Saturday, August 03, 2002

toward a praxis of theologial disagreement

The 'mappers are currently in the midst of a lively thread on theological disagreement. I had sort of started the thread. And I say "sort of" 'cause what precipitated my post was a theological disagreement about limited atonement. Now this is not the usual type of thing that we discuss; the 'mappers are more likely to discuss postmodernity, epistemology, and transpropositionality.

Though the faithmaps discussion group finds its roots in evangelicalism, there is no ideological requirement to joining. We've been compared to L'Abri inasmuch as anyone is welcome to join and participate in discussion as long as they know what kind of list we are and what we generally talk about. In the ensuing mix of folks we have Arminians, Calvinists, and those who don't care. Consequently, from time to time the topic of limited atonement comes up and it did so recently. But probably because it's not our usual fare, someone asked me if it was ok to talk about this in our list (I'm the moderator if that's not obvious). I referred to comments made in the file that goes out to every new subscriber:

"This list was created to facilitate discussion on topics flowing from which was created to provide

'tools for navigating theology, leadership, discipleship and church life in postmodernity'"

And so discussion began.

But it seemed to me that things were starting to trend south and so I decided to put on my moderator hat and launch a couple of preemptive
strikes. My first note was just to reiterate the importance of mutual respect in our discussion. My second note was listing some illustrations from the history of the Calvinism/Arminian conflict where the disputants - in my opinion - disagreed in a Christian manner.

(I should also note that the 'mappers also do some self-moderating in this regard that I appreciate.)

But a couple of days ago I expressed to our group the desire for something more.

We debate because we are genuinely interested in what is true! This requires more than collegiality. Rather it requires the full extent of respect and humility.

Here's part of what I wrote:

"I would love to see the forum - online, facetime, writing, whatever - where
people have genuine theological discussion doing what Peter Senge calls
"balancing advocacy with inquiry" and what Paul calls regarding one another
as more important with humilty of mind.

Here in this room, with some fits and starts - we've generally done a pretty
good job of discussing with mutual respect when we disagree. I cherish
that. And I don't think that should be depreciated.

But I will tell you that I wish for something more. I am looking for the
theological, ecclesial practice of genuine theological disagreement where
gifted disputants vigorously seek to explore the presuppositions of their
opposites. These charitable souls have learned the art of *provisionally
adopting the stance of their opposite* in order to 1) understand the
position with which they disagree and 2) take into serious account the
possibility that their own position is in error.

This is rare in theological discourse. I would love to see us develop this
art here. Can you imagine what this kind of proliferating theological
practice might do to the intelligence and unity of Christ's church?"

One clarification: note I wrote "provisionally"
adopting the stance of their opposite." I'm not talking about abandoning convictions on core Christian truths but taking a stance of humility and inquiry when discussing non-core doctrinal issues (and, yes, I realize that list varies in length for different folks).

When I have had the chance to do mediation, this is the kind of situation I set up with my disputants; I facilitate their drilling down into the presuppositions and motivations of their opposite. I also emphasize this when I do consulting or training on conflict resolution.

Some time ago I wrote a brief article in which you can find an example of this type of discussion. However, this is a moderated example and I believe this type of discussion would not necessarily require moderation.

This kind of discussion - applied to theology - just seems too rare. I genuinely believe it's the application of Philippians 2:3. I also believe that the result would be a greater grasp of truth and a more holistic approach to loving God and loving others besides.

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