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This question came to mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in church, thinking more highly of myself than I should.

This isn’t a new question, by any means, but it’s still a deeply meaningful and relevant question for me.

Upon what does God look more favorably: loving others, even those who may believe differently, or prioritizing right thinking about God?

Now, you veterans of this sort of question are no doubt rolling your eyes right now, wondering how I can miss the obvious: “Hey Enns, go back to seminary. Everyone knows that right thinking and right behavior are not an either/or but a both/and. Jesus wants both.”

OK. Got it. That may be, but–if you’ll forgive me–if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen that theory not put into practice, I wouldn’t have to work.

Once we leave the classroom and step out into the every-day, does not “right thinking” among followers of Jesus–though theoretically the flip side of “right living”–too often overshadow common decency toward others (even toward fellow followers of Jesus), let alone the kind of love Jesus talked about?

So, let me ask it this way. What pleases Jesus more?

Loving those we disagree with, enemies, strangers, and other inconvenient people who wander into our lives while we also have unsettled theological issues about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity, the universe, humanity, etc., or…

Focusing our energies on establishing, maintaining, and defending “sound doctrine” to the extent that we either do not have time or it does not enter our mind to show loving kindness to others–or, we justify sacrificing loving kindness in our efforts to establish, maintain, and defend proper thinking about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity the universe, humanity, etc.

This is not a false dilemma. I am not setting up a straw man.

Neither is this an academic exercise. This choice is ever before us.

I am not against pursuing right thinking. And, again, I get that, theoretically, right living and right thinking are at home with each other.

But I am not asking a theoretical question. I am asking about a real choice each of us is confronted with more often in the course of a day than we might realize.

If we’re honest with ourselves,

Does the perceived “wrong thinking” of the other erect a barrier to our ability to “be Jesus” to them?

Is there a quiet check list, a test of some sort, the other has to pass first?

Do we shun, shame, or hate–openly or subtly–those who think differently?

Do we justify those behaviors because, practically speaking, doctrine trumps love?

And, what do we think God thinks about all this? Is God more concerned with us getting the ideas right or with living right?

I know what some of you eye-rollers are thinking: Jesus and Paul got plenty mad and “unloving” toward those who thought differently.

No, not really. Jesus got mad at hypocrites–the religious leaders who said one thing and did another…those who put right thinking over right behavior.

And Paul definitely had his moments, but his anger (e.g., Galatians and 1 Corinthians) was directed toward both wrong thinking and wrong living, and with respect to those in whom he had made a huge personal investment and over whom he had spiritual responsibility.

So we can’t use Jesus or Paul as an excuse.

For me, I am answering my own question with a yes.

Not in theory, but right here, right now: Jesus cares more about what we do than what we believe.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.