become doormats or subjugating ourselves to indentured, unjust servitude. What I mean is that humility drives us forward unifying us in our agreements, and promoting respectful dialogue in the areas where we disagree.
Even. When. We. Mess. Up…
This week I witnessed the public shaming of a Christian who I think is unique, spirited, and missional. The matter could have been better handled. For example: the grievances held by the leadership of that community should have been addressed with her in private.
The event is a reminder of Paul’s call, already mentioned, to work towards preventing the wounding of other Christians in areas of their lives where they are either exhausted or under-developed. To this task the Church in its various expressions and forms, ‘works towards the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31) rather than the glory of self.
By choosing to include this in their response the leadership would have not just carried out the loving act of correction (which they did), but engaged in the loving ‘act of consideration for her limitations ’ (Morris, 1996:124-123, italics mine). In so doing they could have strengthened this sisters understanding by carrying her to the light of even greater insight and participation in the community.
Sadly, preventing the fallout from this, is now perhaps just another missed opportunity for the Church to act holistically on the commands of the One we say we follow.
Cone, J.1975, God of the oppressed Orbis Books NY
Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline (1980) Hodder & Stoughton UK
Morris, L. 1996 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians Intervarsity Press Wm. B Eerdmans publishing
Yancey, P. 1997, What’s so amazing about Grace? Zondervan Publishing House
 The actual quote reads ‘the man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you’ (Beyond good and evil, p.63) – This is not an endorsement of Nietzsche or his philosophy, it is a critical application of a controversial statement used in order to illustrate a point.