Essay

Who do you let influence you?

During the pandemic, rather than going to church my wife and I have been watching the online services of North Point Church in greater Atlanta. Preacher Andy Stanley is a remarkable teacher and we’ve enjoyed and learned from his sermons. This has hardly been as spiritually valuable as the full in-person church experience, but it’s been far better than nothing.

Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley preaches on topics that teach us how to “make better decisions and live with fewer regrets,” as he says. His sermons tend to be heavy on life application, supported by an occasional Bible verse.

Overall, Andy’s teachings pass my critical-thinking filter. Every now and again he teaches something that doesn’t add up for me, and so I discard it.

The more I’ve listened to Andy’s sermons, the more I understand his overall point of view, and the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more it penetrates into my own thinking, and becomes part of my point of view.

This is true for all of us to some extent, even for the deepest critical thinkers among us. What we consume, we slowly become.

I think back on some of my influences as a young adult. I read all of the C. S. Lewis I could get my hands on. I read several books by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh to learn more about daily peace. I’m still glad for both of those good influences.

One influence that I fell into then that had lasting and unfortunate impact was the Church of Christ. In those days, most congregations in the Church of Christ were ultraconservative, legalistic, and deeply fundamentalist. I’m still cracking through some of the dreck that church implanted, and I’ve been gone from it since 2004.

I also used to let Rush Limbaugh influence me. I’ve always leaned conservative, and when his show was new it deeply appealed to young conservatives like me. But I couldn’t see yet that he was creating an us-them dynamic, making others out of “the Liberals,” effectively demonizing them. I may not agree with key Liberal positions, but that doesn’t make them demons. Rush influenced millions, leading the way toward the deep and destructive divisions our country faces today.

The point is, be careful what you let influence you. Guard your heart. Judge what is good and true and healthy, and leave behind anything that isn’t.

But the other side of this is, we have to let some things influence us. None of us is smart enough to figure everything out for ourselves, and no matter how much experience we have, the world keeps changing and our need to understand it does too. The things we let influence us can, if we choose them well, help us find our way.

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