Late last year I was faced with two very difficult issues with our Press Service International ministry whereby we publish young writers articles in Christian Today. Today there are 85 young writers, but then - there were 72 young people - involved from Australia, New Zealand and around the world.
Two very different articles came across my desk, both of which my sixth sense, or one might dare to say the Holy Spirit, alerted me that there was something not quite right. I sought advice and wisdom and in the end we did not allow either article to be presented to Christian Today for publishing.
That led me to thinking about holding a Christian position 'on scepticism and cynicism'. I am a former train driver (10 years) and street wise, and having written 16 books on train driver's anecdotes, I've seen a lot, read a lot and have developed a bit of a 'nose' (6th sense).
Scepticism and cynicism stand high in my world
First things first, the dictionary and an Internet search. A sceptic (or skeptic, the spelling is interchangeable) doubts the truth of 'the Christian or all religious doctrines'. It also coveys the idea that this person is 'unconvinced of truth of particular fact or theory'.
A 'Christian sceptic' is thus impossible in this strict definition. However, a Christian that senses when something done or said 'doesn't ring true' is exercising a form of scepticism as used in our language of today. The term 'healthy scepticism' is regularly seen and heard. That is something familiar to us all.
Again the word 'cynic' coveys ideas of someone who is churlish; captious; incredulous of human goodness; sneering. Here again, the Christian can exercise cynicism when something 'doesn't ring true'.
I was listening to a talk by a retired Lieutenant Colonel on the 1966 Vietnam War battle of Long Tan recently, he pointed out that after disastrous leadership by non-Australians in WWI and WWII over numerous campaigns, the Australian Government made it a condition that their troops in Vietnam would be under the direct command of Australians.
That is a literal sense of scepticism and cynicism, it's a very Aussie trait that has its roots with the first Fleet. It was widely exercised by the leaders who found themselves in charge of a settlement with completely novel social situations, as they realised that London's view of their predicament in settling a new colony was unreal and completely out of touch.
It came naturally to the convicts as they reflected on their plight of being sent to the other side of the world for stealing a handkerchief; and also that those 'in charge' were in a new situation divorced from the rigid class structure of 'old England'.
Therefore where might such attitudes of scepticism and cynicism appear in the Scriptures, the idea that when something 'didn't ring true', or evidence that people had followed their own conscience about what was 'right'. I found such attitudes from Genesis through to Revelation, and possibly the most important use was in helping to separate truth from falsehood.
Truth will set you free
When something 'doesn't ring true' or 'something doesn't add up or not quite right' - it carries a deep inner feeling that convinces that what is presented as truth, is actually false; often without being able to articulate why it is false. Every ounce of one's soul erupts with this sense, and this is why Jesus said, that the truth will set you free.
I then read afresh Paul's letters to the Churches, and realised that Paul warned his readers to be on the lookout for those who would take Jesus work on the Cross and misconstrue it.
His warning was focused on leaders of congregations who had come in and given a different Gospel to what he had taught them. Paul got wind of these things by members of those congregations who understood that the teaching of Paul's opponents did not ring true.
The Book of Galatians heightens this specific attitude, and today there are numerous Christian Internet sites that alert us to rogues in the disguise of preachers, often backed by internal governance structures and so-called 'theological' positions, that are set up to scam and to steal.
Paul spoke of the fruits of the Spirit, yet gave equal weight to being watchful and wary of those who spoil the truth. We will find in any congregation those who put more weight on one or the other, and this generally provides congregations with balances.
For me, I err on the side of having an attitude of scepticism and cynicism in my Christian ministry where so much of what I have seen 'hasn't rung true'. Balance is important here as my wife Delma of 38 years has a disposition towards the fruits of the Spirit.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html