Theological discourse is necessary but dangerous.
Necessary because, as John Stuart Mill reminded us many years ago, truth is strengthened through dialectic. A good discussion, wherein points are made, challenged, refined and restated is a God-glorifying part of how we grow as followers of Jesus Christ.
Dangerous though, because it creates a context and a temptation in which we may experience and express contempt for our theological or ideological opponents. There is a world of difference between saying: “I think your perspective of this is off because of argument A, citation B, logical fallacy C etc.” and “You are a jerk, you are a coward, you need to educate yourself etc.”
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22 ESV)
The same Jesus who corrected the wrong interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees so definitively that: “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46 ESV), never addressed his opponents with contempt and never allowed himself to feel hatred in his heart toward those who disagreed with him.
That’s the Gold Standard.
As the standard of discourse in the culture plummets precipitously, and as many Christians appear, increasingly, to be taking their cue from culture and bringing harsh and condemnatory rhetoric into the church, I fear two things:
- The end of serious theological dialogue within the church
- The destruction of Christian witness in the Public Square
Both outcomes would be damaging for the cause of Christ in our times.
What is the solution?
Resolve to speak the truth in love.
Resolve to listen with humility.
Resolve to reply with grace.
Resolve to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
O God, help!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.