Monday, March 31, 2014

When Do We Engage in Debate?

Once again, great debate is raging in Christendom, casting judgment on who's in and who's out of Christ's love. Much text has been spilled on both sides of the World Vision debate. And I'm not sure much good is coming of the debate itself (likely because it's the equivalent of much yelling). My wife wrote a wonderful response (and I'm quite proud of her eloquence--I'm confident I wouldn't have had that much grace at the time).

As we saw people cite clobber verses that were completely decontextualized, I had an urge to argue their poor hermeneutics, history, and theology. My wife thought no good would come of it, as I wouldn't change their minds.

She's right--no amount of discussion, debate, or arguing will change the minds of people doing the talking. But can it impact those who are listening?

I've been in situations before when I felt the need to offer another opinion, not even necessarily to change the minds of anyone, but to raise awareness that people have honest disagreement and that other conclusions are possible. Last week, I asked if people really always reject the living God when they reject an angry, wrathful God. The problem is that often the only God some people have been told about is that one, narrow view. Without another option, many people feel like they lose all faith by changing their views.

In a similar fashion, if people believe the only way to be a Christian is one particular theological construct, when they have a concern with that perspective, then they either ignore their own reactions (which is problematic in many ways) or they feel like they have to abandon their faith completely. That is not fair (nor theologically accurate to most of Christendom) and only leads to more crises of faith rather than the building up of the body of Christ.

I loved World Vision's initial letter because it beautifully preached the centrality of love and unity in the Gospel. Their bullied retraction was the opposite, overemphasizing one issue that despite what they said, is not central nor fundamental to the Christian faith and never has been (except in a few minority denominations in the past decade).

Will we change the minds of those who publicly decried World Vision's grace? No. But if we stay silent and only allow Pharisaical voices to reign without dissent, then what message are we sending? The method is important, and there are many who responded in a much more appropriate and grace-filled way than I ever could.

But when is staying silent in the face of disagreement the best option? We see both responses from Jesus: from knocking over tables in the temple court to acting rather non-responsive in the face of crucifixion. As with most things, there is likely no perfect rule or formula. Context matters. But I'm not sure silence is always the best policy...

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