Two Requirements for Christian Debate

sheldonI’m prayerfully following a couple of debates/issues at the moment which I’m finding somewhat grieving, mostly because of the pain felt by friends, and partly because of the way these discussions are being conducted. One issue is the approval of ordination of women bishops which happened on Monday; the other is the bill on assisted dying due to read a second time in the House of Lords tomorrow. Both issues are highly charged and keenly felt which is why we find ourselves emotionally gripped, both personally, and for others wrestling with the issues. This is all the more reason for a call to properly Christian engagement. That requires two things:

1. First, we need Christian reasoning. Christian reasoning means that the Bible, not feelings, traditions, peers, or culture, sits in the seat of authority. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, sufficient and without error. Therefore we have to talk about what the Bible says. Now that will involve careful engagement in philology, exegesis, hermeneutics, and systematics. And all of those should be in discussion with historical theology and cultural critique. But Christian reasoning requires us to allow God to speak through his word, the Bible. If we come across something we don’t like we are not permitted to re-interpret on the basis of personal preference. Decisions must be made for sound exegetical reasons. For too long, and far too often, these debates come down to cultural relevancy, personal opinion, majority view, and faulty logic. However intensely we feel the issues, if we are to discover God’s will for us in those issues we must keep coming under the authority of Scripture, even where we find it painful or unnerving. And before we point the finger at those with whom we disagree, this goes for all of us, not just some of us.

2. Second, we need Christian engagement. By this I mean a Christian ethic of engagement. That means a number of things. It means I will first act and speak out of love – love for God and love for neighbour. It means I will engage with the best arguments and not misrepresent opposing views. It means I will not go ‘ad hominem’ and attack a person (fellow-believer or otherwise). It means I might deliberately choose not to make my case through social media or blogs (irony spotted!) since it is difficult for me to engage fully, carefully, and in a context of love and prayer. It means I’ll watch my tone and intentionally avoid inflammatory rhetoric. It means I’ll question myself, my arguments, and my motives. It means I’ll grant charity to people when considering their argument and motive. It means I’ll be quicker to listen than to speak. It means I’ll seek the best for those with whom I disagree, and not simply seek to triumph over them. It means I’ll be patient and forgiving when sinned against. It means I’ll be quick to repent when I get it wrong. It means gentleness. And it means firmness. It means self-control.

If either of these two requirements are missing Christian debate is no longer Christian. If the Bible is not authoritative we are no longer in a properly Christian debate. If a Christian ethic is missing we are no longer in a Christian debate. If the two come together there is the possibility of fruitful, edifying, God-glorifying, forward motion. But it takes two to Tango. Let your gentleness be evident to all.

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