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.