The art of disagreeing in public

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.  


Filed under Christian Apologetics, church and culture, conflicts, Doctrine/Theology

2 responses to “The art of disagreeing in public

  1. Bryan

    Hi, Phil,

    I am wondering how your suggestions fit with Paul’s behavior in Gal. 2. First with those on the council who were legalizers (BTW Paul seems to judge their motives pretty harshly but also accurately). He does not respectfully listen to their views or seek to understand where they were coming from (he already knew vs. 4). Paul didn’t even give them an hour to present their case but seems to interrupt them and take over the meeting for the sake of the gospel. I am sure the Jewish legalizers did not feel respectfully heard that day. Then Paul goes on later in the chapter to call Peter a hypocrite (another term that I am sure does not usually lead to further dialogue). He exposes Peter ( a leader of the church no less verse 8) publically including the logical implications of his behavior. Again, I am sure Peter was not too thrilled. There is no record of Peter saying “wait a minute, let me explain”. Either Peter submitted to Paul’s authority or was persuaded by his argument but there is no record of Peter being heard.

    Just to let you know that I do read your blog 🙂

  2. Bryan, I think its a bit dangerous to quickly equate Paul’s behaviors with what we do. Same with Jesus. I think we are not prophets. What might be better to do is to look at some of the commands we are given to deal with wrongheaded individuals.

    Luke 17:3: If your brother sins…rebuke him. This passage doesn’t give us any sense of what a rebuke might look like. Will it be soft, hard, etc.
    1 Tim. 5:1: Do not rebuke an older man harshly. Okay, now should we then rebuke younger men harshly? It would appear not as the passage goes on to tell us to treat younger men as brothers.
    2 Tim. 4:2: Correct, rebuke and encourage… How? All with great patience
    Titus includes a passage on rebuking harshly those who are worthy talkers for dishonest gain.

    It does seem that those in authority in the church have some right to get right to the point and stop false teaching. However, Jesus’ teaching is often with questions, invitations, etc.

    Finally, I think we have to consider the log in our own eye first. Sarcasm and arrogance are probably what most frequently leads us to harsh rebukes, and not the love for truth.

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