Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Guidelines for Thelogical Discussion in the SBC

I spent some time talking via e-mail with a friend today about theological discussions. So often, those discussions, even among friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, turn ugly, and nothing is ever accomplished. I think this is, in many ways, the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention. We've forgotten how to disagree in a Christlike way. I wrote a few things down for my friend about what I think the ground rules of theological discussions with friends should be, and reproduce them, with a few alterations, below.

Let me say before I go any further, that these are guidelines only for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and specifically fellow Southern Baptists. I think they can be used on any issue, from Calvinism, to tongues, to millennial views. I don't think all of them would apply well to discussions with people outside our own SBC circle, though some of them certainly would. And I don't think they would apply well to people outside the framework of orthodox Christianity, though again, I believe some of them would. Either way, here they are.

1 - Rally around things you can agree on. Remember, there are more things that you do agree on than that you don't. In most theological arguments, the lines between the two camps are not as great as we often imagine them. We have more in common than we have different. In most of those arguments, fellow Christians have too much in common to spend a great deal of time dwelling on what you disagree on.

2 - Leave open room for the fact that you might be wrong and they might be right. Don't get me wrong: hold on to your convictions, but do so with the kind of humility that understands the depth of your depravity. Neither you, nor I, nor Al Mohler, nor Paige Patterson, nor Johnny Hunt, nor Jerry Vines, have all the answers. We can learn a great deal from those we disagree with.

3 - Choose to rather be wronged by your friends than have your voice heard. This is a hard one, but if your friends want to give their opinions on a particular matter, but don't want to hear yours, so be it. You don't have a right to be heard. Choose to love rather than demand your rights. That's the Jesus way.

4 - Show lots of grace. Sometimes in these arguments, it easy to forget that Christianity drips with the grace of God. God takes sinful people who don't love him, don't desire to be his friend, and are openly in rebellion against them, and gives them so much grace that they come to his side. We ought to be able to do the same, forgiving wrongs against us because God did the same for us. You might also want to think about how much grace the other person is having to give you just to put up with you.

5 - Remember that God changes hearts, and you don't. We can argue with someone until they're blue in the face, but as my pastor is known to say, "Anything you can talk someone into, someone else can talk him out of it."

6 - Pray. Pray that God will open their hearts to discuss the issue with charity, and pray that He might show you where you don't quite understand things. I've found my study of theology to be a journey, and I've continued to refine my beliefs as I've studied it. There are some ways where I've probably moved back more closely to what I believed at the beginning of the journey. Just remember God might change your mind on something one day.

7 - Remember that one day we'll laugh at how wrong we all were. We see through a glass darkly now, but one day we will see face to face, and our understanding of God will dwarf anything the greatest theologians in history have ever known. When we see that, I think we'll find rather silly some of our arguments now.

If you can think of any other ground rules, please feel free to leave them below. I'm sure I'm leaving out some good ones. But maybe, just maybe, these might be a good start toward charitable discussion within our circle.

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