Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm Not Alone!

I've often blogged in frustration concerning the methods some Christians use when arguing against other Christians. Long-time readers are probably aware that I try to advocate for an attitude of charity when dealing with one's opponents. This certainly doesn't mean that I don't feel free to disagree with them (obviously!), but I at least try to be fair when characterizing their arguments. That is to say, I would hope that if such an opponent came along, they would not feel as though I accused them of saying something that they, in fact, have never said. We may disagree on the implications and applications of such statements, but hopefully we at least agree on what the other person's position is.

But still, blogging about such matters and seeing the world continue on in the same vitriolic pattern can be a bit discouraging. It often feels like I'm just "one man against the world," which is certainly a feeling of futility.

It is therefore encouraging to see someone such as Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Theological Seminary, who I've mentioned in the past) arguing for a similar tone of fairness in debate. As the earlier posts in which I've mentioned Mouw might indicate, this is an issue that he keeps coming back to, as well, but he makes his argument a bit more clearly than I can (not to mention that he reaches a wider audience!).
We want to oppose false teachers because they do not teach things that are true. But if in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth, by attributing to them things that they don’t in fact teach and if we don’t really care whether we have it exactly right or not then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths!
Mouw suggests, as a partial remedy to this situation, that we "focus on false teachings rather than on false teachers." This sounds a bit cliché to me; a bit like "hate the sin but love the sinner," but I expect that he's right. If we remember that the people teaching falsehoods are, for all their error, nonetheless children of God, we are probably more likely to treat them with respect than if we think of them first and foremost as "that person who teaches hateful (or dangerous, or heretical, or whatever) ideas."

It is not enough to simply "speak the truth" as though the fact that we have the truth gives us license to use whatever methods (including hateful, or dangerous, or even heretical ones) we like. To combat such ideas, the strength of our arguments simply must be better than theirs. If we don't have better arguments, then we simply must, at some level, be willing to admit that we might not be right in the first place. If we can't win the debate without restoring to tactics that are unfair to the person on the other side, how can we possibly expect other people to stay on our side if/when they learn what the other side is really like? At best, any gains made through such tactics are rather shallow-rooted.

So, there it is. Not for the first time, and probably not for the last. Let's be fair to each other. Why does that seem so hard to do?

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