Is it okay to admit your mistakes? If a pastor says something from the pulpit on Sunday and realizes on Tuesday that he was wrong, should he come back the following week and set the record straight? What about if someone writes a book and then, after it is published, finds out that he wrote something incorrect or changes his view about something he argued for in the book? Can a teacher admit to his students that he was wrong? Should parents apologize to their children? Wouldn't it just be better to move on and hope that no one notices? Highlighting your flaws will only make you look weak and untrustworthy. Right? Wrong. I actually think the exact opposite is true. A person who is unwilling to say "I was wrong" is a person that should not be trusted. Unfortunately, our modern culture does not look favorably upon those who admit to error (unless it means agreeing with them on something). We have bought into a lie that some people are perfect (even physically, thanks to Photoshop), all the while knowing that we are deeply flawed. That is a terribly dangerous psychological place to live--a soul sucking chasm that exists between the perception of perfection and the reality of frailty. It is no wonder that so many of those we champion as "flawless" end up taking their own lives. I don't say that lightly or to suggest that the problem only affects celebrities. I mean it as a serious warning to all of us.
In particular, those of us who desire to defend the Christian faith must be careful to avoid falling into a personal infallibility complex. Intellectual honesty is foundational to effective Christian case-making. It isn't limited to possessing a willingness to admit when we are mistaken. And it definitely doesn't mean shielding yourself from criticism by saying "I'm just being real" or "I live an authentic Christian life." These are often smokescreens--ways of avoiding the reality of being wrong by acting like it is actually a virtue. Intellectual honesty is an attitude that completely changes the way we engage the world around us. Have you ever listened to talk radio and heard someone like Rush Limbaugh have a conversation with a liberal? That is how our interactions with non-Christians will be if we exude an attitude of personal infallibility. If you can't ever be wrong then why should you listen to what a person who disagrees with you? Before long, people who disagree with you will conclude that you aren't interested in the truth but only in the sound of your own voice. You may actually be right, and people who agree with you may worship the ground you walk on, and that may be just fine for a radio personality. But that isn't the goal of the Christian project. Francis Schaeffer said it well:
"We tend to give the impression that we will hold on to the outward forms whatever happens, even if god really is not there. But the opposite ought to be true of us, so that people can see that we demand the truth of what is there and that we are not dealing merely with platitudes. In other words, it should be understood that we take the question of truth and personality so seriously that if God were not there we would be among the first of those who had the courage to step out of the queue."