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Malcolm’s Intellectual Integrity

Episode Summary

“Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

Phillip starts by reading this quote and saying that this quote is when he fell in love with Malcolm because this quote is evidence of Malcolm X’s intellectual integrity. As discussed, intellectual integrity is the willingness to follow courageously wherever the evidence leads. It is the humility to admit that we do not know all that there is to know, so we must be open to learning new things. 

Malcolm’s quote says, “despite my firm convictions,” and Taelor and Phillip discuss how we can hold to our convictions and use those as solid ground while we poke and prod ideas to discover truth wherever we may find it. Firm convictions should not keep us from admitting that we can learn something new, even from different people.

Phillip, quoting Sho Baraka, says that we should not be “so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Intellectual integrity is not searching for truth with no firm convictions. You need strong convictions but also the humility to know that growth only comes from being challenged.

This leads Phillip and Taelor into a discussion about tribalism. Phillip and Taelor point out that tribalism keeps Christians from connecting the dots; it keeps us from diagnosing a problem correctly. Tribalism promises us that we will have all the answers, but it becomes a handicap because it limits our view. Tribalism also robs Christians of our ability to love one another because it turns us into different camps arguing for our rightness. Tribalism also leads to intellectual dishonesty because it only cuts one way. It presents a false narrative and therefore only handles easy subjects. 

We must do away with tribalism if we wish to have intellectual integrity because it demands that we read and accurately represent those who disagree with us. Phillip and Taelor point that beyond integrity, Christian charity requires us to be able to assume the best about those we disagree with and to be able to represent their views accurately. As Christians, we should not be concerned with winning arguments but instead focus on discerning what a person is saying. 

Malcolm X’s intellectual integrity pushed him to be open to new perspectives, especially later in his life as he became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam. Some may say that this is evidence of Malcolm being too loose with his convictions, but the opposite is true. Intellectual honesty develops over time with life experience, especially when connected to a community that challenges us. 

Phillip and Taelor note that we have to seek out that challenge. We have to look for people to challenge us to not fall into the trap of tribalism. Tribalism is a trap because while it promises answers, it only gives half-truths. Tribalism can only offer the appearance of knowledge, especially when it calls us to be more devoted to our tribe and our tribe’s way of thinking than we are devoted to Scripture.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do firm convictions ground us when searching for truth?
  2. Why is tribalism so detrimental to the deepening of our faith as Christians?
  3. What do you think Sho Baraka means by the quote “So open-minded that your brains fall out”? Is this a critique of intellectual integrity or something else?
  4. Do you agree that Christian charity requires us to be able to represent the views of those we disagree with accurately? Why or why not?

Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain, where we offer Christian reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Philip Holmes. 

Taelor Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. We are your hosts. 

Holmes: So Taylor, today, I thought it would be helpful for us to look at a quote from Malcolm X, and the quote is basically addressing the topic of intellectual integrity. And this is his quote. It means a lot to me because this is when I think I, like, fell in love with Malcolm X, man. I love the way that this dude thinks. So I’m going to read this quote real quick. He says, “Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.” That’s good.

Gray: Man. There’s so much…so much in that quote, man. And I think, you know, as we talk about intellectual integrity, it could mean different things. Some would say it just means to be educated on some level, whether it’s a certain kind of higher education. In our case, seminary training. Some would say it just has to do with life experience. You know, like, different circumstances can teach you more about the realities that we face. But what are some, I guess, what are some reflections you have about just intellectual integrity? What do you think that that actually communicates, or how we pursue it? 

Holmes: That’s good. Well, I’ll just get straight to the point and read you the definition that I found that I thought was helpful. It says, “intellectual integrity is the discipline of striving to be thorough and honest, to learn the truth, or to reach the best decision possible in a given situation.” A person with intellectual integrity has a driving desire to follow reasons and evidence courageously, wherever they may lead. 

Gray: Courageously. Man. And you know, it’s interesting because it does take courage because you have to at some point admit that you’re headed into unknown territory. 

Holmes: Correct. 

Gray: And you’re posturing yourself as a learner. So, Malcolm starts off that quote, saying, “despite [his] convictions.” It means you can go—you can embark on this journey with your convictions. 

Holmes: Right. And he says, “despite my firm convictions.”

Gray: Yeah. Yeah. 

Holmes: So this was—this is one of the things that I think I appreciated about Malcolm. Because I think that a lot of people would be intimidated by a guy who has the convictions that Malcolm has, who was as zealous as Malcolm was about what he believed. And this is why I was so much able to identify with Malcolm when I read this quote—because I knew exactly what he was talking about. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: I feel strongly about some things. 

Gray: Yeah, me too.

Holmes: Sometimes a lot of things (laughs), depending on the season. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Right? And I will argue you— 

Gray: (laughs).

Holmes: —down. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: Like, let’s go! Convince me. Like this—but that’s essentially what I’m saying, right? I’m saying convince me. 

Gray: Yeah. Yeah.

Holmes: And I could be wrong, and I’ll be like, “you know what, you’re right, man.” It’s nothing for me on the flip of a dime to just be like, “yeah, you’re right.”

Gray: Well, you and I—

Holmes: And I’ll be sweating over here—

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: I’ve argued. 

Gray: I mean, listen, like you and I have experienced that, like in uncharitable conversation. You know.

Holmes: It has to be charitable.

Gray: It’s charitable, but there’s something really necessary to that, like in our experience as human beings, how we develop in our thinking, how we grow in our perspectives. You know, just one of the stories that I remember about you and I having this kind of interaction was we were at the Together for the Gospel conference, and then we were talking about racism. 

(Laughter)

Gray: And there was—who else was there? Was it Sean…Marks? Shout out to you, Sean.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: What’s up, man? We were just having a lively—

Holmes: That’s right, I remember that.

Gray: You—those—

Holmes: Yeah, you remember when that dude walked up?

(Laughter)

Holmes: He—homeboy—this is kind of when sort of, I guess people were, like planting their foot in the ground or whatever. But homeboy walked up and he tapped Taelor up, or whatever, and he shook his hands and it’s like—what’s up homie, blah, blah, blah. Man, I’m a huge fan, blah, blah, blah. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And then Taelor was talking to him, and then I introduced myself, you know, like a normal person would. “Hey man, I’m Phillip. Good to meet you, bro. 

Gray: Yeah. Yeah. 

Holmes: Like, not like assuming that he would know who I was, and still looked me up and down was like, “yeah, I know who you are.” 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes:  And walked off

Gray: That was—that was a moment, man. I was—

Holmes: I was like, “what?” 

Gray: Yeah. Yeah.

Holmes: I was like what. I—I was so taken aback, I didn’t even know what to do (laughs).

Gray: Dude

Holmes: I was—I was like, “Taelor, did that just happen?”

Gray: That happened man. And I was tripping a little bit, like I was just tripping at the contrast way that he introduced himself to me, and just the way that he interacted with you. Like, you know, we’re here as brothers in Christ at this conference together. 

Holmes: Yeah. It’s like, bro, you’re at T4G!

Gray: Yeah, bro. Yeah.

Holmes: Like—

Gray: Yeah. Yeah, man. It—but that was—that was just one of those moments where I think that you can—you can interact with somebody with different ideas, or you can explore an idea together from different starting points or different perspectives.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: But it was charitable between you and I. You know, this was like one of those in-between-main-session conversations, like, the real reason people go to conferences.

Holmes: Right.

(Laughter)

Gray: To actually sit to—

Holmes: To see the people they talk to on social media. 

(Laughter)

Gray: But I mean like, man, I love the spirit of this quote, man, because what Malcolm is getting at here is despite firm convictions, if there’s an opportunity for him to learn something new and reconsider, then he’s open to that. 

Holmes: Yep. And I’ve always been a man who tries. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: Right? So he’s even admitting there that, like, it’s not easy. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: I don’t always do it. 

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: But I’m trying to face facts. Because facing facts is hard. 

Gray: Facing facts is hard.

Holmes: Sometimes it’s easy to be wrong. Sometimes it’s very difficult to be wrong. 

Gray: Yeah. Yeah. And usually, it has to do with whether you’re privately wrong or publicly wrong. You know.

Holmes: That’s true. 

Gray: And so for him to say that, and obviously disseminate this thought publicly is interesting. I also— as it relates to intellectual integrity and engaging in dialog with somebody to either have your perspective enlightened or to educate someone who misunderstands your perspective…I think was really cool about Malcolm here in the vein of intellectual discourse, is that he is not an academic. You know, he is not a person who went through the levels of schooling that would classify him as a scholar or someone who exists in certain circles to talk about ideas on a high level. And yet he finds himself in these spaces all the time. So I think his background and ultimately his ascent into the place of social discourse and dialog informs his posture. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: Because he’s already been through so much in his life, whatever he could have thought life was, if…faced several traumatic events to alter his perspective. So that should also inform whatever we think about intellectual integrity or intellectual honesty. 

Holmes: Yeah, no, that’s good. I think tribalism plays a huge part. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: And the role—you know, I’ve kind of been thinking through the effects of Christian tribalism, and I’m trying to—I’ve been trying to answer the question: “okay, so why do most books regarding this issue of race, like major on problems but are weak when it comes to solutions? Like, why is the diagnosis of the problem often incomplete, inaccurate, or completely fabricated? 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Like why are as so many people….Why are so many of the proposed solutions either more influenced by political ideology than Scripture, or an oversimplified answer with Bible references, but little to no applicable substance? 

Gray: Yeah, man.

Holmes: And I think that the simple answer is that it’s complex. And folks can’t connect the dots due to tribalism. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Right? Because…I think this is why you have so many special interest tribes unable to see the forest for the trees. So, we’ve become so bent on convincing the masses that the tree that we’ve been hacking on is the greatest threat or the most important issue, that we’ve completely overlooked the fact that we set up camp in Mirkwood.

Gray: Yeah (laughs). I mean…and that’s a handicap. You know, let’s flat out acknowledge it for what it is, like tribalism is a handicap. 

Holmes: Absolutely.

Gray: You know? It’s you identifying with a limited view of the world and ultimately, in this case, a limited view of God, a limited view of the gospel, a limited view of how our faith impacts the world. And there’s nothing wrong with having convictions that align with your tribe. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: It’s just that in the spirit of Christian charity, as we interact with those who would also profess to have faith in Christ, are we even in a position to hear from and gain from other people who have other convictions? You know, and at least hear out what that what that conviction could be, and become a learner in something you’re not familiar with. Become a learner if it’s coming from a place that you rarely—if ever—have interacted with, you know? So that’s, again, when I read this from Malcolm, it’s like, man, intellectual discourse sometimes comes with the cool-kids crowd versus the outcasts.

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: And I think, you know, influence plays a big part in whether or not a person or a tribe will be heard. 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: So what we need to do—I believe—you know, not to get preachy, 

Holmes: No, get preachy, Pastor.

Gray: Hey, listen, man, I just—tribalism is just one of those nagging inconsistencies with the Scriptures. This idea that a certain group within the context of the family of God, or the community of faith, just is right universally. You know? Like they can conclude what should be known, what could be known authoritatively. And everybody else needs to just get down or lay down, or that’s just a euphemism for saying that you just must trust us because we know what the gospel is saying. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: And so that for us—I believe—is a handicap to our witness and ultimately is inconsistent with the Scriptures, because it hampers our ability to actually show love for one another. 

Holmes: Man. that’s good, that’s good. When you end up in these ghetto…ghettoized tribes, where you’re essentially stuck in some type of echo chamber, and the only thing that you’re hearing is essentially what you already believe, or what you would be prone to believe…

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: the reality is that you’re not being sharpened. Like—

Gray: One hundred percent.

Holmes: —you’re essentially being made a butter knife. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: You’re not really good for anything. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: And you’re only cutting one way. Right? The only thing that you can cut is the easy stuff. Right?

Gray: Yes. 

Holmes: But when it comes to something that requires rigorous intellectual engagement, and you’re put in a place where people don’t necessarily— aren’t necessarily—prone to believe whatever it is that you’re spewing, the reality is that whatever you say is usually going to fall on deaf ears. Not because they can’t hear, but they can see oftentimes the intellectual dishonesty. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: …that’s taking place. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: And because, again, you can create a narrative by misrepresenting people. You can create a narrative that seems to be right by essentially taking pieces—bits and pieces—of what someone says, or taking—being very selective with your facts. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: Right? That’s why when people talk about like: “the data says,” I’m like, “First of all, obviously”—

(Laughter)

Gray: THE data!

Holmes: —“You haven’t spent much time with data, because you can make data say whatever you want data to say.” Right? You—I’m a marketer, right? I do surveys all the time. If I want a survey—right—to come out saying something, I’m going to be very selective with the questions that I ask. Right? So—but if you’re a marketer who’s serious about data, you’re very—you have to sit down and you have to think very carefully to make sure that you help people get past their biases when you’re asking questions, right? 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: So, how can I get to the truth? There’s a question that gets to an answer that’s up here, and then there’s a question that gets to the underlying root cause. And you got to figure out what’s that question every single time if you want to get real data. 

Gray: Yes. 

Holmes: And I’ve just found that guys, when they’re engaging, and when they’re coming up with these arguments, there’s a particular narrative that—in an agenda—that wants to be pushed, and that agenda is going to be pushed regardless of what the truth actually is. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And this—and it’s unfortunate to watch it play out in Christian circles because, again, you find yourself in these echo chambers, and that means that you’re not really open to learning from the people on the other side of the aisle. In order to claim any level of intellectual integrity, you have to read–and represent well–those who disagree with you. 

Gray: Represent well those who disagree with you. Man, if you could spend time teaching people the process by which you can faithfully employ that kind of an ethic, then I think it would take much longer than we could measure, or even anticipate, to help people learn what that means. Like, so, to represent someone that you clearly have a difference of perspective with—to represent them accurately—

Holmes: Man.

Gray: I mean, like, that’s…that just seems like in an entire discipleship undertaking. 

Holmes: And not just accurately, but like charitably, to the point where whenever it’s not clear what they’re actually saying, you’re going to assume the best. 

Gray: And that’s the Christian ethic. That’s the—

Holmes: Exactly.

Gray: —Spirit’s work in us to take that extra step. And not just, you know, like you said, write some perspective on a whiteboard and point to it, but to engage with a person and say, “Look, man, I’m going to assume the best about what you communicate.” I think some people, they may try versions of that, but it’s eventually designed to cultivate a gotcha moment, you know. So you’re kind of coaxing them into this version of friendliness in the conversation—

Holmes: Yeah, bro, I’ve seen that.

Gray: Just so you can hit them with the hammer (laughs). 

Holmes: Yeah. Yep.

Gray: Because after all, you were charitable, and you made them laugh, or you shot a friendly affirmation or a compliment their way. But it’s not truly to hear them or understand them. It’s to persuade them that you’re right. 

Holmes: Right, right. It’s not to actually love them. 

Gray: Yeah, exactly. 

Holmes: Right? As a human. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: What often is behind some of the intense tribalism that we see are very, I think, human—these are very human qualities that evoke compassion that’s behind the intense tribalism, or the hefty arguments, or the sharp words. Behind all of that are people who—I think—are afraid. I think, behind that there are people who are hurt, who have suffered as a result of broken relationships and broken trust. 

Holmes: Right.

Gray: So even what you said, like taking an “L”—we look at that as not just the argument is lost, but the cause is lost. You know, where maybe this public display of not having the right thing to say, or not having the full perspective, or enough information to respond, is you losing and you looking like you’re unprepared, versus maybe that public representation of taking an “L” depending on how you extend this charity, is the thing that wins the other person. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: You know, just by stepping back and saying, “Hey, man, I don’t think I’m clear on some of the things that you’re saying. I want to take some time to think about that a little bit more before we continue to engage.” You know, especially publicly, you know, and that’s the trap of social media, is there’s no built-in charity. There’s a platform and there’s an audience, you know. 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: And people perform for audiences. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: You know, like we’re sitting here doing a podcast, and I’m sure we’re doing as best as we can to try to say the right thing, instead of what we would normally do if we were just having a regular conversation off the mic. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: So it’s that next level of saying, “I don’t want to just win this argument, but I want to discern what this person is actually communicating.” 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: So that we can charitably engage and understand each other in such a way that models the kind of unity that—I think—completely collapses all of the division and the structures that typically keep us apart. 

Holmes: That’s good, man. That’s real good. 

Gray: Now, with with Malcolm, man. Like, we continue to come back to this narrative of Malcolm versus King. Malcolm versus Dr. King. And we’re going to have to take a separate episode to just truly, like, walk down the differences between the two men. But what we do see and I think where we’re headed and in some ways, is there’s a convergence of their ideas later in their lives. They find that they have more in common than they have differences. They still have differences. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: But there there becomes a charitable conclusion to their relationship. What once was—and this was largely Malcolm throwing jabs publicly to someone else—becomes a man who sits down and reconsiders everything. And that kind of stuff—again, that’s not learned in the book. That’s learned through life experience. 

Holmes: Yep. 

Gray: So as Malcolm becomes disappointed and disillusioned with this religion that he has given his life over to, and things play out in such a way where he has to distance himself, he becomes open to a whole other perspective of life and God. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: …that we just saw the…and we just saw the beginning of that. 

Holmes: Right. Right. Malcolm never got the opportunity to fully evolve, because who’s to say where he would have ended up 20 years later, 30 years later? And it’s unfortunate we never got the chance to witness that, because both he and King were the types of individuals that this generation—it feels like at least—God is sovereign. When a man’s time is up, a man’s time is up. But it feels as if, on some level, there was still more to learn from both of those individuals

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Because they were still—both died in their 30s. 

Gray: Yep, which is incredible to think—just for me personally—and, you know, we were talking about this a little earlier—we know we don’t think the same way we did when we were 22 years old. Like this whole idea of being intellectually honest, that (Laughs) practice evolves over time, and with whatever we have the capacity to understand in different stages of life. 

Holmes: Because oftentimes you just have to be wrong enough to realize dang

Gray: Dude.

Holmes: I thought that I had it—because when you’re in your 20s, man, you think you know everything. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: You’re ready to teach folks some stuff. 

Gray: Yep. 

Holmes: And then all of a sudden, you know, the cliches or the caricatures, you know, don’t work anymore. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: And you quickly realize that, you know, like I don’t know as much as I thought I know—I knew. And then you get married, you really realize how much you don’t know. Because like when you’re single—I mean, and to some level, if you’re single and you’re not intentional about community—and this is almost anybody—you can create this little echo chamber. Then when you get married, you get this new person enters into the mix, and they begin to challenge your core ideas. And so…but even after a time, like your marriage—your household—could become an echo chamber. The reality is that you always got to make sure that you’re connected to community, and connected to other people who are willing to challenge you. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: And you got to invite that. When—I realize this: as somebody who has very strong convictions, I realize that I have to invite challenge. 

Gray: Yes. 

Holmes: I just can’t assume that people are going to disagree with me, or contradict me or, you know, I have to say, “Listen, tear this apart. Please. Tear this apart. Here’s what I think right now, but rip it apart. Help me. What do you all think? Where are my holes at? Where are my gaps at?”

Gray: Yeah. What we believe in terms of our identity in Christ is almost a progression of childlikeness, where we are constantly evaluating what we know, what we think we know, and ultimately what we hope to learn. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: What God is teaching. Practical ways this plays out is, you know, in the Scriptures, you’ve got Peter who has an idea about what the church is, and what the church should be. And yet, there is a person being risen up under completely different circumstances to actually write the majority of the New Testament. And when these two men converge, it’s not because they share the same ideas about what should be done. And yet Paul legitimately has a mandate from Christ to go and do something that the other apostles were not called and told to do in the same way. You know, like Paul’s specific mandate is like—look, you’re going to suffer in this proclamation of the gospel to the gentiles. And Peter is still wrestling with his idea of what that looks like. Lived experience with Christ, lived experience evangelizing, ministering to Jews in the Jewish culture within that context. Meets Paul, and pseudo agrees with this idea that the gospel’s supposed to go to the whole world. Yet when the moment comes for him to affiliate fully with that conviction, Peter tries to have it both ways. 

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: He tries to affiliate with Judaizers and say, well, you know, you probably should get circumcised. And then Paul has to—in his face—he has to correct him publicly. So, but then the end of that story isn’t Peter retreating to his tribalism. It’s him writing charitably about Paul later and saying, “You guys should listen to Paul. A lot of the things that he has to say may be hard to understand, but this brother knows the same Christ that I follow.” So we don’t…we don’t play with that charity. We don’t make political posts to seem like we have this relationship, when really behind the scenes, we’re not feeling these guys, and we never would really kick it with them anyway. But this unity that’s crafted by the spirit causes us to converge in ways that open us up to learn more fully what God is teaching us.

Holmes: That’s good.

Gray: Look, bro, Malcolm is just that guy—I think that within the context of organized religion even—like the way that tribes start to form— what is Christianity becomes a subject of debate. Like what even Malcolm concluded about Christianity, which we’ll talk about later—the critiques become valid. And then you start to ask these questions. And I’m not saying I’m fully resolved to this notion, but you start to ask questions about what in a person like Malcolm X’s life models, the ethic that we believe? You know, like this—what we’re reading in this quote—this is an ethic that we believe. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: You know, something that Christ taught. So if you’re going to—like we talked about earlier—are you going to shut down Malcolm X and say, “No, he’s just altogether harmful?” Then you’ll lose a powerful example that ultimately should inform our identity as believers. 

Holmes: Yeah, that’s good. I mean, let’s talk about the search for truth and the snare of deception. 

Gray: If I could be (laughs) direct here: what’s more important in our time now, like, you know, like is…and I know that this is a bad question on its face, like, but what’s more important: the search for truth or exposing deception? 

Holmes: So when I say “the snare of deception,” I guess with what I mean is, I think I can’t help but think about the Sho Baraka quote: “So open-minded that your brains fall out.” As a Christian, the Scriptures have to be your guide.

Gray: One hundred percent. Yes. 

Holmes: Right? So I guess what I’m ultimately trying to get at—that there is…there’s a person that searches for truth that never actually—because this is different from Malcolm, right? And I think this is helpful. There’s a person who searches for truth, but they never have any firm convictions. But they’re always on this never-ending search for truth. 

Gray: Yeah. Tossed to and fro.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: By every wind of doctrine. Yes. 

Holmes: Exactly. So I think that it has to be made clear. Not for us, not to us, not between us—but for those who are listening, to make sure that they hear what we’re saying and what we’re not saying. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: You need to have firm convictions, but you need to allow yourself to be challenged. 

Gray: Yes. 

Holmes: You need to allow yourself—you need to have enough humility to step back and listen. Right? Because what you believe is the truth…if—even if the Scriptures are your final authority, perhaps it’s not that the Scriptures aren’t true. Perhaps you’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood the Scriptures. 

Gray: Yeah. And that goes back to your point about community, being in a space with people who would challenge you…. according to the Scriptures. If you’re not going to do the work to study the Scriptures—study to show yourself proved, and understand to the best of your ability with seeking what God’s word is actually teaching us—then how could you be equipped, even in a public forum, or private forum, to argue or contend for the faith? You know, in your own mind, maybe you say, “I’m contending for the truth,” or “I’m contending against deception.” But if you haven’t done the work of studying the Scriptures to actually form that foundation from which you spring from, in engaging with any idea, then yeah. I mean, then your ground is going to be shaky. You know, and you’re going to—you may be that person that becomes tempted to just exist in the land of ambiguity and say like, “Well, you know, I think I can gain”— No. There is a rock that you can stand on in the Scriptures—in the word of God, that helps you navigate with everything—navigate every kind of idea. And that’s the fear thing that I was talking about earlier—is I think there are folks who are truly— they’re afraid that if they step or venture into ideas outside of their tribe, that somehow that’s a departure from the gospel. 

Holmes: Yep. That’s because they’re living on sand. They think, listen, here’s the thing. So I had this happen to me. This is a perfect example. So when guys, you know, first come into a reformed theology, they tend to read and regurgitate more theological conclusions than Scripture. 

Gray: Yeah. 

Holmes: And not that those theological conclusions are necessarily wrong, but they have this appearance of knowledge. It’s posturing more than anything else. Case in point, I tweeted a few weeks ago, or maybe a couple of weeks ago, “A husband protects his wife from external threats by defending her. A husband, protects his wife from internal threats—And I put in parentheses “even himself”—by empowering her. Now, a guy, who is sort of the Calvinist circles, said “Instead of promoting worldly philosophies like this”—

Gray: Man.

Holmes: “We should simply just love our wife like Paul says in Ephesians.” I don’t know, man. 

Gray: But that’s my point, though, Phil, is that when you’re so devoted to your tribe, you run the risk of actually walking away from the faith you say you stand for. You walk away from the faith when you walk away from the Scriptures. 

Holmes: Right.

Gray: You know what I’m saying? So if you can’t even exegete a text-based off of something very elementary, you know—like what you’re saying. Like, I’m not hearing some complicated theory that you’re throwing out there for controversy’s sake. 

Holmes: No. 

Gray: Depending on how sensitive the tribe is to those words that you used, you could be labeled a charismatic fanatic for saying—

Holmes: It doesn’t matter! The Scriptures say power!

(Laughter)

Holmes: And this particular tribe has a huge problem with misogyny. 

Gray: And and there it is. There it is. The tree is known by his fruit, you know. And at the end of the day, as it relates to what truth is, I think that there’s something to truth that, you know, unsettles us because of how definitive it is. And yet it should secure us, and actually form our sense of protection and confidence because it is true, after all, you know. Like it’s not something that can change with the winds of society or perspective. What you’re saying, like that’s such a deep truth that, you know, whatever people’s concerns are, or fears that they may be projecting on you, it doesn’t change the truth. You know?

Holmes: No.

Gray: It’s what it’s like for me. The example in the Scripture around this that always gets me is Pilate’s response to Jesus. Because Jesus is essentially communicating to him that I’m here because I’m the—I am the truth. I am the one who is sharing the truth and inviting people into the truth. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: And for him to be so definitive in saying that in that way, threw Pilate off. He was afraid. He—everything about what he thought was real was being shaken.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: To the point wherein his high office he’s asking the guy who he has the power to execute: “What is truth?” He’s having a philosophical conversation or inviting one in a moment where it doesn’t make sense. So there’s something about truth that I think can be known, can be observed, can be measured. And thank God that Christ doesn’t mince words about the truth. He makes it very clear that it’s in me.

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: I am the truth. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: Listen to what I say and follow it. And man, like if we stick right there, then we find ourselves equipped to engage with any idea. I’m…I love…that’s the kind of confidence I want to have about my Christianity…

Holmes: That’s good. Yep.

Gray: …is that somebody can engage me with some crazy idea, but standing on the truth and studying the Scriptures—

 Holmes: Yes, you got to study them. 

Gray: I can then employ Holy Spirit discernment in the way that I engage with everything, which may mean I need to engage this idea head-on, or it may mean that I need to take an “L” you know because the truth is not just the argument. The truth is that this person may be dealing with something that is not going to be solved by me embarrassing them publicly, you know, so…

Holmes: And also to have to realize that while you are an ambassador for the Scriptures, you better be very careful about what you say on behalf of God. If you’re God’s ambassador—if we are ambassadors for Christ—we have to be very careful that we are saying what he has commissioned us to say. So that means sometimes we just got to be quiet when we don’t know the answer. 

Gray: Well, you just—you went right where I wanted to go. At least—in just kind of making the point in conclusion—what we’re describing in long-form is humility. 

Holmes: Yeah. 

Gray: You know, it’s the long-form breaking down of the posture of humility. We have to consider others before ourselves. We have to be quick to listen, slow to speak. And that’s the work of God in us, for us to approach things in this way. So, again, I appreciate what Malcolm says, because he does hold to his firm convictions, but he’s willing to listen, to reengage with something or someone, to observe facts, you know? And so for those who are really on the wait for the facts train, it better be all facts. You know, what is the full scope truth? 

Holmes: Yep. Yep. It’s more than just a fact here or a fact there. 

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: You got to take the facts and then you got to draw a conclusion. Taelor, I enjoyed just having this conversation with you, man. This was so helpful—we’ve got to wrap this up because you’ve got a plane to catch, bro. 

Gray: I do, man. But we’re going to be having more. We just cracked this open. So I look forward to more conversation. 

Holmes: Likewise. 

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.