According to Stanford Business School, a divergent opinion can lead to better decisions. Scripture agrees, urging us to heed the divergent voice, especially during advent.
The Stanford Graduate School of Business November issue of “Insights” featured: “Do You Have a Contrarian on Your Team?” The article cited research indicating divergent opinions can lead to more creative and better decisions. Effective teams include at least one member with high emotional intelligence willing to play the devil’s advocate, presenting divergent and possibly disturbing views.
We see the divergent voice in scripture as well, particularly in advent. “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “visit.” During this season, Christians remember the first advent in Bethlehem in preparation for the second yet to come. Preparing includes assessing spiritual health and making corrections. This is aided by heeding prophets playing the devil’s advocate. They offer divergent opinions.
This sounds good until we remember the two dissenting voices in the first advent—Malachi and John the Baptist. In Malachi 3, God (through the prophet Malachi) said preparedness includes generosity, presenting “offerings in righteousness.” The Jews assumed they were generous. Wrong. God said they were robbing him. The remedy was giving “the whole tithe.” Did the Jews heed this disturbing voice? Nope.
In Luke 3 we read of John the Baptist calling the Jews “to prepare the way for the Lord and to make straight paths for him.” This image is drawn from Eastern kings who often boasted of the roads they built in trackless deserts. It’s a picture of powerful cultures. The Old Testament describes cultures as worn paths. The Jews understood that readiness included making flourishing cultures for the flourishing of all. Were they doing this? Nope. They had instead become insular. Did they heed John’s dissent? Nope.
Fast forward to Advent 2015. Does our advent season prepare Christians for the second advent of Christ? Let’s start with giving.
Our stewardship ought to fall somewhere between generous and sacrificial. Generosity is somewhere north of ten percent of income. Sacrificing is what banker Henry Thornton of the Clapham Sect did, giving away as much as six-sevenths of his income till he married, and after that at least a third of it.1 Believers today on average give much less, between two to three percent of income. But they assume they’re generous. Does this indicate advent isn’t preparing Christians for the second advent of Christ?
Or consider the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 2:15). This is the “foundational command” for the church, to make flourishing cultures.2 John the Baptist alludes to it in calling for straight paths, or flourishing cultures. Is advent preparing Christians for the second advent of Christ by reminding them to make cultures? Doesn’t seem to. In fact, churches seem to misunderstand what is meant by culture. They treat cultures as what we “engage,” attack, or shun. Wrong. Cultures constitute the air we breathe. We don’t “engage” air or attack it. Shun oxygen and you die. Divergent voices point this out.
In the book and film series, divergents are viewed as a threat because they display attributes of multiple factions. They see what others don’t. Prophets are divergents. But they’re not threats. They help make advent a season of preparation for Christ’s second coming. When heeded, Christians make better decisions and become better prepared.
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1 Ernest Marshall Howse, Saints in Politics (London: George Allen Unwin, Ltd., 1952), p. 134.
2 Dr. A. M. Wolters, “The Foundational Command: Subdue the Earth,” (Paper given at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, 1973), p. 8.