Friday, June 25, 2010
Dear Pastor Lawyer,
I noticed on a recent Good Reads review of yours that you don’t like it when people criticize other's ideas through the lenses of the other's teachers or heroes. How should we approach others when we want to discuss their ideas?
Before I address the main point of your question, let me remind you of several important things you need to remember as you prepare and as you comport yourself in the battle. First, you need to remember that you exist to bring honor and glory to God. You are not in this discussion to win an argument, but to represent Christ, to incarnate Christ to the person you are arguing (in the technical sense) with. The real goal is to make Christ look good so that God will receive any glory that comes out of the conversation.
Second, since you are in the discussion to bring glory to God, you need to remember that winning the person to Christ is the issue, not winning the argument. If the person is already a Christian, the discussion should enhance his faith and cause him to draw ever nearer to Christ. If he is not a Christian, your discussion should be another link in the chain that brings him to repentance and conversion to Christ. It is easy to forget that he is more important than what he currently thinks. It is easy to forget, especially if things get emotional, that he is the goal, not your ego or your “right” position.
Third, you need to remember that you could be wrong. If you are a maturing Christian you do not think the things about God or your fellow man, or even yourself, that you thought ten years ago. And if you stop to think about it, you don’t expect to be thinking about God, others, or yourself in exactly the same way you do today. This means you were wrong about a lot of things ten years ago and you are very likely to be wrong about a lot of things right now. You have not arrived. You are not perfect. You could be wrong. This should make you humble when you seek to help someone else change what they think about God and the world around them. This should cause your attitude during your discussion, to be significantly different than it might be right now.
A corollary to this is that you should keep in mind that your friend might be right. Even though he has only been a Christian for a few months, he may have stumbled on something that never occurred to you. Or he may have grown up in a different Christian tradition than you and the emphasis he grew up with was more mature than the one you grew up with. Or, if he is a non-Christian, he may have thought about God’s common grace in such a way that he actually knows something that is right and you’ve never thought of it before. Even blind squirrels find nuts.
But what if you are a confessional Christian and you’ve studied all the great saints of old and you’re simply standing on their shoulders and repeating what they have been saying for centuries? You need to read more, a lot more. Read something like Robert Letham’s book, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context, or The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies. Or simply get a good history of the Christian Church. Or best yet, simply read your Bible. What I hope you will see is that apart from the major doctrines expressed in the Apostles Creed very few have agreed on little else. Throughout church history, everyone, at every level of the church, has fought and bickered and argued and killed one another over every little thing. The councils, confessions, creeds, and catechisms are simply collections of basic, general, and large areas of faith and doctrine. This is because there was always such diversity of opinion about smaller things.
When this is all put together, you need to remember that God is the goal. You are not all that you think you are - you are not all that you will be. Your friend may be right about much of what he thinks, especially if he is a Christian. Disagreeing is not new. It is not unusual. It is not necessarily sinful to disagree with one another. But it is sinful to put on your game face and to destroy another man simply because he doesn’t think the way you think. All of this should make you remember to be humble and sweet and careful and loving and generous, and very, very winsome. You should be Christ in person to your friend. He is the goal, not winning.
I hope this helps.