Sunday, 23 June 2013

'How to Debate Theology' or 'Let's Not Play Mornington Cross'

Reading comments on blogs and facebook pages I sometimes get the impression that we Christians treat theological debate as a game of 'Mornington Crescent'.

By that I mean that usually in a debate, things go on for a while, everything seems ok, and then someone says something like "The Bible says this and so if you don't agree with me, you don't believe the Bible" and declares themselves the winner. Sometimes, everybody says it and everybody declares themselves the winner.

At this point things descend into brainless abuse all too often ("I don't understand how you can call yourself a Christian if you don't agree with me" - if you're lucky) and anyone watching from outside gets a very poor impression of Christian love and brotherhood.

So how should we respectfully debate our differences?

1) The other person is not an idiot. After all, they got through school, maybe even university. They have jobs, families. They have managed to live as long as they have without killing themselves in a stupid way. They function in civilised society. They are not idiots just because they disagree with you.

2) They have read their Bible, and they understand what they have read. They have just focussed on a different part, or a different emphasis, or a different translation to you. Expecting to win just because you have a good verse to quote (possibly even out of context) is disrespectful.

3) They are not swivel-eyed heretics just because they disagree with you. There are a vast range of different interpretations and beliefs about many different aspects of theology, all of which fall in the envelope of soundness. It is entirely possible for 2 people to hold beliefs that at first glance appear completely incompatible, but for both to be within the range of acceptable interpretation. A good book to look at this is 'The Mosaic of Christian Belief' by Roger E. Olson, which examines the extremes of soundness and sets out a mainstream, middle of the road theology.

4) You are not perfect. It is entirely possible that you are the one in error! :-)

Hopefully, we can all treat each other with respect, view our differences as points of discussion and debate, and celebrate the vast amount of common ground we all share as believers regardless of our differences.