Theology in Diverse Community
In theological discussions, I regularly quote Reformed confessions and catechisms. In certain circles I even regularly quote Lutheran confessions and catechisms. Both are sometimes met with frustration. There is an innate desire among some to move within the realm of mere Scripture or Biblical Theology. I understand and even share these desires. However, when speaking temporarily as we humans often do, I find it pertinent to constantly bring up what the church before us has said.
Similarly, I am willing to express grievances with confessions and catechisms. This is often met with frustration. There is a very practical desire to move within the safety blanket of the confessions. I also share this desire. The confessions are an inseparable link the church before us. I am fervent to keep them the church with and among us. Yet, the Scriptures remain the sole authority above doctrinally accurate confession.
This is not an easy line to walk. Calling out people's exegesis is not a kosher thing to do. Calling out the confessions are even more non-kosher. We live in an even more dramatic and existential age where these kinds of questions provoke half-baked conversation on social media that are spurred more by emotion than dedication to furthering the cross. How can we reduce the amount of useless doctrinal scuffles online? Here are a couple of the ideas I have attempted to practice to turn these discussions into profitable experiences.
- Start with clear statements about what we believe. There is a growing trend of passive aggressive question and answer sessions. These sessions feel like being walked into a bear trap. Everyone's defensive barriers go up out of basic reflex. This hurts the ability to discuss. Instead, start out a discussion by both making a clear presentation of your position. Listen to one another. Accuracy and understanding is important.
- Accept that we disagree (if we do disagree). While avoiding a blatant pluralism (eg "everyone's position is correct"), it is incredible valuable for both sides of a discussion to just come out and state where they disagree. Then accept this fact. Fruitful discussions will not develop under the weigh of trying to convert one another. Further discussion will attempt to provide clarity to these differences. Accepting that we disagree requires an important caveat though...
- Avoid strawmen and false representations. This point cannot be over stated. In a direct discussion the most offensive thing you can do is put words in each other's mouth. Hopefully, the discussion has begun with a clear statement of both positions. Likewise, the differences should be clearly stated. Focus on those statements and respect them. Do not ask questions that seek to undermine the consistency of a position. And certainly don't begin the "it logically follows then ..." type of statements. Respect the carefully expressed positions of the discussion.
- Provide clarity and learn. With less time spent arguing over strawmen, a discussion can become profitable through clarity. If we are honest, many discussions are spent talking past each other because we don't truly know how each side comes to their conclusions. We know the conclusions. We think we know methods. And this presumption often leads to the aforementioned strawmen. Instead ask honest questions of clarification that dig deeper and provide more clarity to each positions and the true difference.
- Get to the exegesis. My last recommendation is to get to the Scriptures. The best way to provide clarity to positions and differences is to address the texts. Addressing the texts that we disagree on reveals the hermeneutics and presuppositions being brought to the text. Try to avoid incorporating every relevent text in the canon. Focus in on how you disagree and what other Scriptural passages this might impact. You now have a list of other passages to discuss respectfully.
- Take it offline. Okay, this is my real last recommendation. As quickly as possible take the discussion to a private place. Either through private messages, e-mail, texts, or phone calls. There are times when good conversations need to be public. But that means they also need to be controlled and have the above ideas enforced. The peanut gallery is primed to set the discussion off track. Privacy is a discussions best friend. Especially if one or both sides have to apologize for something along the way.
Thoughts? Ready for a discussion?