The Expository Files

The Right To Personal Opinion, No Excuse For Lazy Thinking


Our English word "opinion" comes to us from the Latin, dating back to the 14th century. Most contemporary dictionary entries define the word as an "appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter." An additional explanation is often given, that "opinion" is a "belief stronger than impression" but falling short of objective, positive knowledge. (In the legal discourse, an "opinion" may take on a more authoritative connotation, when a judge or court enters some formal expression of judgment.)

In matters relative to Bible teaching and practice, Christians are familiar with the distinction between "matters of faith" and "matters of opinion." In our vernacular, we are talking about the difference between written instruction from God (objective truth) and the personal preferences and practices we have liberty to hold, but cannot enforce on others (subjective opinion).

In Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8 and 1 Cor. 10:23-33, there is the basis for this distinction. Whatever endless debates may occur among brethren about such matters, there is a strong and clear biblical basis to exercise care in making this distinction between objective truth and subjective human opinion. We ought to allow one another the right of legitimate personal liberty, while we believe, teach and practice the truth of the New Testament without compromise. If we give up this distinction, we foster confusion, fuel immaturity and participate in division.

However, this does not argue that anything called "opinion" is innocent, advisable or in keeping with godly responsibility. I would like to stress, we should guard against using claims of "personal opinion" as an excuse for negligent thinking or attitude.

There are three kinds of "personal opinion" I want to classify. Only the first is worthy of our involvement.

Educated Opinion is the result of your serious thought to a given topic, event or outcome. You cannot objectively prove that your opinion is divine truth or even better than other viewpoints. But you have educated yourself through experience, and you have thought through to your conclusion.

Provocative Opinion is an opinion expressed simply to provoke. You have not objectively studied the matter; no homework, research or thought, you just say something to annoy. What you say may not even be your opinion. The point is not to enlighten, sincerely express a different point of view or request acknowledgement of personal liberty. Your purpose is to provoke. Apart from the thing said, the motive and attitude here is wrong.

"Parroted opinion" is nothing but repeating what you have heard someone else say. It sounded good when you heard it, and may enjoy some legitimacy - but you neglect personal thought; you just repeat what someone else said. This happens in public Bible classes periodically. The teacher presents the text of Scripture, offers admonition to help students understand and apply the passage - then asks for any questions or comments. Sometimes this request elicits nothing but a parroted opinion. Someone who hasn't really studied simply repeats what they have heard. In private conversation, you may hear someone express nothing but a parroted opinion. And in a journalistic context like this, careless writers may parrot what others have said. In this era of talk radio, cable TV and internet access to virtually every current human idea, it is easy to fall into the habit of talking without thinking; repeating cliché, opinion, and spreading (or forwarding) something you have really not studied. While Christians can claim a right to individual opinion, we have no right to spread something we have not really studied. We ought to be people who study and think before any form of self-expression.

We are challenged to put our minds to good use, to think (Matt. 22:42; Rom. 2:3; Rom. 12:3; 1 Pet. 1:13; 2 Tim. 1:7; Rom. 14:5). We are warned against the careless use of the tongue (Jas. 3:1-12). And we are under obligation to be individual students of God's Word (Eph. 5:10,11,17). Let us never use the right to individual opinion to justify any lack of thought or control; nor take opportunity thereby to speak without thought.

By Warren E. Berkley
The Final Page
From Expository Files 9.8; August 2002


 

 

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