I have become increasingly aware of an occurrence that happens in discussions about theology and the Bible.   Typically, one person will throw out what they think, another will counter that with their viewpoint followed by “God bless”.  Now, I certainly cannot speak to the motive behind the person’s genuineness of wishing God’s blessings on the other.  But it seems to me that more often than not, in the context of theological dialogue, it might be symptomatic of dismissive attitude towards the person who has offered their viewpoint, especially after the initial contribution.  Put another way, it is possibly communicating, ‘I do not accept your position nor will I entertain it.  I am right and you are wrong.  But since we are supposed to be charitable, the least I can do is dismiss you in a spiritual way’.

Another dismissive ending that I think might even be harsher is “I will pray for you”.  I have seen this quite often in discussions and can’t help but sense that what is communicated is ‘not only do I reject your position as being wrong, it is clear that you are in need of some divine illumination.  Otherwise, you would not be holding to that position since it is so clearly contradictory to truth (as I see it).  I am right and you are wrong and you need to get a clue.’  Again, I am not saying this is true in every case.

It occurs to me that even though the language is ensconced in spiritual speak, the sentiments behind the verbiage convey a far different premise than what at face value, these words should communicate.  And I think it is a dishonest way to dialogue about theological and Biblical topics, especially where no questions are asked regarding the respective position.  It does not foster an open and honest dialogue about where disagreements exist.  There is an assumption that we are right and other person is wrong.  However, we always have to ask ourselves if maybe its us who has missed something.

This does come down to a willingness to have our own theology challenged.  The advent of the internet has introduced an easy and prolific way to vocalize theological positions and exposition of Bible passages.  Between the blogasphere, forums and social networking sites, it is open season for declaring truth, or what one deems to be truth.  Yet, what I have observed is that only a fraction of contributors are open to questions and challenges regarding their assertions. I would really be interested in some empirical data on what percentage of people feel free to advertise their position without accepting challenges to it.

It does not help if we are so dismissive of others without first finding out where they are coming from.  And this requires asking questions about why an individual believes what they believe rather than dropping our sound byte.  That does take a bit of investment of time and maybe confronting some discomfort regarding what we hold dear as truth.  It does occur to me that one who does so may not be interested in investing the time or energy in such questioning.  But I would say if that’s the case, it is probably advantageous not to make assertions that we are unable or unwilling to defend and examine further.

For me personally, nothing challenged me more in this regard than Dr. James White’s critique of my last post as well as the issues raised by others regarding some of the assertions made in it.  I could easily draw a line in the sand and say ‘I’m right, you’re wrong…God bless’.  Yet I welcome the challenges and appreciate the feedback so I can revisit and re-examine my assertions.  That is not to say that the outcome would be different but at least there is a willingness on my part for examination that perhaps something was missed, misinterpreted, miscommunicated or just plain wrong.

Otherwise, we can pepper the internet with a string of assertions that could be inconsistent with the revelation of God and the historic witness of scripture and church practice.  Yet how do we know if we are unwilling to accept what another might say in refutation, dismiss them since somehow we’ve determined we have the absolute corner on truth, and then disingenuously brush them off with spiritual speak.  Not only is this arrogant, but it can create confusion for that believer that is none the wiser and I dare say disrespectful.

This is why I wholeheartedly endorse engaging in a forum or discussion site, such as Theologica, that provide a vehicle to think through our theology in community with others.  Dialoguing with others is tremendously beneficial to challenge the assertions we make, that is as long as we are open for that examination.

So I recommend that every assertion that is publicly made have the accompanying practice of 1) questioning; 2) listening; 3) revisiting our own position; and 4) a hesitancy for dismissal.  Be a life-long student and never fail to admit you may be wrong.  And for God’s sake, please don’t use his name in vain to dismiss others without first examining if they may have a valid point.  After we’ve asked the questions, engaged in dialogue and there is no consensus to be gained, perhaps a more loving approach would be to admit there is disagreement and then we can honestly confer blessings on the other person.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    68 replies to "Hidden Dismissals and Thoughts on Fostering More Honest Theological Dialogue"

    • Hodge

      I don’t think you’re reading me correctly. I agree with everything in #50, and said nothing about it, until you say this:

      “none of us this side of heaven can claim we have 100% certainty of the truth in our own right.”

      Are you certain of that on this side of heaven, or are you blogging from paradise. If the latter, go ask Paul why he claimed otherwise.

      “Only Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life can legitimately make the claim of absolute truth as head of the church. So until He reveals all things to us when He comes again, I think Lisa is right that we all should keep a teachable spirit when it comes to discerning the truth of God’s word.”

      I only believe this when it comes to the concept of lacking certainty. Since Christ has not revealed to us on this side of things whether lacking certainty is something believers will always have, we should remain uncertain about it.

      “There’s certainly nothing relative, immature or subjective about that, rather it is a practical scriptual admonishment for all believers.”

      Where? And to whom is it addressed? There’s plenty subjective and immature about that, and to argue that we can never obtain certainty of the truth in this life so we must continue to consider all positions is relativism, as I stated before.

      “Keeping an open mind in that regard doesn’t mean just because we question what we’re being taught, like the Bereans,”

      The Bereans are questioning a new teaching to see whether it can be found in the Bible. They don’t say to Paul, “Well, I’m not
      sure about this Christ fellow, but generally agree. I need to go speak to all of the Jewish leaders and get their take on these texts first and then maybe, juuuuust mayyyybe, we’ll conclude that it is true, but continue to question it’s truthfulness for the rest of our lives because hey we’re all fallen and finite and can never really attain to the knowledge of the truth in a manner that would give us certainty in this…

    • Hodge

      I, of course, agree that we all will continue to grow in the implications of the truth, but am simply saying that there are those who have grown to a place where it will never be a question again as to its truthfulness. Everyone will continue to explore the heights and depths, but not the truthfulness of what God has declared, forever. To argue otherwise, is to argue against what we know to be true from Scripture, and is to argue a self refuting claim, because as I said before, it argues with certainty in this lifetime that we will never have certainty in this lifetime.

    • mbaker


      With all due respect you are arguing from a position that we can have 100% certainty about everything about our theology in this lifetime. That has nothing to do with immaturity, relativism or subjectivity but simply that our finite minds are unable to completely contain God’s infinite truth. I don’t dispute that God Himself is the only absolute certainty we do have as believers, that’s not even a question. Nor it is my point.

      I am simply saying that we cannot know everything there is to know about God’s truth in this lifetime, simply because our minds cannot contain it. We can only go by what is written in the Bible, and obviously that is subject to much interpretation by even the most Godly people.

      If you are saying you alone have all the knowledge of these things and don’t need to learn anything else, then perhaps you should be asking yourself the same question you asked Lisa in comment #46:

      “Are you absolutely certain of your view of certainty?” 🙂

    • Hodge


      I’m sorry, but I’m not arguing that we can have absolute certainty of every aspect of theology in this life time. I’m arguing that some people just state their positions with complete certainty that they are right, not because they are arrogant, but because we can have absolute certainty on some issues, and issue X may be one of them. You are arguing the exact opposite, i.e., that we cannot have absolute certainty of anything in this life because of your emphasis of the human condition over the ability of God to give certainty to fallen and finite humans. It’s nice to tip your hat at God and say, “Oh, but I agree that God has the absolute truth.” Yeah, and? Are you certain that God has the absolute truth? What good is truth if only God knows it for sure and is incapable of giving us enough certainty of the issue so as to put all our eggs in that basket and none else? Your argument isn’t biblical, and it doesn’t glorify God as the One who is superior to ourselves (even our finitude and sin). I would ask that you rethink it, since that is what you set your life’s goal to do. You are arguing against Paul, not me; and if against Paul, against the Spirit of God, and if against the Spirit of God, against God. You’re position is self refuting. If my finitude and falleness does not prevent me from having certainty about my lack of ability to have certainty, then why does it prevent me from having certainty about anything else? What it really does is allow the individual toting this idea to be God who gets to communicate his or her idea and shoves God and His teachings out of the way in a sort of “listen to what I believe, but not what God has said” way. I would suggest greater reflection on your part concerning what you are arguing is needed.

    • Hodge

      You keep moving in and out of this confused idea that certainty has to do with obtaining complete understanding and comprehension of the truth. I can only assume it is because you ignored the means to apprehend truth, i.e., via faith, not sight. If it is by faith that we obtain certainty of the truth, then what does it have to do with full comprehension of that truth? Absolutely nothing.

      Furthermore, you simply keep restating the doctrine of relativism, of which you seem absolutely certain, and then continue to say that it’s not relativism. OK, but a rose is a rose is a rose.

      Your claim that this has nothing to do with immaturity is woefully unbiblical. It has everything to do with it. Let me quote the passage in full:

      Eph 4:11-15: “And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ.”

      Would you really say, “Oh, Paul, this has nothing to do with immaturity, and what you’re arguing cannot be attained. Just live with the lovely chaos that we dare to call the church because we cannot grow up and reach maturity and attain to unity in the faith to where we no longer are children (i.e., immature), but have obtained a knowledge of the truth that transcends the doubt that other positions bring to the table”?

    • Hodge


      I believe in verification, but even verification assumes certainty of the authority that verifies. If the Hindu does his homework and is careful, but is not saved because he is deceived, then was it possible for him to save himself and obtain certainty for himself, or did he need God to give it to him. You’re commenting on the resultant verifications of one who seeks to know versus the obtained knowledge itself. One is the vine and one the branch. Hence, repentance and all other actions on the part of the human is a response that gives verification that God has acted. My point went further back than this, however, and deals with how a Christian knows. My point is that the Christian does not know in the same way that the unbeliever knows. If you want to use internal and external, internally his experience may be the same, but externally, God has given him his certainty. So, as you stated, since God saves who He will, those who will be saved are going to be saved and those who will not be are not going to be, regardless of the homework they do (and, of course, they do not seek the true God and to obtain certainty of what He has said; their religious pursuits are in opposition to God).

    • mbaker


      Now you are being dismissive in the extreme, by totally ignoring what I’m saying and putting your own spin upon it.

      Since it’s obvious you are not listening, and apparently think you are also more of an expert on what you think I believe than I am, I will withdraw from this conversation and leave you to be 100% certain of whatever it is you think you’re 100% certain of. 🙂

    • Hodge


      I apologize, as I can’t be certain of what you’re saying, since it seems to have no relevance to what I am saying. I apparently don’t know what you are saying and you definitely don’t know what I am saying, so let’s just say, “God bless you,” and go our merry way. 😉

    • Hodge

      I find it fascinating that evangelicals tend to argue that in order to obtain absolute certainty, one must know absolutely. I think this goes back to the faith/sight issue I mentioned before, where evangelicals need to know absolutely before they will believe absolutely. This is just the exact opposite of the means that certainty is gained from God.

    • mbaker


      Thanks for your understanding of what I am talking about in your comment # 50.

      I agree that if we are in a mindset that we are so elect that we have no other responsibility for our actions as Christians other than having faith, we are deceiving ourselves.

      I like what Charles Stanley said: “If all we are going to do is receive salvation and not go any further as a Christian, that’s like having tickets to the Super Bowl and then sitting outside in the parking lot during the entire game.”

    • mbaker

      Sorry, Micah, make that comment #51.

    • Hodge

      “I agree that if we are in a mindset that we are so elect that we have no other responsibility for our actions as Christians other than having faith, we are deceiving ourselves.”

      And all Christians, including myself, would wholeheartedly agree. Amen.

    • Michael T.


      First off I agree with you that on the level of the individual from our individual experience we may experience absolute certainty about some matters. Now I would of course add that some people are absolutely certain and absolutely wrong at the same time. I would also add that some people claim absolute certainty about the most absurd things, some even going so far as saying that the Holy Spirit has directly spoken to them about what some obscure passage in Scripture means (i.e. the Beast in Revelation is Henry Kissinger).

      What I’m concerned about is the same thing Lisa I think is concerned about – the fact that this certainty can come off as dismissive to the concerns and issues raised by those who are less certain. When responding to the honest questions of outsiders as well as fellow Christians the answer that “I know that I know that I know”, or “You’ll understand once you’re more mature in the faith” I don’t believe are acceptable answers. One must be willing to genuinely engage with that persons struggles even if you are absolutely certain about the correct position on the issue being raised. As a result I would be at the very least very careful about the issues I am willing to claim absolute certainty on and likely would not claim it ever even when I am absolutely certain. We simply cannot expect others to believe something or be certain of it on the basis of our personal level of certainty.

      As to maturity I believe absolutely and whole heartedly (most of the time) in the work and teachings of Jesus Christ. That being said even though I experience certainty I am aware that others experience the same level of certainty about other beliefs I am certain are wrong. This leads me to believe that in the big picture I could be certain and wrong, but I am still certain. I don’t know if that makes me immature in my faith or even makes any sense. I think it is the reality of the situation though.

    • Hodge


      I agree with you. I think what you said here is true. The only issue I would clarify is concerning the immature believer. I believe, in general, we ought to do as you say, and try to admonish others toward the truth in conversation. However, having been a pastor, there are just some people, regardless of how much you try to explain something to them, who just don’t get it because they don’t have a grasp on numerous other issues. If they didn’t get it and still believed it would be one thing, but most of these people end up rejecting what is good simply because they can’t reason through it. The trajectory that sets them on a sight-based, rather than faith-based, acceptance of doctrine brings them to a place of rebellion against God, simply because they’ve come to believe that everything must be understood by them in order for them to believe. This has left them, and this describes a large majority of evangelicals, in a state of disbelief, always wondering what is true, or rejecting the truth. I do agree that we should teach rather than just proclaim, but sometimes proclamation is appropriate and the encouragement to have faith in order to perhaps see later what is said is true is vital to this person’s life and the glory of God through him.

    • mbaker

      “As to maturity I believe absolutely and whole heartedly (most of the time) in the work and teachings of Jesus Christ. That being said even though I experience certainty I am aware that others experience the same level of certainty about other beliefs I am certain are wrong. This leads me to believe that in the big picture I could be certain and wrong, but I am still certain. I don’t know if that makes me immature in my faith or even makes any sense. I think it is the reality of the situation though.”

      I think you have stated what the problem seems to be. I don’t think it is as clear cut a faith vs. sight issue though, as some claim. Once someone has been subjected to false teachings and has come out of them, yes, they are going to twice shy, as the old saying goes. They are going to question because their faith was misused and manipulated by false teachers who were, as you put it, both certain and wrong.

      Our faith is in Christ, of course, but if we are church going believers with all the wolves in the church nowadays, I think we have to be careful not to have the wool pulled over our eyes. These are confusing times, and certainly all the differences found among the teaching of pastors nowadays reflects this uncertainty.

      That’s why I believe there’s nothing wrong in questioning the why’s and wherefore’s of what we are being preached. In fact, given all the biblical warnings to be on guard again false teachings, I can’t imagine why any really mature leader would be afraid to be questioned if they are preaching and teaching solid doctrine. So maturity can and should work both ways.

    • Hodge

      “That’s why I believe there’s nothing wrong in questioning the why’s and wherefore’s of what we are being preached.”

      Sure, but the issue I was attempting to address is how do you know what you’re questioning them with is true.

      “In fact, given all the biblical warnings to be on guard again false teachings, I can’t imagine why any really mature leader would be afraid to be questioned if they are preaching and teaching solid doctrine. So maturity can and should work both ways.”

      And I don’t know any mature leader who is afraid of being questioned. Most leaders like to teach and be challenged. The issue is when the one questioning doesn’t have the ability to grasp what is being taught and so may reject what is God’s truth because he wants to understand and then believe. If certainty comes through faith, then he must believe first. If he is twice shy because he has been deceived before (who hasn’t been?), then could not this also be seen as a victory for the devil as well the making of a critical mind that may be used for God, since the individual no longer trusts/has faith, but must see the holes in His hand every time an issue is presented to him?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.