People find reasons to like what they like and to hate what they hate--or, more frequently, who they like or hate. In the one case, flaws are easily forgotten and dismissed while virtues are magnified. In the other, the virtues are forgotten or dismissed while the flaws are magnified. In the one case, we canonize our heroes. In the other case, we demonize our enemies.
Human nature, however, is complex. We rarely do justice to people by canonizing or demonizing them. In fact, to do either is to dehumanize them and to blind ourselves to the real effects of both depravity and grace in their lives.
Scripture certainly depicts people in all their complexity. It shows us the flaws even of heroes like Abraham, David, and Peter. It also allows us to see grace at work in the life of a Manasseh or a Nebuchadnezzar. A Christian attitude toward people will surely adopt a similar perspective.
These observations have been occupying my thoughts lately. The process began with reflection upon one of my predecessors at Central Seminary, Richard V. Clearwaters. "Doc" (as he is still known here) is one of those figures who has been both canonized and demonized. He has been a hero to some and a villain to others.
My early acquaintance with Doc came mainly through historical study. The more interesting aspects of Doc's life tend to be those in which people got hurt--and people who have been hurt often demonize whomever they think has hurt them. The historical record contains plenty of confirmation that Doc was a skillful ecclesiastical politician. He not only knew how to get things done, but also how to get people to do what he wanted them to do, whether they liked it or not. Read more...