There is More To Theological Debate Than Finding Out Who Is Right

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Usually we debate things because we believe we have the right conclusion and want to convince the other person that the way we see it is the truth. My experience has been that the chance of anyone actually changing their in a theological debate is next to nothing. But here is what is fascinating to me…In the process of theological debate what is often found out is who is humble and who is arrogant. Who is right might be subject to opinion, further discussion and continued inquiry into the scriptures. But who is humble, meek, loving and Christ-like is often a lot more obvious than who is right and who is wrong. I want to be counted among that crowd. Being right is great but it does little good if we are arrogant, harsh, unwilling to listen and disrespectful along the way.

10 Responses

  1. This is so very true. Reminds me of Cecil May telling us to have a humble hermeneutic. We often polarize those we talk with pushing them further away from our view when we don’t. I was guilty in my younger days of arrogance in this area and celebrated it as a virtue. Years later I realize my folly and reckless pride.

    1. Rusty,

      So, so true brother. If two people are pursuing the same thing they really shouldn’t run into each other. It should be more like running alongside each other each trying to grab hold of the truth. Once you butt heads you weren’t aiming at truth…you were aiming at the other person.

  2. I know debating has fallen into great disfavor, but the true purpose of a debate is to discover truth, not to annihilate your opponent. This point was lost decades ago, and it has really served to discredit the concept of debate. Master debaters will concede a point, knowing that, just as in a chess game, you might lose a pawn but ultimately “checkmate” your opponent. Once again, the point not being humiliating him or her, but pointing out that his or her argument will not stand rigorous examination. Unless we can concede our opponent has a valid point or argument we have no business entering into the arena of debate. No one is 100% wrong nor is anyone 100% correct 100% of the time. The goal should be to mutually pursue truth, and view the process as a journey into growth.

    1. Randy Harris calls it having epistemological humility. Maybe he got that from Cecil May! If you are arrogant, don’t debate. It will just do more harm than good.

  3. I do not know if any one reading this remembers Ben Bogard, but he was a well known Arkansas Missionary Baptist preacher and debater of the 1930s and 1940s. A number of Church of Christ preachers debated him, including N. B. Hardeman.

    I remember when I was around twelve years of age and I was with my father when he was talking with some Baptist friends of his when the subject of batptism came up. One of them said, “Brother Bogard tore up your Campbellite preachers in those debates they had on baptism.”. My father, though a quite man, engaged his friends in a little Bible battle, then changed the subject.

    On the way home I looked over at my father and asked him, “How can those Baptist folks believe that Bogard won all those debates?” He just smiled and replied, “Well, they like to think they won; but we know that Baptist baptism isn’t the truth, don’t we.”

    Later on, when in my twenties, I was thinking about that conversation with my father. And it hit me that there could have been just as easily another twelve year asking his father, “How can those Church of Christ folks believe they won all those debates”, to here his father answer, “Well, they like to think they won; but we know that Campbellite baptism isn’t the gospel, don’t we”.

    1. It takes maturity to know when its time to “let it go” and when it is time to keep talking and listening.

  4. “There is More To Theological Debate Than Finding Out Who Is Right” Given that I like a good heated discussion as much as the next man, why do I find this post title vaguely disturbing? Could it be that I generally get into intense discussions in life, not to pigeon-hole anyone, but to discover what is of concern? Taking positions – denominationalism – is historically a crying shame on the Church. Shouldn’t we be concerned with what is right in a theological argument, not with who is right?

    The other thought I had was that unless ‘the fate of the nation’ hung on a theological debate (rather than a discussion), isn’t it debasing to turn some topical aspect of our relationship with God into what seems an entertainment with various participants showing off their oratory skills and knowledge. For God’s glory? No, more likely, to cater to their own vanity. Let’s not forget that when Paul addressed the Areopega or the crowds at Lystra and Derbe it was to try and save lifes and souls, not just impress them with his erudition. Nor did he do these things lightly, for his very life, not merely reputation, was being put on the line for the sake of the Truth. We have a saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. Every time fine religious champions enter the public arena (e.g. a TV debate) with atheists or perverts or even just dullards, the reverence that we should show to God is belittled in the public eye. The Jews of Jesus’s time and before were so in awe of God that they would not allow His name to be uttered or written. Contrast that with today where the words “God” and “Christ” are more likely to be heard as swear-words in the conversations of ordinary people than as a source of blessing or inspiration. (Even our own ancestors, much tougher people than our generation, would have been appalled at the unchecked vilification of God that falls from the mouths of ordinary people.)

    1. Charles, you are backing up my entire point here. It is hard to tell if you are trying to refute something but it sounds to me like we very much agree here. Thanks for the comment and sharing those examples.

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