In the world that I live in (theological academia) we engage in hearty discussions about the positions and ideas others put in the public domain. When discussing a theological point, we debate who is the closest to being right and are quick to point out where eminent thinkers have wandered off the path of reason and truth. Most of the time, this is done in the spirit of desiring to have increasing knowledge and wisdom. Well, maybe not most of the time, but at least part of the time. Of course, we usually think that our thoughts and ideas are closer to God’s truth than our counterparts. This is especially true when we begin to think critically about long-held ideas and beliefs–ideas and beliefs that we, along with the majority, held explicitly or implicitly. But something else happens when we find ourselves in the minority opinion. Pride and Defensiveness. Instead of talking carefully and evangelistically about these new ideas, we find ourselves tempted to spend more time pointing out the weaknesses in others. When the majority criticizes us, we may find that we need to put down, even make fun of the key leaders of the majority. Can you believe how silly and foolish xxxxx person is because he believes_______.
It is only when we connect with the other as a person, that their humanness causes us to reject these kinds of oversimplified characterizations.
Here’s an example from my world. Biblical Counseling got its start with Jay Adam’s Competent to Counsel, published in 1970-1. It rocked the world of Christian counseling, providing a solid critique of humanist theories of change. But Biblical counseling was still a minority in the world of Christian counseling. For the next 2 decades, much of what was written in the Biblical counseling world consisted of significant criticism of secular and integrationist models, with a light sprinkling of positive model building. But, after a couple of important Biblical counseling authors began to connect with some figures of the integrationist movement, their criticisms became more nuanced. I heard less “hallway” oversimplifications and more willingness to dialogue on both sides. One could argue that getting to know folks from an opposing camp will cause you to go soft on what you belief. I would rather suggest that when we see others as human (and fellow believers!) we are more inclined to follow the mission of God and to break down walls and remember that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”
So, how should we evaluate our ways of talking about others. Here’s some reflective questions:
1. Why am I bringing up this person’s ideas? Is it necessary to set my opinions off against the other person?
2. How does my style of bringing it up make them look?
3. Would I say the same about them to their face? How would I change how I talk if they were present?
4. Do I devalue their position so that my position looks more logical, sane, flexible, etc.
5. Am I able to first point out where we agree? Where have they gotten it right?