A recent Christianity Today article by Marie Osbourne got me thinking about transparency and authenticity. Marie notes that Evangelicals prize these values, as does the culture at large. We demand financial transparency, food with integrity, and spin-free reporting. We desire real experiences, messy relationships, honest communication and vulnerable leaders. Believers long for all things "authentic"; authentic worship, authentic community, authentic evangelism (and the authentic list goes on...).
I happily identify myself as one who holds these values. Few things irk me like hypocrisy, duplicity, superficiality and disingenuousness. I see all such vices in myself. But is transparency an unmitigated good? I don't think so. I have two major concerns with "being real."
1. "Being Real" May Keep Us from Being Prudent: Prudence is a virtue mentioned frequently in the wisdom literature. To be prudent is to be discrete, circumspect, judicious and sober. It is to give forethought to one's words and actions. People who fear God exercise prudence. Fools don't. Here are some relevant verses:
Proverbs 10:19 - When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Proverbs 12:16 - The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
Proverbs 12:23 - A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
Proverbs 29:11 - A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
In sum, the prudent person exercises restraint. There are words she doesn't say, feelings she doesn't emote, thoughts she doesn't entertain, and reactions she doesn't express. She doesn't provide people a crystal clear window into her soul. Evil things dwell there which she doesn't want others to see. Restraint is wise. It is healthy, and it is biblical. We grace people by shielding them from the darkness within.
But if transparency sits atop your priority pyramid, you won't exercise restraint. Honest interaction (i.e. "being real") will trump any thought of prudence. This brings me to my second concern.
2. "Being Real" May Cause Us to Sanctify Our Feelings: It's important that we honestly express our feelings to God (the entire Psalter appears to confirm this point). But expression alone will not suffice. We must also evaluate our thoughts and feelings to determine if they align with God's thoughts and feelings. I may feel anger at a perceived injustice, but until I evaluate that feeling in light of God's Word, I don't know whether said feeling is healthy or destructive. Evaluation must follow expression. An over-emphasis on transparency may cause us to sanctify our feelings; to think that all our "natural" desires must be obeyed, lest we be hypocritical or inauthentic. But self-expression is not the mark of Christian maturity; self-mastery is (1 Cor 9:24-27; 1 Tim 3:2; 4:8).
Let's continue pursuing authenticity, transparency and messy relationships. But let's not do so at the expense of other biblical virtues.