I own a lot of books. One is written by, and about, a professional athlete who was disgraced in a very public fashion.Another is written by a famous comedian who also was recently publicly disgraced. I hate to get rid of books, but they clutter up after awhile and one has to prioritize.
- For the athlete, I will let the book go. The disgrace really undermines the message of the book.
- For the comedian, I will keep the book. The disgrace does weaken the trustworthiness of the book, but does not attack the central message. Also, this individual was essentially the only positive male role model on Saturday morning TV in my youth. Forty years later that still counts for something.
Still, in both cases the source of the book, the author, undermines the credibility of the book.
Sometimes, of course, good people can disagree on whether the source adds to or detracts from the credibility of a work.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German church leader and theologian during the period of the Third Reich. He stood against Nazi policies and beliefs, and ultimately died for this opposition. He joined a plot to attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler. For some, this act is morally untenable and undermines his credibility. For others, it demonstrates integrity of faith and action. There may be a disagreement there, but there is near universal agreement that the scores of German (and non-German) theologians who acquiesced or even actively supported the Nazi system have made their testimony and beliefs highly questionable. This is similarly true with Dutch Reformed Theologians in South Africa who supported and even theologically justified Apartheid.
- Anton Boisen was a Christian theologian who was the primary developer of Clinical Pastoral Training (more commonly known today as Clinical Pastoral Education). He ministered especially in psychiatric hospitals, attempting to bring together theology and psychology. He has had a profound influence on the modern pastoral care movement. However, during his lifetime he had several psychotic breaks. For one of his main collaborators in the CPE/CPT movement, Dr. Richard Cabot, the psychotic breaks led him to question Boisen. He did not wish to work with a “madman.” On the other hand, some would say that his personal experiences with mental illness added credibility to his beliefs. His personal experience adds authenticity to his theories. (Some people argue similarly regarding Friedrich Nietzsche and his drift into mental illness in later years. Does this invalidate his writings or not?)
The source does matter. Some theories of literary criticism desire to take the author out of consideration of the work. The work is judged on its own merits. In the politics here in the Philippines and in the US, I have had many tell me not to consider the character of those running for national leadership. But of course we look at the character. Frankly, those who say not to consider character, always closely scrutinize the character of candidates on the other side of the political fence. They overlook the deep flaws in their own candidate in hopes that he or she will “Make the Philippines Great” or “Make America Great.” (For me, I have zero interest in either being “great,” but I do have hopes that both the Philippines and America will be good.)
I am a Christian, not because of Christians. I am a Christian, not because of Christian leaders. Both of them fail— miserably and consistently. I am not even a Christian because of the Bible… despite the fact that I find it a great and inspiring documentation of God’s work in human history for our benefit.I am a Christian, and not some other faith or ideology, because of Christ. In the end, I have to consider the source.
You really should as well.