How to Fight Over Theology

Leading a campus ministry that is full of people from many different Christian backgrounds (and some without a Christian background and others who have yet to become Christians) makes for some interesting theological discussions during small group gatherings and other times where theology is discussed. Just the other night I was hanging out with six college guys who represented six different Christian upbringings ranging from very reserved to very charismatic.  We had some fun discussions over some secondary truth topics (those topics that you can disagree on without the charge of heresy being thrown about).

The next morning I came across this great blog entitled How to Fight Clean Over Doctrine on the Resurgence blog.  The positive elements within the blog really exemplified the humility and openness that we had the night before over what are often “hot topics”.  Reading the blog is well worth the time, so I have “reprinted” it below:

Roommates

Meet Tim and Ted, brand new, computer-selected freshman roommates at the local Christian college.

Tim became a Calvinist about six months ago. He reads Reformed books, listens to Reformed podcasts, talks incessantly about Reformed theology, and just got a “Soli Deo Gloria” tattoo. Tim is obnoxious.

Ted, his roommate, is not Reformed. In fact, he actually doesn’t like Reformed people very much. He listens to Southern Gospel music on tape and is against all tattoos of any kind. Tim is equally obnoxious.

It’s going to be a long semester.

Were we to listen in on their conversations (significant disagreements) throughout their short journey together, we would likely hear several things: first, we would hear two young men who are equally passionate about what they believe; second, we would hear that they actually agree on much more than they disagree on, but are usually shouting too loudly to hear it themselves; third, we would hear that they are not very different from those of us listening in.

Intramural Debates

Over the years, I have seen “intramural debates” over minor issues, such as the end times and spiritual gifts, become major problems. I have seen people get fired up over secondary issues, and all the while, the gospel was obscured, the mission was sidetracked, and the body of Christ injured in the process.

So what is the alternative? Just skip doctrinal discussions because they could be potentially divisive? Hardly. How about we just find a way to “fight clean” over doctrine? Consider these suggestions:

1. Keep the cross at the center of your theological system.

I have found it impossible to look up to Jesus and then down my nose at a brother or sister with whom I disagree. A cross-centered theology reminds us to keep the “main thing” and serves as a helpful compass to navigate the landscape of lesser issues. It also helps us see how much we actually do have in common and what serves as the source of unity and hope. When the gospel is at the center, everything else becomes appropriately resized.

2. Ask yourself some uncomfortable questions.

We would all like to assume that we are as cool as ice when the differences hit the fan, but is that really the case?  What posture do you take in a doctrinal discussion? Do you become agitated? Do you raise your voice? How would your wife or those closest to you people describe you during these situations? Ask them. Their answers may surprise you.

3. Remember that you probably held the other position not long ago.

Nearly every pastor/theologian I know is continually refining their theology. Sure, we have the “big things” down, but some theological shifting is natural as we learn, grow, and age. And when it comes to the doctrines of grace, it is likely that you haven’t always stood where you stand now, and the way you present certain ideas has a lot to do with how they are received. So don’t be an “angry Calvinist,” [“mad Methodist”, etc], since there are enough of them out there already.

4. Pursue humility with the same passion that you pursue clarity.

This may be the most difficult but necessary pursuit of all. The last thing we want to become is people who both disagree and are disagreeable. I believe humility is the antidote to this ailment. If you spend a lot of time studying, also spend a lot of time in prayer and in Philippians 2. As we see the great humility of Jesus, the Spirit will cultivate greater humility in us as well.

Tim and Ted were great guys, but they fought dirty and both lost. Let’s fight clean.

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