Disagreeing Like Brothers not Enemies (Part 1)
Something of a theological seismic shift has been happening with me in the last few months. The epicenter of this theological earthquake has been related to the subject of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Before I launch into the next book review I wish to embark on, I want to say something about the tenor of this discussion. For reasons I will never fully understand, in Reformed circles, being dispensational meets with the same level of disdain that is met with pop-Arminianism. I present a personal example.
I became Reformed in my late teens (though some of my Truly Reformed friends would quibble with that seeing as I was a Reformed Baptist, holding to the 1689 Baptist Confession). For a while, I simply co-opted the system I had heard growing up until I got round to studying it. As time went on and I did a little study, the flimsy quasi-dispensationalism I had grown up with pretty much came apart and I would become more or less covenantal and definitely amillennial. I eventually moved churches to a church plant pastored by two Master’s Seminary graduates (a more or less dispensational institution) and decided to revisit the issue. In the process of that, being the social media aficionado that I am, I mentioned it in passing on Facebook that I had come round to a more rounded dispensational perspective. That was another of my many life-regret type mistakes. I wasn’t attempting to start a riot or to get into exegetical gunslinging (and am not seeking to do so now or frankly ever again) – I was simply stating a change of views and I met with some of the following:
- Are you serious? (Well, yes, thank you for asking…)
- Have you read any of the critiques? (Again, yes…)
- Did you actually READ Hebrews and Galatians? (word-for-word quote – a little condescending…)
- It’ll be impossible to be both reformed and dispensational (OK…)
That’s the stuff that I got to see. Word reached me of being accused of having no backbone, being weak, etc. By the end of that experience, my general thought was, “Really? This is Christian love…”
Well that was last June, it’s now late December. In that time, I’ve resolved to say nothing about the subject except from with a select few who I trust not to throw “subliminals” or to take our conversations outside of the privacy of our discussion. But the whole experience had me thinking: How do we disagree like brothers and not like enemies?
The late Dr Roger Nicole, professor for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, authored what I believe to be one of the most important essays ever penned in evangelical life. The title? Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us.
In that essay, Dr Nicole asks three key questions:
- What Do I Owe to the Person Who Differs From Me?
- What Can I Learn from Those Who Differ From Me?
- How Can I Cope with Those Who Differ from Me?
Those three questions have become something of a personal canon in how I deal with those who disagree with me – be it on this issue and on any other theological issue:
1. What do I owe to the person who differs from me?
In a lot of pop-Reformed circles, that question simply doesn’t get asked. Of anyone. Nicole parses out two implications of that:
A. We have obligations to people who differ from us.Nicole writes: “This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth, and that has priority over agreement with any particular person. If someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to minimize the importance of the difference. Consequently, we owe them neither consent nor indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being–we owe them love. And we owe it to them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealt with or treated. (Matthew 7:12)” That last sentence is earth-shattering in its implications – the first step in disagreeing like brothers is coming to the realization that you ought really to deal with the “other side” as you wish to be treated. Your primary obligation, without question, is to the truth – but that responsibility to tell the truth is mediated through the NT as “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Ephesians 4:15). It is not loving to put words in the mouths of others to suit the point you wish to make. It is not loving to demean others in the name of truth. It is not loving to not listen. Discussions are very much like bank withdrawals – you can’t expect to take out of the account what hasn’t been put in, dear friends.
B. We must attempt to understand what a person means. It is actually disheartening when Christians do not care enough to actually state an opposing view – get this – as the opponent would actually say it! That means, in a lot of cases, people (including myself at times) need to take their posterior, apply it to a chair, hit Amazon, get the best books the other side of a debate, wait for said books to arrive (side note: I hate e-books of any kind – so I’m assuming hardcopy here), read said books until they get what is actually being said and then say your piece. I fear too many of us cherish a right of reply without bearing the responsibility to study that comes (and I believe precedes) that right.
Check for Part 2 on Thursday!