Debating Fairly

What should be appended to this page is an article that Naseli posted a while ago.

There are various types of reasons for disagreement.

  • Intrapersonal (James 4:1-4)
  • Interpersonal (Philippians 4:2-3)
  • Poor Handling of Issues (Matthew 18:15-35)
  • Theology (Acts 20:25-31)
  • Vision or Philosophy (Proverbs 29:18)
  • Values and Strategies (Amos 3:3)
  • Leadership [Styles] (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
  • Structures/Systems (Acts 6:1-7)

Basically, my thesis out of all of these is that the more complex or emotional an issue the more likely a person analyzes only part of the evidence, prematurely makes a grid, and filters information through that table. The same such principle applies to other areas of life; but, knowing this, when we study the Bible we ought to be even more careful.

Knowing the weight of what the Scriptures reveal about our Lord, and the matters it concerns, when we discuss theological positions, or topics that are dear to people’s hearts, those that are closer together on the spectrum are sometimes going to be hard to discern.

Keep in mind, as you discuss with others, the seven Christian virtues, the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage, and three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love (Charity) as found in 1 Cor. 13.

  • Prudence: described as wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.
  • Justice: also fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue.
  • Temperance: also known as restraint, the practice of self-control.
  • Courage: forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear.
  • Faith: belief in God, and in the truth of His revelation as well as obedience.
  • Hope: expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair, capability of not giving up.
  • Charity: a virtue to help us love God and our neighbors, more than ourselves.

Tim Keller mentions some ways we can apply heartfelt ethics to our conversations.

  • Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views.
  • Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own.
  • Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.
  • Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in “straw man” form.
  • Seek to persuade, not antagonize.
  • Express people’s hopes, objections, fears, and beliefs so well that they feel as though they could not express them better themselves.
  • Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart.

When people disagree…

(1) One group is correct and the others are not capable of understanding (or willing to accept) it.

(2) One group is right, but both sides are spending so much time and effort talking that they are not taking the time to listen.

(3) Or, everyone is arguing their own positions from the same pool of inconclusive data, which results in people simply compiling the evidence which best supports their preconceived conclusion.

Often, also, when people disagree, it comes down to their concept of what we should do with Scripture.

  • Should we avoid practices not explicitly sanctioned in Scripture (called regulative principle)
  • Or should we feel free to engage in practices not explicitly forbidden in Scripture (called normative principle)?

For example (a rather silly one, but telling nonetheless); the Scriptures say that Christians met on the first day of the week [Acts 20:7].

Those emphasizing the regulative principle would tend to say we should only meet on the first day of the week, while those favoring the normative principle would see it as a matter of Christian freedom, and would encourage people to meet at church more than just the first day (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday…)

Emotional appeal based on truth reflects sincerity and conviction, but at the cost of a substitute for truth. Unfortunately it is completely worthless once it makes that sacrifice, but unfortunately those sacrifices are often successful methods of persuasion. And, if we mess it up, here’s an example apology:

  • Step A: Lord I forgive…
  • Step B: Lord, show me where I have offended another
  • Step C: Brother/Sister, please forgive me
  • Step D: … I forgive you… may I show you where I have been offended?

When there is a controversy, don’t get on one side right away. Do some analytical work first, on both positions. Consider these possibilities: (a) that the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they don’t really contradict; (b) that both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together; (c) that they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways; (d) that there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together; (e) that their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Romans 14.