“Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord”
Isaiah 1: 18
In many theological circles today, particularly amongst many Christians on the internet, blogs, networks etc and in personal contact, there appears to be a distinct lack of reasonable theological debate. So often uneducated debates conclude with attacks and slanging matches and one goes away offended and the debate is over. One cuts the friendship of another Christian and deems him or her an inconsistent heretic and considers himself as being obedient to the text to cut off the heretic after the first or second warning (Titus 3: 10). Yet, few ever considered the possibility that that person who is ‘cut off’ might not be a heretic in reality, but only a heretic in the eyes of the one who cuts the person off?
Many Christians today are fighting with each other and need to stop doing this if the church today is ever going to move forwards into maturity. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: 11, a passage that is in the context of Christian Love “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man I gave up childish ways”. Paul here takes an earthly and human matter of fact and applies it to the spiritual, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then (when we see Christ) face to face” (Verse 12)
It is possible that some Christians are more mature than others and yet should those mature Christians whip other Christians who may or may not be as mature as they? No. If they do that they are not mature. Any parent knows that you have to wait for a child to grow up and mature, and you have to teach them in the way they should go, not beat them up and condemn them for not understanding something they are not yet capable of grasping.
It can be seen as a frequent problem amongst Christian people when many so-called debaters conclude the debate, before the debate has begun. One person goes in from one theological persuasion and another goes in from another theological persuasion and each one only wants to hear his persuasion met and visa versa, Truth is rarely on the actual agenda, but more what people believe to be the truth.
Reasoning has lost its place amongst debate, yet is a huge part of theology and is very consistent with Biblical narratives.
We see in Acts 17: 2 that Paul “as his custom was” he “reasoned with them (the Jews) from the scriptures” Note that he reasoned with them from the actual text of scripture and not from argument alone but from argument fixed upon what the Biblical text says.
Today we see that there is plenty of evidence to suggest a distinctive lack of ability to reason through doctrines and topics can be found amongst many Christians and church leaders because people almost instantly appear to get their backs up and rebuke or attack a doctrine that makes them feel a certain way. What often follows a debate is that people assume a doctrine to be a heresy when in actual fact it may not be a heresy but an actual Biblical truth? Thus, a debate forms, people get aggressive and condemn or cut a fellow Christian off and more division has occurred when it need not have happened in the first place. Debating can be very frustrating and it is vital that a person learns not to put another person in their framework which they have created and then judge another person by it.
Theology is much larger than many suppose. God works through much wider circles than many suppose. But He always brings that which He has started to a conclusion it is rarely left worse off than when it started. But a debate which ends in rage is no debate at all, but a mere gun fight or contest to prove who can win the argument. That is not good scholarship or good debate. A good debate should be aimed at learning from each other and reviewing contrasting debates and examining them and concluding when each person has had time to think it over.
If we are ever going to see things change within Christianity today, we must train ourselves to reason again and to reason properly without getting all angry and fired up. Likewise, we cannot conclude a debate with one person saying, “Well, I don’t believe that” as though your stance on something is going to stand fast and strong. It will do little, certainly not to anyone who has understanding. All such an action will do is present you as a person who is stubborn and unwilling to learn.
For example a debate may occur between two Christians; one person may present the narrative according to his theology and will judge the Biblical text according to that framework. While the other person may present the Biblical narrative according to his theology and will judge the Biblical text according to that framework. Another person may claim to be somewhere in the middle of both theologies and he will thus being judged “inconsistent”. Both parties having a number of proof texts for their theologies and arguing them throughout. Somehow, a debate like that can seem more like a game than an actual reasonable discussion with Truth as the ultimate aim. This type of debate seems more to me like a battle of wits than it does an honest truth seeking talk, and I say this because truth is not divided.
Neither can truth be discerned according to how it makes you feel. Truth can make any one of us uncomfortable and our attitudes towards truth cannot be taken as a basis of truth. Neither can the way we read truth be deemed as absolute truth. For example; A person can read something spoken by a person, be it in a book or otherwise, yet he or she really reads that text in their own voice, thus, if they are English, they read in an English accent, if they are American, they read in an American accent and so on. Thus, each of us reads in our own voice, yet that voice may not be accurate in itself. If a person reads a text in an inner angry voice, the narrative will be aggressive. If one is slow and relaxed, the text will be read in a slow and relaxed way. Thus, I suggest that debates are far better to be restricted to actual debate in the flesh and not by the letter only. This way a debate can be taken properly and understood as the person desired the argument to be understood.
Obviously this cannot happen at all times, but we live in an age of modern technology and people can talk voice to voice even if it is by computer or phone. I prefer to debate or talk in person, this is much better and one can handle things more properly than if one is dealing with a computer screen and a bunch of words which can be taken this way or that way.
Thus, to conclude in this matter of a few words which I offer to all people, permit me to suggest a few points worth considering for any future debates you may have with fellow Christians.
6 SUGGESTIONS FOR DEBATING
1) If you have a debate, then train your mind and heart to be reasonable and not over judgmental.
2) Always ask the person you are debating with to clarify what they are saying.
3) Knowing the theological position of a person is helpful, be they Liberal, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Reformed, Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, 5 point Calvinist, hyper Calvinist, Arminian etc.
4) Never judge the person you are debating with by your own framework. A person may be part of a certain theological persuasion, but may not agree with all of that theology.
5) Never say or even think that you have a perfect theology. Learn to reason with an open and willing heart and mind.
6) Always be willing to admit when you are wrong.
7) Pray before every debate. Ask the Lord to open all our hearts and minds to His truth.
Simon Peter Sutherland