Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Argument for Arguments, Part 2

Allow me to quickly finish what I quickly started last week. If you missed that piece, I argued that perhaps part of the reason the Bible can be so difficult at times is because it forces us to ingest it as a whole person (rather than just mentally). That alone is important, but I also argued that one of the implications of that thought is that we should be ok with arguing about the Bible, because a good, Christian-love-saturated argument should take the whole person to do well.

A clarification of a term is in order before I can go further. "Argument" need not imply "angry and divisive contention." In fact I'm often frustrated by the fact that the Emerg*** camp (among others) has made "argument" into a dirty word, for which we should substitute "dialogue." Good arguments require not only thought, but emotion (and emotional restraint) and humility. Good dialogues require sweater vests and green tea- not that I'm opposed to either, but somehow they seem to come up short of the kind of challenge that the Word of God should present to us.

It is the lack of these necessary elements for a good argument that probably turns many people off to arguing about the Bible at all. Too often "argument" does end up meaning "my attempt to, without any honest look at my own case, convince you of what I believe, often while getting angry at/condescending towards you and inhibiting our ability to have future loving fellowship." And it's understandable that we would want to avoid that.

But it's important to me that we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater on this one, probably because arguing about the Bible has often been formative for me. I currently live in a house with six other men who take the Bible seriously, three of whom have graduated with or are graduating soon with degrees in Biblical Studies. Naturally we do not always agree on our theological positions, but we talk about them often. One fellow (Trey) and I in particular tend to disagree often, yet enjoy truly deep Christian fellowship (to be sure, Trey and I are both orthodox, which is important).

Dare I say that my disagreements with Trey have often been formative in my Christian development, both in terms of general sanctification and theological growth. Regarding theology, he is always thoughtful and tends to specialize in areas that I do not. Regarding sanctification, our sharper disagreements coupled with our mutual desire love for one another and desire to maintain unity have often forced me to learn what it means to love someone with whom I disagree- which is a quite valuable lesson. These are not the only lessons, of course, but they are major ones.

And these are lessons learned that can only be learned by caring about the Bible in community. Rather than avoid hard discussions, Trey (among others) and I tend to embrace them because we are both able to enter the discussion with genuine desire to grow in our knowledge and faithfulness to the Lord. The underlying assumption is that I don't know everything, and so I need my ideas (even when I think they are good ones) to go through the refinement that only other members of the community can offer. This has almost always been fruitful on multiple levels for me.

So don't just dialogue. Argue. Argue thoughtfully, peacefully, and lovingly. But argue. It's good for you, and the very nature of the Bible teaches us to do as much.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Well said. I prefer the language of "debate" over argument but the same nonetheless. As long as we can continue dialogue, even with strong disagreements, we have real hope. God commands me to love my debate opponent (enemy?) but I don't have to like their ideas. (maybe not even them, but that would be up for debate)