by Gardner Hall
Independent thinking about the Scriptures is good! The Jews in Berea weren’t satisfied with blindly accepting traditional Jewish interpretations of Scripture. Still, they listened to Paul with an open mind, searching the scriptures daily to see if his teaching was true.
Those who are presumptuous in their thinking often assume the label of “independent thinker” for themselves. Still, several clues indicate that their motives aren’t as noble as those of the Bereans:
An Air of Superiority
The Pharisees believed that their knowledge elevated them above the riff-raff, “this accursed crowd that does not know the law” (John 7:49). After all, contemporary scholarship rejected Jesus and his backward followers (John 7:48). As useful as knowledge can be, it also puffs up. Any pride that leads us to look down on “the common man” will put our own souls in jeopardy.
The air of superiority promotes teaching with sarcasm, often with unflattering references to individuals of the “CoC tradition,” “Pharisees,” and “legalists.” Yes, dangers represented by these sometimes-imprecise terms exist and should be confronted, but not with the disdain we see among the presumptuous.
Lack of Respect for Godly Teachers of the Past
Sometimes, godly men and women who have influenced our lives are disparaged, even though, in some senses, we may be standing on their shoulders. No, they weren’t right about everything, nor should we blindly follow them. However, many deserve respect and not derision for their own endeavors to imitate Christ and faithful early disciples, even though their efforts were often imperfect.
I can’t help but think of saints in my past who have been independent thinkers without exhibiting the rebellious spirit described above. I’ll miss many, but I will mention L.A. Mott, Robert Turner, Leslie Diestelkamp, etc. Going further back in history, I think of F.D. Srygley, David Lipscomb, Tolbert Fanning, Barton W. Stone, and others. They were by no means rock-bound traditionalists but were full of humility and love even as they tried to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long suffering while growing in their understanding of biblical truth. These are examples we can follow.