09 January 2012

Living as a 'Proactionary' rather than a 'Reactionary'

by Dr Mark Keown

The other day I heard a prominent US figure speaking about the various Republican candidates seeking to win the nomination for the upcoming US presidential election. The interviewee stated his preference for one candidate and the interviewer asked why he was against the other candidates. He responded stating that it was not that he was against the other candidates, it was that he was for a particular one and his views. He in fact stated that he liked all the candidates in some way or other and could live with them winning, but had a strong preference for one.

This got me thinking about something that irks me a lot as I observe the world including many Christians – the problem of people defining their perspective by what they are “against” rather than what they are “for”. Put another way, it is the attitude of living reactively as a reactionary, rather than proactively as a proactionary.

So many people define themselves against what others hold, often as a result of their experience or observation e.g. a reformer. This is common among people who are or were part of a system but then begin to recognise its weaknesses and their whole mindset becomes defined by a determination to reform or overthrow the system. This is perhaps fine and perhaps required in certain contexts and historical settings. Yet I wonder whether, while it can seem noble and impressive, if it can have the effect of narrowing the person’s thinking as they allow themselves to be completely dictated to by a system, whether for or against it. They become negative people who live out of critique, seeking to tear down rather than build up.

I am irked to be honest by the number of Christians I meet who think and live reactively against this or that idea, whether it is the or a church or denomination, an aspect of theology, a worship style, etc. They are preoccupied with tearing down rather than building up. This is common among theological students and dare I say, immature theological thinkers, who define their belief systems against what they have come from or observe. Often the people or ideas they are attacking are God’s people and his church. They even unwittingly violate the ethic of the gospel in their zeal! They fail to realise that they are meant to contribute and be the solution to the problem they perceive. They fail to see the good in those around them, allowing themselves to believe that everyone has it wrong, and “I have it right” – this is hubris and leads to imbalance and even a cult-mentality.

I think rather, that we Christians are called to think proactively and positively, not so much what we are defined against, but what we are for – proactionaries. So, for example, one can define their perspective on the church by critiquing incessantly the “church,” a denomination (e.g. Presbyterianism), its music, or this or that theology. We say things like “the church does not believe…”; or, “the theology of the music is…”; or, “you never hear a sermon about …” That is all very well, and maybe there is truth in the statement. Yet, isn’t it better to live proactively? To state what we are defined for not against? We can then appreciate the positive in our brothers and sisters and their thinking, and be proactive positive agents bringing a fresh perspective, building up, rather than tearing down.

So going into 2012 I suggest we step beyond defining ourselves by what we are against and rather live and work for what we are for, as proactionaries. We spend less time regaling the “failures” of those around us, but see the good in them, and proactively work with them for the gospel. For example, I am for God, Jesus, the Spirit, the Trinity, the Kingdom, the Church, mission, evangelism, social justice, love, service, koinonia, discipleship and devotion. I am going to live positively and proactively seeking to see these things in more abundance. So, I leave you with these questions – is your life defined by what you are against or for? Is it time to shift from being a reactionary to a proactionary? What will you live for in 2012?

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