How to Disagree Im/maturely

driscoll.jpgAn excerpt from my message last Sunday (NB: this is from my manuscript, which doesn’t always perfectly match what I actually said):

“But before I get to our passage tonight, I’d like to do something: I’d like to give you a brief step-by-step guide to how to respond maturely and how to respond immaturely to people you disagree with biblically or theologically.  Here or anywhere.

And know that this is coming to you confessionally.  This is coming from someone who has both been in his share of biblical and theological cage fights, and has failed to do it well too many times, but is trying to do it better.  I’ve responded immaturely to people I disagree with, and I’ve responded maturely to people I disagree with, and I’m trying to move myself entirely toward the “mature” side.  So, I’m with you in this.  As I give this step-by-step guide, I’m recognizing that I need to hear it myself as well.  And I apologize in advance for the sarcasm—it’s just how my sense of humor deals with uncomfortable situations.

So, first, how to respond immaturely to someone you disagree with:

Step 1: Get really angry and offended by what was said. That’s always the best place to start if you’re trying to respond immaturely.  Get steamed.  Get pissed.  The madder, the better.

Step 2: Do not—under any circumstances—consult the biblical text to see whether what a person said actually reflects what the Bible really says. That’s just gonna cause problems.  So, just decide that it doesn’t fit with what you’ve always assumed the Bible says, or (even better) decide that it just doesn’t fit with what you feel, and then reject it out of hand because it doesn’t work with how you “feel” about things.  Whatever you do, do not be like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures to see if the things Paul said were so.

Step 3: Label the person with a denominational or theological label. Find a label that typically encompasses some of the things that person said, but also includes all kinds of things he or she didn’t say.  If you can slap an “–ism,” an “–ist,” an “–ite,” or an “–an” on them (really any good suffix will do) then you’ve successfully marginalized and discredited them, and you’ve won. You’ve won, and the Kingdom will be better for it.

Step 4: Use that label to make assumptions about what else he or she believes, however wrong you might be. Assume that belief A means that he or she also holds belief B, C, and D.  And if you can, also assume that if they hold belief A, B, C, and D, they probably also hold them arrogantly, and you can definitely tell some things about their personality, heart, and motives.

Step 5: Do not—again, under any circumstances—take the initiative to enter into a charitable dialogue with him or her about what the biblical text actually says. Instead, just talk with other people about him or her, and then react on the basis of what you’ve together decided about him or her.  That sort of response to someone you disagree with will be very, very successful at being incredibly immature, divisive, and petty.

Okay, do you feel spanked?  Beause I do.  Let’s do better than this.

Now, the other option is the golden rule.  The one where Jesus says, “So whatever you wish that others would do in relation to you, do also to them.”  Here’s what it looks like.  Here’s how to respond maturely, and in rhythm with the Golden Rule, to someone you disagree with:

Step 1: Don’t get angry—get engaged. Don’t jump to, “I just don’t care.”  “I don’t care” is almost as bad an initial response as getting angry, because if the Bible is saying something then it’s because God cares about it.  So, get engaged and make a note of your thoughts, reflections, questions, points of agreement, and points of potential disagreement.

Step 2: Do consult the biblical text to see whether what the person said reflects what the Bible really says. If it is what the Bible really says, then change your mind! No matter how you happen to “feel” about it.  God’s right, your feelings are wrong.  End of discussion.  It if doesn’t fit, or if you’re not sure that it fits, move on to steps 3, 4, and 5.

Step 3: Refuse to slap a label on people because you recognize that most of the time labels are very unhelpful and stereotyping and they’re too broad. Pulling out labels is like both sides pulling out nuclear weapons—there aren’t gonna be any winners at that point.  Just a big angry mess.

Step 4: Refuse to make assumptions about what else the person believes or what that person is like, if you haven’t talked to them about it. Refuse to assume that belief A necessarily leads to belief B necessarily leads to belief C, and “the people who believe those things are like this.”  Instead, talk.  Talk with them.  That’s one I’ve had to learn from hard, embarrassing, foot-in-my-mouth experience.  Just take my word for it.

Step 5 (and this is the best step.  I love this step.): Enjoy a charitable, benevolent conversation with the person about what the biblical text really says, refusing to engage in character or theological assassination behind his or her back, but rather enjoying the creative experience of theology and biblical learning done in the context of conversation and community.

That’s why I so enjoyed [last week’s] conversations.  Not because everyone in the conversation necessarily ended up agreeing—because not everyone did.  And that’s not the point.  But those conversations were so enjoyable because we had the conversation in the context of love and community.

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5 thoughts on “How to Disagree Im/maturely”

  1. If you change just a couple words, much of the above could also apply to socio-political discussions. A good reminder and challenge in either case to represent Christ and not oneself.

    So PB spanking himself was an unscripted moment? 🙂

  2. Why do you have a picture of Driscoll up there, by the way? Did you see his debate with Chopak on Nightline? It was pretty good, though I would like to see the full debate.

  3. I read this article and the previous one (Spurgeon on Calvinism and the Gospel) and their respective comments just now. I wonder, is there by any chance a correlation? Spurgeon himself uses the word “nickname” for Calvinism and rejects the “label” in favor of the Gospel and then he clarifies what that means. Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. may have started out as labels for certain schools of thought. But Paul himself cautioned of the very danger that we can get sucked into when we start down those roads: 1 Corinthians 1:12 “What I mean is that each of you says ‘I follow Paul’ or ‘I follow Apollos’ or ‘I follow Cephas’ or ‘I follow Christ’.”

    Then these labels evolve into ways of us putting people into boxes/categories. Or worse, we identify ourselves so much with a school of thought that it becomes “my opinion”. I marry myself to the opinion so that it is now a part of me. So when I defend say, Calvinism and attack say, Arminianism – am I doing it for the cause of Christ or because I follow Calvin?

    my brain hurts
    Jack

  4. Thoughts…..

    1. How do you engage with someone who is persisting in the immature response rather than engaging in mature discussion? Do the steps change at all? At what point is ‘disengage’ your best choice?

    2. Step 5 is, of course, the peak of the mountain. It’s also the one where I find myself most regularly frustrated. Either I fail to explain myself well (very likely), or people tend not to be charitable and they latch onto a few keywords, make some assumptions about what I’m saying, and go from there (also very likely). It makes discussion hard, especially about emotionally charged issues.

    We had a discussion in a small group a while back about the role of men and women. Part of my thought process considered the fact that men and women are fundamentally *different* in ways that actually matter, but it was (perhaps unavoidably) heard as “men are superior, women are inferior”. That’s frustrating to me, because first and foremost, it isn’t what I believe; secondly, it’s not what I said, and third, it put a roadblock in the discussion.

    3. The older I get (and I suspect it’s age rather than wisdom or maturity) the less inclined I am toward argument: it inevitably feels like wasted time. I relish charitable debate, but argument? Inevitably argument means that one or the other of us has already cemented a position in our head, making the ‘discussion’ fruitless. I find myself shrugging and moving on a lot these days. Maybe to the point of being guilty of not caring. 🙂

    4. Words matter. The mistake I make very frequently – because I’m overly blunt – is to state something too directly, when what I’m really looking for is information. I’ll say to my wife “Kelly, why did you do that?” In my head, I’m thinking “That didn’t make sense to me, but I know she had a reason, so I want to understand what it was, because maybe I’m missing something.” In her head, she hears: “He thinks that was stupid.” That’s a lesson that needs to be applied toward fruitful debate, as well. Ask questions in a way that don’t suggest you’ve already passed judgment.

    5. McWhitites rule.

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