When I was doing my daily run on the treadmill last week at the gym, I plopped myself in front of the T.V. that was airing the “Wendy Williams Show.” For those of you who know me, this might come as a surprise because I don’t normally watch T.V. I hate T.V. However, I’ve recently started watching the darn thing only when I run at the gym for two reasons. One, because the treadmills are plunked directly in front of a wall of T.V’s, not watching them is virtually an impossibility. Two, when I finally broke down and brought my iPod to the gym so I could tune in to the radio station that piped the audio feed in for the shows because I found that I could not speed read the closed captions and run at the same time, I found that it takes my mind off of focusing on how much I don’t like running. Now I get it. People who run or workout with ear buds stuck in their ears aren’t isolationists retreating into the cocoon of their own inner worlds so that they don’t have to talk to anybody. Rather, they are distracting themselves via audio stimuli from the fact that they hate sweating and exercising.
Therefore, to serve as an intentional “I hate running distraction,” last week I watched two episodes of the “Wendy Williams Show” and was absolutely astounded at what I saw. On both days, part of the show included Wendy approaching her studio audience with mic in tow so that her guests could ask her for her advice. In great anticipation, I was expecting people to ask her questions about topics on which Wendy was an expert. Of course, I didn’t exactly know what she was an expert on because before last week, I’d never even heard of her. In any event, I expected the questions to be related to entertainment or entertaining in some way given that she was a talk show host. However, people did not ask her those kinds of questions. Instead, people asked her questions about whether or not they should stay married or if they should approach a friend about a potential infidelity of the friend’s spouse, etc. At first I wondered if perhaps Wendy was really Dr. Phil who had gotten a sex and race change.
While I was listening to the myriad of questions being asked as well as the advice she was giving, all I kept saying to myself was, “Why in the world are you asking these kinds of questions to an entertainer who has no psychological or psychiatric training or training in marriage and family counseling whatsoever? She’s an entertainer for crying out loud.” I wondered if this was a case of the Halo Effect which is the phenomenon where people assume that because someone is an expert at doing A (being an entertainer in this case), then she is also an expert at doing B (giving marital and relational advice again in this case) or if this was just a case of really poor judgment on the parts of the people asking the wrong person for advice. I concluded it most likely was a little bit of both. While initially I found myself condemning the people on the show for doing this and Wendy Williams for encouraging it, I realized that we in the Church are guilty of this as well.
Starved for the answers to the questions that overwhelm our minds about our faith, we often turn to the wrong people. Rather than go directly to a trained pastor or someone whose has been through seminary or graduate school in theology who can actually give us sound theological answers, we instead turn to untrained small group leaders or Bible study facilitators or untrained fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not to say that our fellow untrained small group leaders and Bible study facilitators and brothers and sisters in Christ don’t have anything to offer because of course they do. God put us in a covenant community called the Church precisely so that we can learn and grow from each other. What I am referring to is different. I am talking about asking our fellow untrained brothers and sisters in Christ gnarly questions about the Trinity, how the books that are included in the New Testament became part of the Canon or questions that require some understanding of systematic theology so that the entire counsel of Scripture is taken into consideration and not bits and pieces taken out of an understanding of the social, political and historical context in which it was written or any understanding of church history.
Why is it important to seek out the right people and not fall prey to the Halo Effect or poor judgment when seeking out answers to some of our toughest questions? It is important for many reasons, but I’ll give you three.
One, it is important because when we don’t ask the right people, we end up incredibly frustrated because we cannot find adequate answers to the very real questions we or our friends are asking.
Two, it is important because when we ask Christians from different denominations questions without actually knowing what the theological denominational differences are, we end up incorporating incompatible beliefs into our faith and end up with a faith that purports to believe two diametrically opposed views.
Finally, it is important because it hinders our relationship with God. The truth is, in order to have a love relationship with someone we need to have accurate knowledge about that person. We need to know whether or not the person is honest, faithful, loyal, kind, gentle, God fearing, etc. and not merely someone else’s opinion on the matter. The same is true with our love relationship with God. In order to have a deep, intimate, loving and lasting relationship with God, we need to know who God has revealed Himself to be through General Revelation (outside the Bible, i.e. the created order) and Special Revelation (inside the Bible) and not merely someone’s opinion on who he/she thinks God is. Christians are a people of the book which means that the Triune God of the Bible has given man an understanding of who He is so that we can be in relationship with Him.
Does it give us a comprehensive knowledge about God? No, we cannot know God exhaustively. Having said that, there is a lot we can know about Him. Thus, it is important to seek out the people who have devoted their lives to learning about and understanding God because their insight can ground us in our faith more securely and help us deepen our relationship with Him as well. After all, if we don’t go to a medical doctor to get advice on how we should treat our gum disease, why would we go to a Computer Systems Analyst to learn about difficult questions about God?