I’ve been thinking about how we Christians talk to, at, and about each other’s theological positions. There are two poles that we tend to be attracted to. On one side we may lean toward criticalness. The plus of this pole is that details matter. We look at the details in great depth and we run with others’ positions to their possible conclusions. The downside to this polarity is that we are inclined to read associations and ideas in their worst possible light, worst possible conclusion. We describe others in ways that they would not recognize. Further, we make divisions where there may not be any. Finally, this polarity usually elevates debate and hinders real listening and dialogue.
The other polarity is apathy. This polarity attracts folks who think theological discussion isn’t all that important. On the plus side, folks over here tend to be pragmatic, relationship oriented, application oriented, etc. However, sloppy thinking and unwillingness to own the logical conclusions of a position are a downside. On this pole, some may elevate questions over answers and decisions. This leaves some really hanging and their faith threatened.
Notice that both poles encourage pride.
Whenever you describe two poles, many will comment that they are either on both sides at the same time or they choose a completely different pole. Fair enough. Also, when a writer presents two bad poles, the obvious answer is always in the middle, right? No, not always.
But what should Christian dialogue about theology look like? That is the big question in seminaries, churches and other christian organizations. So, maybe we should first talk about some parameters.
1. Do I have the right to be picking the speck out of my brother or sister’s eye if I have significant problem with my own fruit of the spirit? (especially peace and patience)
2. Do I give the best possible reading to the other’s position? Do I list multiple possible logical conclusions as there may be more than one (or do I just list the worst?)?
3. Do I love this person, even if they are wrong? Do I seek them out privately to dialogue (true dialogue!)?
4. Do I ask them to answer questions that I won’t answer myself? Do I demand black/white answers when I allow my own to have nuances?
5. Am I looking for proof of what I already believe rather than looking for true dialogue and growth on both sides?
6. Am I wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove?
7. Do I engage in guilt by association?
8. When someone is off-base, do I show gentleness in my teaching? Humility? Desire to restore? Recognition that, “there but for grace go I”?