Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fight Phobic....What are Christians so scared of?

If the notion of truth is central to Christianity, and the ability to argue is central to the task of knowing the truth, why do some Christians get upset when you try to find the truth through argument and disagreement? Two things come to mind that are especially applicable to those in a Christian setting, usually a church environment.

First, some fear division. When peole are free to express strong differences of opinion, especially on theological issues, it threatens unity, they say. Consequently, the minute a disagreement surfaces, someone jumps in to shut down dissent in order to keep the peace. This is unfortunate.

True enough, Christians sometimes get distracted b useless disputes. Paul warns against wrangling about words, and quarreling about foolish speculations (2 Timothy 2:14, 23). But he also commands us to be diligent workmen, handling the word of truth accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). And, because some disputes are vitally important, Paul solemnly charges us to reprove, rebuke, and exhort when necessary (2 TImothy 4:1-2). This cannot be done without some confrontation, but disagreement need not threaten genuine unity.

To be of one mind biblically doesn't mean that all have to share the same opinion. It means a warm fellowship based on communion with Christ in the midst of differences. It does not mean abandoning all attempts at refining our knowledge by enforcing an artificial unanimity. True maturity means learning how to disagree in an aggressive fashion, yet still maintaining a peaceful harmony in the church.

There's a second reason why Christians resist arguments. Some believers unfortunately take any opposition as hostility, especially if their own view is being challenged. Ins some circles it's virtually impossible to take exception to a cherished view or a respected teacher without being labeled malicious.

This is a dangerous attitude for the church because the minute one is labeled mean-spirited simply for raising an opposing view, debate is silences. If we disqualify legitimate discussion, we compromise our ability to know the truth.

It is important not to deal with dissent in this way. Instead, we ought to learn how to argue in a principled way--fairly, reasonably, and graciously. We need to cultivate the ability to disagree with civility and not take opposition personally. We must also have the grace to allow our own views to be challenged with evidence, reasoning, and Scripture. Those who refuse to dispute have a poor chance of growing in their understanding of truth.

There is no reason to threaten our unity by frivolous debate. However, many debates are worthy of our best efforts. Paul told Timothy, "Retain the standard of sound words." and "Guard...the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14). He told Titus to choose elders who could exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict, false teachers, he said, who must be silenced (Titus 1:9,11). This kind of protection of trugh is not a passive enterprise. It's active and energetic.

Arguments are good, and dispute is healthy. They clarify the truth and protect us from error and religious despotism. When the church discourages principled debates and a free flow of ideas, the result is shallow Christianity and a false sense of unity. No one gets any practice learning how to field contrary views in a gracious and productive way. The oneness they share is contrived, not genuine. Worse, they lose the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Simply put, when arguments are few, error abounds.

This is an excerpt from the book Tactics by Greg Koukl chapter 1, pages 33-35.

Here is a review by Tim Challies.

4 comments:

Reggie said...

Shannon,

That's a great article. Thanks for posting it. I don't know what believers are "so scared of." But I would add a third "scare." Some churches and even some believers refuse the accountability that is so essential to the divine process of sanctification; "professing sound doctrine but denying the power thereof" by a transformed life that surrenders to discipline and accountability. In the process however, those churches and people are the real losers. How sad that Christians refuse what is an essential aspect of genuine Christianity; living in committed community. We're looking forward to having Tim Challies at our fall men's retreat. His ministry is such a blessing. - Reggie

Shannon said...

The excerpt that was posted from Tactics was about reasons why some Christians shy away from healthy debates and arguments. It was not a random list of things that believers may be scared of.

That said, I will respond, even though it is not a part of the original topic.

Accountability is extremely important in the sanctification process of a believer, and one needs to be cautious and use wisdom as to who it is that holds them accountable.

Mark | hereiblog said...

Shannon, this is a good book. I appreciate Koukl's approach. I started reading Tactics and hope to get back to it soon.

Reggie, what an odd comment from my perspective as far as relating to the post.

Mark | hereiblog said...

Speaking of Challies. Today he posted an article When Should I Leave My Church?.

Also, Koukl stated that, "This kind of protection of truth is not a passive enterprise. It's active and energetic."

In light of this, which I agree with, Reggie's comment seems to stand in contrast. His comment is passive and unattached in a public place. Koukl's comment would seem to imply that an active Matthew 18 approach would be in order. Maybe I'm misreading what was said, but it sure seems ambiguous.