Installment 3 (see the two prior posts below) is from the 21 June 2005 edition of Occasional Espistles of Grace and Peace and is entitled Of Disclaimers and Critical Thinking.
Given my profession I regularly surf church, parachurch, biblical studies and other like ministry websites. Invariably I run across disclaimers, usually on the links pages, that read something like: We at Church X/Ministry Y/Organization Z do not operate these websites and cannot be held responsible for their content/point-of-view/doctrine/teaching, (etc.) so we caution you as you read and study them….You’ve seen them, you know of what I speak.
Maybe it is the cynical devil perched on my shoulder, planting malicious doubts into my ear, but I can’t help but read them with a bad taste in my mouth. The impression I get when I read these disclaimers is that there is an ironic twist to freedom of thought. As long as you are within, say a church-controlled site, you don’t need to think for yourself (because it is safe in here), but if you go elsewhere, then you’d better put your antennae up because who knows what you’ll run across. “Inside” there is no need to be critical, but on the “outside” then you’ve really got to be on your best guard. Seems skewed to me: skewed in favor of self and against the other guy. That is probably very unfair and condescending of me, but its what I feel when I read them. Maybe I ought to lighten up, get over it, and let folks run their own sites as they see fit.
I’d phrase a disclaimer differently. Instead of cautioning my readers against all sorts of (possible if not probable) horrid misinformation I’d just invite folks to read and think and study for themselves and leave it at that. I hope I’d recogize g that no site is error free and we are all subject to our own kinds of misinterpretation, fallibility and exegetical nonsense. I hope I’d put my own stuff at the top of the fallibility list.
I’d like to see a ministry post a disclaimer about its own content; something along the lines of “You know, we’ve done the best we know to do, but no doubt we have probably really misread Scripture somewhere in all of this, so be a good student and exercise discernment. We’ve also linked to some sites we think will add to your comprehension of the story of God. We encourage you to read them with the same charity and discernment as you would use here. Above all, let’s all use our minds to the glory of God and in love to our fellow seekers.”
That is as close to a “disclaimer” as you’ll get on my blog. So friend, love the Lord with your mind and give your brother the benfit of the doubt. To tweak a phrase: Don’t criticize until you’ve thought a mile in the other person’s head.
Grace and peace.