Those of you who know me know that I have had quite a bit of disruption in my personal life caused by theological disagreement. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of those stories firstly because I hope they are part of my past and not an ongoing part of my present. Secondly because I want to honor those people who have disagreed with me and keep their reputation as clean as I possibly can. I will say that some of the most miserable times in my life were direct results of the confrontations due to theological difference. These were times that caused extreme anxiety, emotional pain, and agonizing stress. I cannot be too clear on this point that theological disagreement has, in my life at least, brought about some of the most painful moments.
As I was packing the final items into our van for our move to Frankfort last friday, I experienced yet another unprovoked confrontation due to theological disagreement. It was a short and ultimately resolved conflict that was as one-sided as it was brief. It came on quickly like a storm on the Sea of Galilee and vanished like Nick Saban from a coaching job. I’m pretty sure it will be an isolated incident. But it did make me think of the lessons I have learned through the storm.
- Establish Common Ground – Too many times, theological disagreement gets too personal and nasty because the parties involved don’t take the time to agree on something. Focusing all of our energies on each others differences can sometimes lead to great riffs. We need to acknowledge the differences yet find a way to bridge them in such a way that we may still meet for fellowship.
- Evidence Christian Charity – I can’t say enough about this. If you cannot state your disagreements without getting nasty, then walk away. There is never room within a theological disagreement for personal attacks. The mercy of God demands that we show mercy to others. When in a theological disagreement, when tensions are high, it is imperative that we not resort to name calling and barbed words that have no bearing on the discussion and offer no help to the problem before you. Again, if you can’t be charitable then shut your mouth and walk away.
- Encourage Communication – One of the cardinal sins during a theological disagreement is to shut the doors of communication too early. Disagreement actually has the potential to show the love of Christ in a particularly brilliant way. If we break off the conversation never to revisit it or bring it to resolution, then we are disobeying the commands of Christ to be reconciled to our brothers and to be of one mind. When theological disagreement begins, there should always be lots of communication in order to clarify the salient points of the argument and make sure that it doesn’t slip into some useless turmoil over personality or some petty thing. There is never such a thing as too much clarity. And of all things in a disagreement, we should want to be understood and to understand.
- Engage the Contents of Scripture – You cannot have a theological disagreement if you are not searching the scriptures for answers. If there is no handling of the word of God, then all you have is mortal quibbles over words. No profit can ever be gained from arguing something without having God address the subject through His word. Now this presupposes that both parties believe that the Bible is trustworthy and useful. If this is not the case, then this particular battle may not be for you. Just make sure that the Bible is the center. Remember that you could be wrong and that God is using this other brother to sharpen your thinking, understanding, or actions. Only God through His word can clarify such things and without it we have nothing but hot air.
- Enlist Counselors – There is a wealth of biblical wisdom to back this one up. Never, may I repeat, never enter into prolonged theological disagreement without the aid of some trusted advisors. Mature believers may be able to carry on with great length and vigor some disagreement without it going south, but most of us will need to hear the voice of reason during such times. Trusted counselors are those that you can be sure will give you objective advice, always seek the Lord in prayer and in His word, and can keep things out of the public square that don’t belong there. Use people like this to keep the conversation honest and helpful. Don’t abuse these people by allowing them to become the refuse pile where you dump all your garbage.
- Eliminate Counterfiets – Truth is truth. Never compromise truth for the sake of unity. If you are convinced of truth and your conscience binds you there, do not forsake yourself. In the end, it will not benefit anyone. There really is no good to be had in feigning agreement when there is no agreement to be had. This only leads people into a very frustrating and delusional place. It creates a sense of immediate calm but prepares everyone for tumultuous times when the facade is ripped away. Stick to truth. It is too costly a thing to give up for any reason.
- Entertain Change – You are not the smartest person God ever created. You are not the sole depository for truth. You may be wrong because your brain is the brain of a twisted sinner. Don’t be hard-nosed for the sake of being hard-nosed. Some donkeys that won’t budge just need to be shot or left behind. When there is sufficient evidence to suggest that there may be another way of thinking through an issue, give yourself a chance to evaluate your own position. Don’t be afraid to say to someone with which you disagree that you need some time to think through the evidence presented and that you are not sure what you think yet. There is no shame in taking the time to ensure that you know how deep the water is before jumping into the pool. Nobody is perfect. Make sure you realize this about yourself from the beginning.
- Entreat Christ – Heed the words of the Apostle Paul. Pray without ceasing. I have never been in any sort of situation (good or bad) that this was not a pressing necessity.
Obviously, these tips presuppose some major stuff. I would just add as a caveat that this does not apply to cases where the gospel itself is on the line. All bets (and gloves) are off if the defense of our very faith is at stake. I am not suggesting that we allow the wolves into the playpen. I am suggesting that where non-essentials are concerned, there should be room for Christians to disagree without burning down the storehouses and driving the family off the farm.
May your future theological disagreements bring glory to Christ and advancement to His kingdom.