Continuing from the previous post, I think we ought to consider how we deal in public with differences in theological viewpoints, biblical text meanings, views on Christianity, etc. Its not hard to listen to another person’s opinions and beliefs. But then what do we say to our friends? What do we say in public when describing this other person’s viewpoint? Here’s a few ideas:
1. Discuss what seems to be important to this other person, if possible. Why do they defend their point of view? (the most generous reason). What assumptions, values, concerns, etc. lead them in that direction. Again, this should be in a way that the other person agrees with what you said. However, when folks write in the public arena, I do not believe I need to have private discussions first before speaking publically about their position. By publishing, you agree to stand by your words. Now, face to face dialogue always helps clarify points of misconstrual.
2. Raise your concerns and bolster with data but avoid starting with the slippery slope or other straw men approach. Ask for help to understand how they would speak to those concerns you have raised. If they are outside the norms for historic Christian tradition, ask what they think about that. For example, if someone is articulating a pelagian view of sin, raise that issue.
3. Put forth your alternative position in a way that still treats them as kingdom citizens. Its not wrong to tell them that their beliefs do not appear to jive with the bible but be sure to back up your viewpoints with real data. Avoid all slanderous, libelous labels. They do not help promote understanding.
4. Recognize when the other person is not interested in dialogue or listening (or recognize when you really aren’t open to it either) and gracefully back out. There are many times when emotions are high because of prior battles. There are times you can find out where the emotional energy is coming from. It may be someone with your position previously hurt them. There are other times when you cannot move forward and so then find your exit.
Following these steps should help, but they don’t take away strife. I had an experience once where I was talking to about 500 people about some theological concerns about a particular counseling-type ministry. In the audience were both supporters and detractors. I did my level best to represent the ministry in a way that was faithful to what they did and said about themselves prior to my critique. I even said some good things. I did have a couple of supporters of that ministry thank me for my attempt. But many more were vicious in their attack, even threatening. There were some I could dialogue with and some that I couldn’t find any common ground and who weren’t wanting to dialogue, just destroy. Ironically, I also got hammered by detractors who thought I was too nice and should have really leveled the judgment against the heretics.
Sometimes, when you exhibit christian character in dialogue you get shot at from both sides.