Controversial Biblical and theological matters can be a test of a church’s community and ability to practice graceful and respectful conversation. It can also be an opportunity for a community to define themselves theologically and experience the fellowship that accompanies healthy dialogue. Unfortunately, many Christians seem completely unable to listen graciously and dialogue respectfully about controversial topics. In fact, many Christians are so unprepared to talk about controversial topics that they default to either not talking about them at all or take up ill-defined positions without much critical thought. In order to better facilitation discussions of disputable matters (Romans 14:1-12), we offer the following values as starting places for affective and effective conversations.
1. Respect. The opinions of others are as significant and important as yours. We must be willing to listen to each other in the same way that we hope they would be willing to listen to us.
2. Objectivity. Our own backgrounds, personalities, and experiences have left us with biased opinions. Without recognizing these biases, debate cannot proceed.
3. Scripture. As evangelical Christians, we must remain committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, recognizing it as our norming norm on all of life and faith, even if that commitment comes at the expense of our own personal convictions and opinions.
4. Unity. The family of God can and should dialogue about controversial matters without risking the breaking of fellowship or church division (at least with respects to non-essential matters that do not, in and of themselves, define orthodox Christianity). Christian unity, an oft forgotten concept, is and should be important.
5. Tradition. The historic Christian Church has oftentimes reflected its ignorance, but not always. We are not instantly to assume that we know better than the ancients. Oftentimes, they know better than us.
6. Openness. Conversely, the Spirit of God is always moving the Church in new directions for the glory of God and the evangelization of the world. We must remain open to new ideas and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
7. Logic. Our best interpretation of Scripture must make sense and cohere with what we know about God, His revelation, the Church, the world, and our own experiences. Although God is mysterious, transcendent, and difficult to comprehend at times, He is not beyond reason or logic.
8. Humility. Many Christians inhibit debate by talking with certain about things they don’t understand. We must approach all conversations with humility—especially complex and contested ones—always remembering that we can learn from those with whom we disagree.
9. Submission. Although unpopular in today’s independent and democratic world, without theological and organizational leadership the Church would cease to function. We must obey, respect, and submit to our leaders inasmuch as they direct us in godly ways, even if we disagree with them.
Written by Jacob Prahlow, based on article by Matt Herndon
3 thoughts on “Discussing Disputable Matters”
Wow, Jacob. Guys (or gals) like this are few and far between. Have you had a different experience? I can hardly imagine the average Christian being able to do this. The work of unity God is doing among active, excited Christians here in Selmer is awe-inspiring to me, but between pastors, there is a lot of “default to either not talking about them at all or take up ill-defined positions without much critical thought” despite the awe-inspiring unity. May God grant your readers to actually DO what you wrote.
Hey Paul, first of all, always good to hear from you.
Second, while this is somewhat aspirational, this is also increasingly the kind of interaction that we see among Christians at both Rooftop (my previous church) and at Arise (our church plant). Now, of course there are plenty of instances where we have to work toward this. But one of the most encouraging things for me is seeing more and more of our congregation adopt this kind of approach. We’ll always be a work in progress, but this is more and more the culture at our churches, especially on the leadership teams.
At the very least, this is more and more the kind of thing that allows us to say, “hey, this is default position for followers of Jesus at our church–are *you* acting that way right now?”
Again, plenty of work to be done on this. But we’re seeing good progress. JJP
Your aspirational success is very inspirational to me. God give you grace to carry on!