Learning From Those With Whom We Disagree

Learning from disagreementsTheological and philosophical dispute is the norm in our world today. Indeed, this is understandable and warranted given the foundational nature of theology and philosophy. Given that theology pertains to what we believe about God and how he has decisively acted in human history, it is no wonder why disagreements on matters of theology are met with vigor and passion. We are talking about God, and since he has revealed himself in the Bible, we want to get things right in regards to what he has spoken. Furthermore, since the nature of divine revelation is that which holds our deepest affections and our ultimate commitment, it is no small matter when discussing the specifics of what that entails. Likewise, our philosophy of life, which for the Christian, is drawn from the content of scripture itself, is so foundational to us, that it is no small matter when disagreements arise.

Disagreement over points of theology and philosophy are inevitable. However, we must disagree as Christians; that is to say, that we are not to take disagreements as opportunities to argue for arguments sake, nor are we to use disagreements as opportunities to ridicule our opponents. Such methodology does not honor Christ, nor does it manifest a godly conduct as we seek to establish the truth amidst disagreement. It is a self-refuting enterprise to try and demonstrate the falsity of a theological/philosophical position while doing so in a fashion that is inconsistent with the Christian theology and philosophy of behavior and social interaction. We are called to speak the truth in love, not speak the truth in arrogance. For when we engage in arrogant disputes, we lose the dispute even though we win the dispute from a logical perspective. Speaking the truth in love coupled with a razor sharp application of logic and biblical exegesis is a powerful tool in communicating with others with whom we disagree.

Part of the arrogance that usually accompanies theological and philosophical disagreement is the idea that because we disagree with someone, there is literally nothing of value that we can learn from them. Not only is such thinking irrational, it is logically incoherent. It does not follow that one point of disagreement entails that therefore, there can be no point of agreement. There is always something we can learn from those with whom we disagree. For instance, I personally hold to a Calvinistic theology. However, it would be foolish and irrational to believe that there is nothing to learn from a person who holds to Arminian theology. Yes, there are fundamental disagreements, but there are also points where we do agree, and in those areas of agreement, an Arminian may do a better job explaining and expounding upon some theological or philosophical point than a Calvinist brother. Or again, I personally hold to a “Believers Baptism” perspective, but that does not mean that there is nothing to be learned from one who holds to infant baptism. In regards to apologetic methodology, I am a presuppositionalist, but this does not mean there is nothing to learn from an evidentialist or a classicalist. To think there is nothing to learn is irrationally narrow.

It is important that we distinguish between essential doctrine and non-essential doctrine. The Bible presupposes that there will be disagreements between brothers in the faith since Paul says in regards to certain days thought to be holier than others, “Let every man be convinced in this his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). So when disagreements arise, we need to clearly identify the nature of the theological and/or philosophical dispute and address it accordingly and in a way that is consistent with godly conduct.

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