In the previous post, Todd Burus asked a question concerning the response to Calvinism among some in the SBC. The post has generated a number of comments that are helpful in understanding the issue. Of course, Calvinism is only one among many issues present in the SBC today. Similar issues, even some that came up at the annual meeting last week, include Baptist identity, alien immersion, alcohol, separation, cooperative missions, who can take communion, neo-Landmarkism, church growth methodology, contextualization, the list could go on…
Having read much about doctrinal controversies in Baptist history, lived through the tail end of the Conservative Resurgence, been to numerous Baptist meetings on the associational, state and national level, listened to Pastor’s Conference sermons and committee reports, participated in blog discussions, had late night debates, participated in doctoral seminars and colloquia, read Baptist newspapers and editorials, met with entity Trustees, and generally been willing to discuss any topic with anyone on virtually any occasion, I have experienced and engaged in my share of disagreements on various issues. Often, I am disheartened by the nature of such disagreements. At times, I have been mischaracterized, mistreated, or just frustrated by the lack being able to come to any common ground. Too often, I am ashamed of my own conduct and failure to handle disagreements in a Christian manner and one that seeks God’s truth.
I do not suggest that there should be no disagreements or there should be peace at any cost. Some issues are worth a fight and some hills are ones on which to die. I want to be diligent in my quest for truth and fighting for those things which truly matter and about which I have an informed conviction. Still, not all disagreements rise to that level. Further, I want to handle disagreements in a Christ-like manner. I offer the following as my own reasons for why, many times, we engage in fruitless arguments and come out so strongly against brothers with whom, rather, we should unite around the gospel. I offer these not only as observations of the actions of others, but traits I have sometimes seen in myself and am working to avoid. I offer such for your consideration.
Things to avoid in our disagreements with others:
- A willful ignorance in which we choose to embrace a caricature of someone’s view rather than truly seek to understand it – or worse, an intentional dishonesty in advancing such a caricature we know to be misleading or untrue.
- An unwillingness to allow persons to speak in their own words and argue against the actual content of their position.
- Rejection of a view “out of hand” without having considered the merits of the argument.
- An unwillingness to engage in real discussion, either talking past each other by ignoring the honest questions of others or engaging in debate/rhetorical techniques that are designed to win an argument rather than actually seek the truth.
- Taking offense or rejecting an argument because of a perceived practical implication or application of someone’s view rather than the view itself.
- Ascribing a perceived logical outcome of an opponents view and attacking that outcome rather than the view itself.
- A willful blindness to our own presuppositions and or a failure to acknowledge those presuppositions of which we are aware.
- Parsing words to the point of ascribing hidden agendas or extracting meanings never intended by the person.
- Failure to give one’s opponent the benefit of the doubt in terms of personal motives.
- A blindness to our own motives and personal agendas.
- Attacking the character of the person rather than the argument made.
- Responses that are reactionary not thoughtful – i.e., responding to something which we have neither read, sought to understand, reflected, nor considered the merits yet on which we have a strong, unwavering opinion that must be heard.
- Responding to critics from a defensive posture rather than engaging in real discussion in a common desire for truth.
- Name-calling or lumping a person into a particular camp in order to dismiss one’s argument without engaging it.
- A dogmatic approach to issues which are tertiary in nature, on which persons of good conscience disagree, and which are more unclear in Scripture than we are willing to admit.
- A failure to do theological triage resulting in an elevation of tertiary issues to secondary or even first order status.
- A failure to have an irenic spirit and treat our opponents with respect.
- A lack of humility.
I hope this list is helpful. I certainly need to monitor my own actions in disagreements with others. Also, I should say that I have had far more disagreements that have been handled in a Christ-like, truth-seeking manner by all involved than ones characterized by what I have described above. I am encouraged by men who are willing to engage in cordial debate and a common desire for God’s glory as we seek to be faithful to Christ and His word. Ultimately, I want to see Southern Baptists finally and forever give up fighting over non-essentials and unite around the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart longs for that day and the recent annual meeting of the SBC advances that hope. Lord, let such begin with me.