Is There Value in Possessing a Small and Narrow Mind?

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about a couple labels used by insular people to critique the perceived insular perspectives of others – “small-minded” and “narrow-minded.” 

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In a time when tolerance as a virtue is given supremacy in our culture, I wonder if Christian culture has also been influenced by this same mindset. It’s understandable how this can happen. When every person is able to decide for themselves what is acceptable and what is not, we end up with an inability to adhere to well-defined, long-standing realities. We dismiss or deny actualities based on our current thinking which is often tainted by tolerance. We moderns know what is best.

We’ll defend our own ideas simply because they are our own. There’s no way we could be mistaken. We’re too smart or experienced to be tricked by anything that varies from our well-informed understanding. 

We are so much like Pilate asking, “What is truth?” when the Truth is standing right in front of him. He can’t see truth while staring at it. He’s blinded by his own position, politics, and prejudices, just like us. 

So, when someone challenges our ideas we label him or her as “small-minded” or “narrow-minded” in an attempt to protect our own hidden prejudices. 

These are the labels that I’ve been thinking about. 

No one wants to be small-minded or narrow-minded anymore. That’s for ignorant, cave men; jungle-dwelling tribal members who have yet to experience the modern world with its super-information highway. People who don’t read, can’t use the internet, or possess a 55 IQ qualify as small-minded. 

These terms are usually used in a derogatory sense. You should feel bad about yourself if you are small- or narrow-minded. Those using these words may see you as biased, uninformed, or just plain ignorant. It’s not a good thing to be small-minded. 

I disagree. There’s another way of understanding these terms. 

Support for Smallness 

There are specific areas of our thinking where smallness is to be celebrated. It’s foolish to think that every idea has value and should be accepted. There are some people who espouse the idea that a Triune God does not exist. Many religious groups, including Moslems and Mormons, do not believe that Jesus is of one essence with the Father. The true Church has always worshipped the Trinity, one in essence. The Church is being small-minded and that’s a good thing.   

Normal Christianity values a “small” mindset over being broad-minded or “thinking big.” Modern societal norms pressure us to think and act like consumers, desiring more and better, striving for more comfort and less suffering. Yet, thinking small denotes humility, contentment, and perhaps simplicity. Are there any virtues more dismissed in our culture than these? 

Jesus teaches us that the small and narrow way is the only way to life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it. Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7.13-15)

In this context of “narrow” and “broad,” Jesus introduces false prophets. True Life is only found in the narrow and small. False prophets operate in the wide and broad leading to destruction. Sounds to me like we’re supposed to experience the narrow and small not the wide and broad. Our “way” of life is to be small and narrow. 

It’s small-minded to experience Jesus as THE Way, Truth, and Life and to live in the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We cram our lives with so many distractions from the Way, so many ideas that are not Truth, and so much that sucks Life from us, that we easily succumb to the broadness of our culture and society.

This includes the broad Christian culture that embraces anything that resembles something Christian. If it happens in church it must be OK. If our favorite theologian teaches it, it must be true. Popular Christian musicians sing heresy and we’re blind to it. The new, hot Bible teacher goes off the interpretive rails and we think he’s/she’s just being creatively innovative. 

Jesus became small when He became man. Yet, in taking on human “narrowness” he experienced human life to the fullest. I imagine a fuller human life is only possible as we become content, humble, and live in union with the Trinity as Jesus did.

Paul illustrates in his life and also writes that we are to be content in whatever situation we’re in. Normative Christian living prioritizes the narrowness of humble, godly contentment. (Philippians 4.10-13) Making sure we’re not small-minded is never mentioned. 

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6.6-9)

We need to be well aware of our desires (“lusts”) because destruction is found in our desire for “broad” and “more.” However, it looks like contentment is found in our desire for “narrow” and “less.” 

Context Matters (and often we don’t actually know the context)

I do understand there are ignorant, petty, biased, bigoted, and reactionary people all around. In these cases, “small-minded”/“narrow-minded” might apply. We need to be cautious about placing these labels on others since each one of us possess these same characteristics. 

Additionally, to label someone “small-minded” when they are simply challenging or disagreeing with us, is well…you know. ????

Obviously, in using these labels (whether we should or not could be debated), context matters. It might be best not to use them at all. 

Bottom line? I’m comfortable with being labeled small- or narrow- minded in the sense of theological truth, Church teaching, and spiritual practice. I want to be small-minded vs. high-minded or broad-minded. I want to know what it is to experience the narrow and small way like Jesus did. 

I want to be small-minded when it leads to humility and contentment. I want to be narrow-minded when it comes to truth. (Problems arise we think we know the truth when it’s not really the truth.) 

Being small-minded doesn’t have to be an unfavorable attribute. It may just as well describe someone who is humble and content. 

Small and narrow – seems to be the way of Jesus. 

What do you think? Still not convinced? Got you thinking? Have you struggled with being small (content, humble)? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K