Ready to get your rear-end kicked (but with love)??
Well, I’m happy to help you, then. My own hindquarters are now quite sore, after reading the article that I describe (and quote from) below, and I’d love for you to join me in a bit of Christian masochism. :p
My Uncle Steve, whom I hold in high regard for the quality of both his brain and his Christianity, wrote a short blog post on, basically, arguing fairly. He linked to an article on the topic that is, shall we say with gross understatement, meaty. It’s basically about sticking to your guns (when it is appropriate to do so), with love.
Here’s the full text, written by Dr. Roger R. Nicole, addressed to Christians, entitled How to Deal with Those Who Differ From Us. It’s a lengthy essay in three parts: “What Do I Owe to the Person Who Differs From Me?”, “What Can I Learn [from them]?” and “How Can I Cope with [them]?”
Dr. Nicole gives many examples from church history, often prefacing them with statements such as, “As you may know…” and, frankly, I didn’t know at all! The way he writes, it is obvious that he is frequently engaged in matters of doctrinal controversy, which, honestly, I rarely find myself. In fact, a fair bit of this essay is just shy of being over my head. However, there is enough that is not completely beyond me, and those parts which I can understand are incredibly valuable and wise, making it a worthwhile, if weighty, read. Here are some of my favorite bits:
Christians have not managed in many cases to win over their opponents. They have shown themselves to be ornery; they have bypassed some fairly important prescriptions of Scripture; and in the end, they have not convinced very many people.
We have an obligation to the truth that has a priority over agreement with any particular person; if someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to minimize the importance of the difference; and therefore, we do not owe consent, and we do not owe indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being-we owe them to love them.
…I would say we owe our opponents to deal with them in such a way that they may sense that we have a real interest in them as persons, that we are not simply trying to win an argument or show how smart we are, but that we are deeply interested in them-and are eager to learn from them as well as to help them.
The truth that I believe I have grasped must be presented in a spirit of love and winsomeness. To do otherwise is to dispute truth itself, for it is more naturally allied to love than to hostility or sarcasm.
It is truly a pity if we fail to take advantage of opportunities to learn and develop what almost any controversy affords us.
When we are unwilling to acknowledge our fallibility, we reveal that we are more interested in winning a discussion and safeguarding our reputation than in the discovery and triumph of truth.
People who are unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes … may be called stubborn and lose their credibility.
The adversative situation may well force me to give better attention to the fullness of revelation and preclude an innate one-sidedness which results in a caricature that does disservice to truth no less than the actual error may do. … The person who differs from me may render me great service by compelling me to present the truth in its completeness and thus avoid pitfalls created by under-emphasis, over emphasis and omissions.
The effort made to clarify our thought for others will often result in clarifying it also for ourselves. We may thus secure a firmer hold upon the truth, a better grasp of its implications, and relationship to other truths, a more effective way to articulate and illustrate it.
Since we are obliged to seek the unity of the truth [in Scripture], a plausible interpretation that averts a conflict deserves the preference.
… we must ever strive to take account of the fullness of biblical revelation to have the boldness to advance as far as it leads, and the restraint to stop in our speculations where the Bible ceases to provide guidance.
Christians have wasted a huge amount of ammunition in bombarding areas where their adversaries were not in fact located, but where it was thought they were logically bound to end up.
Perhaps the most important consideration for the Christian is to remain aware at all times of the goal to be achieved. It is the consistent perception of this goal that will give a basic orientation to the whole discussion: Are we attempting to win an argument in order to manifest our own superior knowledge and debating ability? Or are we seeking to win another person whom we perceive as enmeshed in error or inadequacy by exposing him or her to the truth and light that God has given to us?
God has appointed all of us to be witnesses to the truth. (John 1:7; Acts 1:8) God is the one who can and will give efficacy to this witness. We should never underestimate His ability to deal even with those who appear most resistant. Who would have thought that Stephen could actually reach the heart and mind of anyone in the lynch mob that put him to death? But his great discourse was actually sowing goads in the very heart and conscience of Saul. (Acts 26:14) Acts 7 showed that his argument was sealed by his Christ-like spirit in the face of this atrocious murder. (Acts 7:59-60) His witness was used by God to win over perhaps the ablest of his adversaries, who was to be the great apostle Paul!
Dr. Nicol concludes with a verse that is both lovely and admonishing: “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel: instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses…” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
In Steve’s post, he mentions a post of mine as being a good example of “fair” arguing. However, held to the light presented by Dr. Nicole, I can see that I have a long, long, long way to go.