Disagreeing as Brothers Not Enemies (Part 2)
Pressing on with our walkthrough of Dr Roger Nicole’s Polemic Theology, we come to the second of Dr Nicole’s three 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?
But before I do, I want to add something I didn’t quite get to in part one. This series is making the assumption that the two sides are within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, for instance (but not limited to):
- Calvinists and Arminians
- Cessationists and continuationists
- Pre-, post- and amillenialists
- Dispensationalists and covenantalists (and other hybrids)
- Those for contemporary worship styles and those for more traditional styles
- Credobaptists and paedobaptists
I really don’t think that dialogue on brotherly terms with a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness is possible, since we affirm radically different gospels and without the Gospel, there is no bond of fellowship.
With that, let’s dig into question two:
2. What Can I Learn from Those Who Differ From Me?
Before we can answer the question of what we can learn from those who differ with, we have to acknowledge that we can learn from those we differ from.
If there is one attitude that impedes this, it is what I call the “I’m-right” attitude. I’m sure we’ve all been in conversations like this – you’re trying to explain a point but all you get is parroted statements from the opposition, said with so much pseudo-confidence that you wonder what the point is. You’re not in a dialogue – you’re in an annoying, frustrating victory speech and you’re the heckler.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t have convictions and feel strongly about them. I have them – lots of them – and for some of them, I am more than willing to engage in spirited debate over. However, having convictions without teachability is the first step on the road to arrogance. In this regard, I love what my friend Steve Jeffery says about our theology. He compares it to an artist working on his masterpiece – you don’t create masterpieces overnight. It’s a small bit of paint here, a small bit of paint there, a few corrections here and there along the way and you constantly revisit it. An unwillingness to be discerningly open is like drawing a stickman, colouring it in with felt tip pens and then locking away all your art gear because in your mind, you’re done! We must come to the place where in the words of Scripture, we are “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19)
If then we can indeed learn from others, how do we do that? Dr Nicole posits four key questions which may prove helpful in our walkthrough of this crucial issue of learning from others:
1. Could I be wrong? We all hate to admit it but as long as we are in flesh, there is the reality that we may indeed be straight-up WRONG. The first step in learning from others is the reality that we may be wrong and the humility to realize that it may well be the case that we can learn where we are wrong from an opposing position.
Dr Nicole is magnificent:
Our reputation will be better served if we show ourselves ready to be corrected when in error, rather than if we keep obstinately to our viewpoint when the evidence shows it to be wrong. I should welcome correction. It renders a signal service to me! I should respond, “I was mistaken in this; I am glad that you straightened me out; thank you for your help.” People who are unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes, by contrast, may be called stubborn and lose their credibility.
2. What are the facts? There is the secondary danger of having incomplete knowledge of a subject. We may well be right as far as it goes but that an be the problem. Our knowledge of a subject over which we disagree may be limited. It is the godly thing to do to fully search out the nature of a matter before we speak on it. I fear for many of us, the ungodly way in which our culture parades its freedom of speech has meant that we treasure our right to talk, more than the responsibility to talk right. Part of speaking right is speaking with all the facts on the table, not just those that appeal to us or make our case. Truth is truth, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
Like I said in the first part, the Biblical ideal is “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” – and that idea is constant is unchanging, rather of our personal feeling.
There is still more to go through under this question of what we can learn from our brothers with whom we disagree. But that’ll be for after Christmas. Have a pleasant festive season!