Randy Harris on the Importance of Epistemological Humility

Disagreement with me is not necessarily disagreement with God. If we are not humble about what we know, we are unteachable…For example, I’ve changed my mind on Romans 7. Once I was absolutely convinced that Paul was talking about his post Christian experiences….As I kept reading Romans 7, I became absolutely convinced that I had it wrong. Now, I think Paul is talking about his experience of trying to be righteous under the law, experiencing a transformation of the gracious call of Jesus Christ, empowered in a way he never was when living under the law. I had been wrong. There have been other cases like this, with even more critical doctrinal issues at stake. but if we aren’t a little humble about what we currently believe then we are unable to have open conversations and find it extraordinarily difficult to learn anything new. – Randy Harris in God Work – Confessions of a Standup Theologian, 15-16

I would say Randy is wise beyond his years but he is getting older. I saw him at Gulfcoast Getaway in January. He was dressed in black, as always, so I asked him if the event coordinators couldn’t at least replace the red cord on his ID badge with a black one. Harris is an exceptional speaker and is extremely gifted in connecting with college students. I think that is true because he is not afraid to be honest. He is not afraid to be honest because he is not looking to prove himself right. He is looking for truth. Young people today respect that. He personally exhibits this characteristic of epistemological humility that he describes so well in this quote.

I highlight this quote because more and more of our churches need to be in tune with this principle. Let me put it bluntly. Churches that don’t will decline sharply within one generation and will likely not exist in any recognizable form within two. For so many years some within our fellowship have tried to corner the market on truth, proving ourselves right and everyone else wrong. In order to do so some avoided, neglected, proof texted, or shouted away areas of weakness. We believe scripture contains the truth as God has decided to reveal it to us and yet we do have honest differences in interpretation, not just between different Christians but even within our own views as we grow and mature over time.

God never intended the world to put up with or open up to his people when they were proud, disingenuous, and uncaring. He didn’t intend that because when we act that way we cannot accurately reflect the living and loving God we serve to a world that is all too familiar with death and hatred. But if we are willing to recognize our weaknesses the world will see that we are finally ready to have a discussion where we treat them with love, respect, and dignity. When that happens, expect to see the church engaging the world at its very best and expect to see some of those in the world respond in a way they never would when they knew we were not ready to humbly acknowledge our shortcomings.