October 22, 2020

Andy Zehner: How to win an argument . . . like a Christian

lou arguing

Note from CM:  Andy and Damaris Zehner have been good friends for many years, and I have participated in any number of vigorous, vibrant conversations with them about matters of faith and life. iMonk readers have the privilege of reading Damaris regularly, today here’s a re-post of something Andy contributed back in 2011.

• • •

Chaplain Mike once wrote this nice post regretting what happens when Christians get “political.” By adding my own bit here I affirm what he said. Anything we do from a desire to score off someone else is wrong. But there’s another point I would add. It is too small a thing merely to avoid contentiousness. We do nothing good when guided by our ego, but even when ego is controlled we cannot be content.

i-despise-pinstripes0Doctrine and practice matter. The Old Testament is packed with proof — Cain’s vegetable offering, Nadab and Abihu’s unauthorized fire, the blemished sacrifices God despises in Malachi — that God doesn’t accept all that is offered to Him. God’s glory demands that He be worshiped in ways that are acceptable to Him. We latter-day believers worship in spirit and truth, but none of us knows how broad a license that phrase confers. “In spirit and truth” is not the same as “what works for me.” God allows us latitude in our practices, but when the fences are down the sheep will wander: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3) We have a duty to stand firm for right doctrine and practice.

Before a church-league softball game years ago, I suggested to my teammates that we try to win the game. I said we’d honor our opponents by giving our best effort between the chalk lines. By their dropped jaws and incredulous stares you might have supposed I wanted to brush off their lead-off hitter with the old high, hard one or go into second with our spikes up. They seemed to think we did enough if we went through the motions, and that serious effort was unChristian. I suspect many Christians take the same approach — content to make the appropriate motions and noises without much care for the outcome — to discussions about religion and faith.

But here’s the delightful thing. Fervency for right doctrine and practice does not require us to compromise courtesy. We aren’t being pulled in two directions. It’s not a case of, “You put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword.” We aren’t required to give up anything except what impairs us. Fulfilling the call to be gracious makes us more effective in defending the faith. You catch more flies with honey.

My thesis is that we need to add a firm resolve to defend good doctrine and practice to the graciousness Chaplain Mike commended to us earlier. Let me back that up with a few principles showing how courtesy and humility go hand in hand with persuasiveness.

Speak the plain truth
Christian debate is infected with unkind and inaccurate hyperbole. Hyperbole is fun, but it isn’t honest. We need to stop using it. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.” People who attend traditional services are not “corpses.” Liturgical services are not “hide-bound magic shows.” Old doctrines are not “medieval superstitions.” This sort of mischaracterization has no place in Christian discourse. Misquoting another person is false witness and sinful. Anyway, mischaracterizations don’t work. When we describe people in terms like these I’ve mentioned, they won’t recognize themselves and they won’t acknowledge the criticism as pertaining to them. The point we are making goes off track. If we care about persuading people and defending right doctrine we must give up what isn’t honest and accurate.

Speak graciously
CS Lewis says, in his Reflections on the Psalms, “It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better.” But Lewis stops short of endorsing violent action. It would be an effective tool, but it is one we cannot wield. And neither can we accomplish anything good with aggressive speech.

The crowd came to be baptized, and John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers. Whatever John said to Herod Antipas got him imprisoned and beheaded. Jesus himself addressed the Jewish authorities as hypocrites, whitewashed sepulchers and blind guides. And the less said about Paul’s comment about the false teachers in Galatia the better. From these examples I would draw no lesson at all. Peter instructs the believers to always be ready to give an answer, but adds, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”

0626-piniellaListen and wait
Consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James wasn’t the biggest name attending that meeting, but he made the vital contribution to the outcome by waiting until after Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and perhaps others, had finished speaking. James comprehended the whole debate before he spoke. And, clever fellow, he even brought Peter onto his side by citing Peter’s earlier statement in support of his own.

I have, on occasion, listened while another person stated his opinion, the preceded to find the obvious flaws in it and reverse himself without any input from me. If I had stuck my oar in, it would have been my ideas he reacted to and not his own.

More questions, fewer answers
My high school friend grew up as I did in a traditional denominational church. But he now declares hymns are unfit for church because, “They don’t know what a diadem is.”  When he said this to me in a recent conversation, I didn’t know how to respond. I should have asked him many honest questions: Who is this they you speak of? Is they the people who attend your services now, or an unchurched demographic you hope to attract in the future? How do you know what they know? Would it be possible to just explain that a diadem is a crown? Doesn’t the hymn you disparage for introducing an unfamiliar word in one line, “Bring forth the royal diadem,” clarify that word in the very next line: “And crown Him Lord of all?” If you reject this hymn as a means of teaching Jesus as King of Kings, how do you teach that important aspect of His nature? Are you only trying to update the vocabulary, or are you changing Christianity?

If I had asked and listened, I might have discovered that my friend is not as wayward as I suspected. Or I might have helped him realize for himself how slight his position is. Either way, our conversation would have been more pleasant and profitable. Some readers might think my questions are too provocative. But people like to talk. They don’t mind what you ask, so long as you listen to their answer.

Cite experts rather than your own opinion
As our conversation went round and round it became obvious my friend didn’t care about my opinion. But my opinion and his respect for it ought never have come into play. I ought to have preferred the more potent weapons and strategies that were available to me. History tells us that hundreds of French knights were slaughtered by arrows from English peasants’ bows at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Even as they fell in ranks, the French knights ignored the archers because their chivalric code demanded that a knight fight against another knight. Like the French knights, I suffered a defeat because I persisted in using the polemical weapons that preserved my dignity rather than those that would have succeeded.

My friend and his idea of church may be right or wrong. What is certain is that what he believes about church comes from Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek model. The fact that Hybels himself has disavowed much that he pioneered ought to matter to my friend. I should have avoided my own inferior thoughts and the desire to win my way, and instead quoted from Hybels’ Reveal report.

Avoid saying “They”
This one may be most important of all. Paul declares in the second chapter of Galatians, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Paul’s reproach was, no doubt, effective because he said what needed saying to Peter’s face and not behind his back. If our goal is to win arguments and persuade people toward right doctrine and good practice, we must be talking to those people. And yet most political talk (both the political political talk on the radio and internet news channels and the religious political talk on this forum and around the coffee hour table) is commentary about people who aren’t even present.

We abhor confrontation, so we avoid saying tough things directly to the people who need to hear them. But I think we need to train ourselves to do that, or to stay silent.

Know what you’re arguing about, and concede as much as you can
Have you found yourself arguing a point which, on later reflection, wasn’t the thing you wanted to stress? When that happens, I can often look back over the conversation and find the moment at which I dug in my heels and began arguing for argument’s sake.

I have a friend who is Orthodox, and once we were going around about it. I was prosing on about the importance of a cultural context for Christianity and how I had labored among the Kyrgyz to free them of Russian symbols and practices that were hindering the development of a true Kyrgyz heart-language church. I continued by stressing that America deserves a church free from foreign overtones as much as the Kyrgyz did. At last I paused, well convinced by myself, and my friend asked the only real question between us, which was, “Do you have any doubts that I am a genuine Christian?” I answered, “No, none at all!” And that was all that needed to be said.

lou-piniella-last-game-chicago-cubs-823jpgjpg-9362491de24bea2a_largeKnow when to quit
Let’s be honest. Some people are thick. But that only raises our obligation. The thick-headed man deserves a compelling explanation just as much as the wise and logical man does. Unpersuasive arguments such as “Take my word for it!” need to be set aside. I need to try harder, not less hard, when the nut is hard to crack.

But there is also the possibility that I’m not the man for the job. An antinomian heresy was spreading in Kyrgyzstan several years ago and I confronted the leaders about their error. Our conversation led one of them finally to say, “I just can’t understand why you say we aren’t right.”  And I came to the point where I said, “I believe you. You can’t understand it.”  But I must see it as my own failing and not his. I let him down.

• • •

I hope I have made the case that we need to stay in the debate over doctrine and practice even as we give up methods that don’t work well anyway. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer . . .” And I’m sure he intended that the answer we give be correct and compelling. When he added, “But do this with gentleness and respect,” he was stipulating both Christian virtue and pragmatic polemical strategy.


  1. Thank you for that helpful reminder. It seems more and more relevant in this polarized environment we live in. Personally, I try to remember a quote by Pema Chödrön: “It’s not our differences that are the problem, it’s the judgments we make about them.” I find that when I engage another, over a difference, with an attitude of curiosity rather than judgment, I become less defensive and more open to at least understanding their point of view. And, it allows me to treat the other with gentleness and respect.

  2. davidbrainerd2 says

    Just say “Paul was wrong, an apostle of men and a liar, so lets stop arguing about all of Paul’s foolishness and follow Jesus” and anyone who gets on board with that, all their disagreements will basically melt away because what divides Christianity is Paul’s lying faith vs works nonsense, not anything that Jesus said.

    • I think we need to add another rule of thumb to the list above…

      Any replies that violate Poe’s Law are automatically out of bounds. 😉

      • I just looked up Poes law That should be a rule here sometimes Its hard to distinguish sarcasm or extremism

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I always assume it’s Dead Serious Extremism until proven otherwise, and not because I’m a possible low-end Aspie.

          Because in my experience the Dead Serious True Believers will always go farther out and more over-the-top than those doing it as a joke.

      • davidbrainerd2 says

        Its just your basic red-letter Christian type view, so how does it violate some nobody named Poe’s law exactly? It is a fact, after all, that what everyone argues about ALL THE TIME is all in Paul, or interpreted to be, and cannot be found in Jesus in the gospels:

        1.) Faith vs works
        2.) Original Sin
        3.) Predestination

        Those three topics alone cover almost every disagreement in Christianity. Even disagreements on baptism are largely covered by that, since they typically fall under #1 and #2 somehow, if not also #3.

        The only disagreement I can think of not covered here is transubstantiation versus spiritual presence verses mere symbolism. However, even that I think largely evaporates without Paul, because its not really Jesus saying “this is my body” that fuels belief in transubstantiation but rather Paul saying “anyone who eats this bread without discerning the Lord’s body eats damnation to himself.” Everyone can see that “this is my body” means only it represents his body, until they combine in Paul’s statement about “discerning” the Lord’s body, at which point they say: “Aha! You have to discern the Lord’s body; that’s means it literally is the Lord’s body!” So even this one is Paul’s fault. Case closed.

        • For me, the biggest stickers about the Real Presence were “The cup of blessing… is it not the communion of the blood of Christ,” etc. (not the worthy and unworthy part that everyone remembers from that passage), but even if I discount that, I’d still have to explain away Christ’s “My flesh is real food and by blood is real drink” in John 6.

        • The case is not closed, brother, no, not in the least. The judge has left the bench, and the prisoner has fled the courtroom, and the press are in an uproar. “This is my body” does not obviously mean only that Holy Communion represents his body; people have been arguing about this text for hundreds of years, apart from anything Paul wrote, and you have the temerity to think that you can close the arguments with a statement that has been asserted and refuted perhaps a million times already? Fat chance!

          • Kenny the Sacramentarian kindergartener, anyone?

          • After all, the plainest meaning of “This is my body,” which in this case is also the most metaphorical, is that “This is my body,” not “This symbolizes my body.” Though I do think that it would have been natural for the Apostles to think he was saying that it symbolized his body, rather than was his body, since he was standing there in his body holding it out to them, and had not yet gone to the cross to give his blood for them. It required some further elucidation, which was subsequently given in the life of the Church as they met around the table together and remembered him. Jesus at the Last Supper was not giving theological lectures, but grabbing the metaphors with strong hands and turning them into his life-giving self.

    • You obviously don’t accept the traditional canon of the New Testament. Does your church also reject the canon, i.e., Paul’s epistles?

    • Do you also reject Acts, since Paul plays such a central part there?

      • davidbrainerd2 says

        Acts presents information that shows how Paul evolved his conversion story over time, so Acts is not a problem. It also doesn’t say Paul is an apostle on the level of the 12, but only calls him an apostle once “The apostles BARNABAS and Paul rent their clothes.” So it says Paul is an apostle only in the same sense as Barnabas: an apostle of men, an apostle of one congregation. Well, that’s true, so why would I have a problem with that?

    • Sean O Riain says

      I have often thought that we (general Christian adherents) have put more emphasis on the Pauline epistles than the words of Christ. Additionally, it also appears that it is Paul’s words that seem to be the root cause to many denominational controversies and arguments. So from that standpoint I can clearly see your argument and dismay. However, Paul is attributed to be the author of more books of the New Testament than anyone else and to simply disregard them would be to disregard the “accepted” Christian faith. There is no doubt that many people do not see the Christian faith in the same light, but I am talking about majority in this case. Therefore, to enter into a conversation about the Christian faith with others, then the writings of Paul will more than often become a topic of discussion. If it is something that you cannot swallow the solution is simple, do not engage in that specific conversation.

      When I read the works of Paul many descriptive words come to mind such as: contradictory and confusing but I also use words such as: fascinating, enlightening, and inspiring. Instead of dismissing Paul altogether I let those aspects that challenge my thoughts give me cause to study even more so.

      • Paul wrote a lot of what many consider the New Testament Law. Where Jesus dismantled, Paul instead put rules in place.

        Or so it appears, and I’m wondering how much of that is because of inerrancy.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I don’t think it’s Paul, and I don’t think it’s inerrancy. I think it is various church bodies trying to exercise control. In the end, that’s all inerrancy is used for – a post-hoc justification of a particular theological tradition.

          • +1

          • a particular theological tradition

            Oh c’mon, you secretly know it to be true, lol. You’re just deceived. God wrote the truth inside you. How can it be a “tradition” if it’s true?


        • That Other Jean says

          Current scholarship suggests that Paul’s letters were written by more than one person, based on writing style language, and other evidence. Should both groups be given equal weight, as being part of the accepted canon, or should their contradictions be solved by regarding the undisputed Pauline epistles as more important than the others? I’d be inclined to go with “What did Paul actually write?” where there are problems.

          • Yes, but no matter what Paul did or didn’t write, from what little we know, he wrote more than Jesus.

      • That someone as imperfectly human as Paul was so near the center of the New Testament and early Church history is something that I find encouraging, and something that makes me have confidence in the core experience and witness of the New Testament communities. I’m grateful that he wasn’t a plastic dashboard saint.

    • Occasionally, Paul does trouble me.

      However, Paul is not the problem. Nothing Paul says, not even Paul’s contentiousness, forces us to be contentious. The fact is, we’re contentious for our own reasons. If we do not have Paul as an occasion for it, we will turn the gospels, or the prophets, or the Pentateuch.

      Despairing of these scriptures, we might then dispose of Christianity. No doubt we will then commence the holy task of finding for ourselves a new war.

      • Rather like the ISIS parody that an Iraqi TV company produced, where the leader hatches out of an egg in all his bearded glory and orders a bunch of dudes to kill a bunch of other dudes, and when they’ve done that, he turns on them, and when those people are dead, he finally blows himself up.

        It’s kind of how we all are, but for the grace of God.

      • “Occasionally, Paul does trouble me.”

        And Jesus doesn’t? (Insert Smiley Face HERE)

      • This is what troubles me: The idea that we can only hear God clearly by straining out imperfections, both in texts and in people. Paul’s imperfections, the scriptures imperfections, it seems to me, are part of what God is communicating and revealing to us. The imperfections reveal a God who cannot be reduced to the god of the philosophers, who is not bound by abstract definitions of perfection and immutability and impassability, who is not prevented from communicating by the imperfect people and things through whom he speaks. Paul’s imperfections, even his ethical failings, as we find them embedded in the scriptural texts reveal, along with many other biblical texts, a God who chooses to work in and through that which is flawed and imperfect. This alone speaks volumes about our God’s identity. I would not eliminate those textual and personal imperfections from the scriptural witness for all the tea in China: they reveal and teach.

        • +1000

          I know I ride the theme of “stories” to death. But I cannot help myself: it is delightful to me, and delightfully confounding, that God’s self-revelation should come to us in the wrapping of human stories. It is appealing to seek an authority and a form free of any human fingerprint, and especially human limitation. We want matter out of which to make systematic theologies and foundations on which to build very large structures that can’t be knocked down. Instead we have a Book consisting largely of stories about, and written by, people.

          Believers worry that this would make God very little. Curiously, this is the one area where that the harshest critics agree: “Show me a book or a church history with men in it, and I’ll show you that there’s little of God to be found.” If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might argue the two camps were in collusion.
          But if Paul, and everyone else whose stories is folded inside of God’s Story, are just people, and if God is so great that God can only step inside their own little lives and be expressed in and through those lives—then there’s actually hope for knowing God.

          I need that as an individual person. I also need as a human being: human history contains millions upon millions of people living fairly ordinary lives, in specific times and places. There’s a tendency to look back on this and want to be the exception, to escape it. Or to look down on those people who have audacity just to be bread bakers and stone masons and concubines. Or look for any religious inspiration to what we think might be a golden age or to a few choice heroes, to something ‘better than all this.’ [I especially used to get this feeling when people would shrug off the ‘ignorance’ of the past, as though it was simple ignorance; or claim that the real church existed for about 100 years, and then again in Reformation.] But if God can’t be in all these ordinary places and with ordinary people, God might as well be nowhere.

          • *But if Paul, and everyone else whose STORY is folded inside of God’s Story, are just people, and if God is so great that God can NOT ONLY step inside their own little lives BUT ALSO be expressed in and through those lives—then there’s actually hope for knowing God.

          • “Turn the page–the story is alive!” –Theocracy (“just like DragonForce, except CHRISTIAN™!!!”)

          • So is it a good or a bad thing that my comment made you think of “Theocracy”?

            (I’ve never heard them. They are progressive metal? Good like Neil Morse, or not …?)

    • DAVID, your problem with St. Paul . . . would this perspective help resolve it a bit?
      Take a look:

      “To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary.
      That is why Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14).”


      so much of St. Paul is misunderstood by so many, which has led to the Paul-versus-Christ controversy, but in his expressions of the light Christian charity, St. Paul can be seen in a way that helps resolve much of that controversy, if people will give the matter some careful reflection

      • davidbrainerd2 says

        Its not my problem with Paul: its Paul’s problem with Jesus. Paul wants a Jesus who didn’t teach anything, who is nothing but a divine whipping boy: Jesus took my whoopin’ so I can just keep on in willful sin and be saved by faith alone. And then Paul turns around and disagrees with his own self on that! All of the sudden, “Know ye not that no fornicator, murder, etc. shall inherit the kingdom of heaven?” But you just said its by faith alone Paul! But wait, he contradicts himself again: “ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL, but not all things are expedient.” Ok, so at first, Paul says we’re saved by faith alone, then he says no that’s not true, if you do these things you can’t go to heaven, then he goes back on that and says everything is lawful. The guy can’t make up his mind. The result is a bunch of hogwash good for nothing but arguing about. Unlike Jesus, Paul has no solid doctrine: Paul makes it up as he goes along and vascilates back and forth. So, anyone following Paul gets to pick which of the personalities of the multiple personality disorder Paul he wants to follow today, and he can follow the other Paul tomorrow, and claim he’s always following Paul faithfully. Now that’s just lunacy.

        • In case you didn’t notice, our God often has the appearance of a lunatic. Else, why would he call David, a murderer, a man after his own heart (one who we may presume entered the kingdom of heaven)?

          No fornicator, murderer, etc., shall enter the kingdom of heaven; they shall be changed into something else first. That’s what Paul is telling his audience: Get with the program, because it will go easier for you if you do, and you’re going to get with the program eventually, whether you like that idea or not at the moment.

          • So if you were to fornicate, murder, etc, after being changed into something else…what then? Did the changing not happen? was it not fully effective? are the rules that lax?

            Make it more practical. Person gets saved at a young age, 4, 5, 6…then they grow up and “learn” to sin.

            Were they saved? Are they still saved? Have they any hope of being re-saved?


          • Stuart, maybe it would be more helpful to think about the situation as a good man falling ill, and getting better or worse in fits and starts. That’s likely to be bad news for him, if he didn’t have friends helping him out, and a good physician.

          • StuartB, I don’t have a systematic theology, so I can’t answer your questions in anything like a consistent or satisfying, or practical, way. So I won’t even try.

            I don’t think Jesus was very practical, anyway; being practical doesn’t get you hung on a cross. Dying is what makes change fully effective, and Jesus’ dying was very effective, though highly impractical. But death is a paradoxical thing: you can die right in the midst of life without anyone noticing; on the other hand, you can still have a lot of life in you while your corpse molders in the grave.

            I think Jesus, the crucified God, intended above all else to confound us with his living and dying. I think he confounded Paul deeply and profoundly, and so I have a great love for Paul, exactly because he allowed himself to be so gripped by that confounded and confounding Jesus. It’s a wonderful thing when Paul speaks nonsense about Jesus, because that’s what lover do, they fall into speaking nonsense about the beloved; Paul’s nonsense is the language of his love for Jesus Christ. I wish I could love Jesus with something remotely like the passion that Paul did. Maybe one day I’ll die, and get my wish. I will then have been saved.

      • how is it people ‘compare’ St. Paul with Our Lord?

        St. Paul is human and he knows it. He as much acknowledges that he is the least of Our Lord’s followers and that it is by Our Lord’s grace that he was able to preach to the Gentiles. So St. Paul would not likely challenge any accusations against his failings, because he was aware of them. But Our Lord saw something in this man that was to prove useful to the Church, and if we find that something of beauty is present in that ashes of St. Paul’s weaknesses, then we can believe that St. Paul would say it came not from himself, but from a gift of grace for the sake of Our Lord’s service.

        comparing St. Paul to Christ?
        it can’t be done . . . Christ is The Word . . . Christ acts and speaks in the very Person of God, being the second Person of the Blessed Trinity . . . He is the ‘uncreated Light’ . . . He is the Lord of Life Who holds all things together in existence

        And if we look at the MAN, St. Paul, we see a rough sinner who encountered Our Lord on a road and was changed, not into a perfect creature, but into a HUMBLED rough sinner who knew the sad truth about himself and was only then enabled by a profound gift of grace to take up the indispensible mission Our Lord assigned to him:


  3. I have a personal rule for conversations with other christians, on- and offline, which I have dubbed the ‘armchair’-rule. If I can imagine myself sitting with the other person in armchairs, in front of a fire, maybe even with a glass of wine, I am willing to engage, open my own heart, and listen to the others’ arguments. If I cannot imagine this, due to the tone the other takes, e.g. in his blog comments, I may read them, but I won’t let them enter my serious consideration. I’ve been burned, and made to feel guilty or ‘not enough’ too many times. Tone of voice is very important, also in conversations between christians. I have friends with very different viewpoints to me, about end time theology for instance, and I can see them, and have a great time examining our views and searching for what is true and worthwile in both of our journeys. Sometimes I am convinced of his view, sometimes he is of mine. But I also had a friend that when we talked about my switch from young earth creationism to ‘theistic evolution’ got offensive, started to dismiss my story leading to this switch and accused me of not having thought this out. I got pretty emotional and hurt, and we were not able to talk about this subject any more. Our friendship later ended.

  4. Why not just be wronged? I believe Paul said this in response to Corinthian brothers taking each other to court. A hard thing for us to do, I suppose.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Ok, but in what manner does one deal with the effect of permitting a bully to run about unchecked? I can permit myself to be wronged; but do I stand passively by while observing another person being wronged?

      And among ‘Christian Brothers’ this is one thing. But I live in a place, and work in an environment, where that describes a scant portion of my fellows or a scant portion of the context of my interactions.

  5. Someone once said, “no one can offend you without your permission.”
    We are commanded first and foremost to “Love”. Love covers all sins, all transgressions. Love comes before doctrine or being right.
    As Paul said in the previous post, “Why not just be wronged?” All things in Love!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Someone once said, “no one can offend you without your permission.”

      I’ve head that before. I don’t buy it; except for a very narrow, nonoperative, meaning of “offend”.

      This is effectively saying: “no one can hurt you without your permission”. That isn’t true. Someone slandering, mocking, or insulting something that is important, precious, or beautiful to you hurts unless you are the thickest skinned b^@^$&@ on the planet.

      That is why Love is so darn hard; it demands suffering, even if that suffering is as ‘trivial’ as bearing offense [which is not trivial at all if one has to bear it day after day after day after day – with no recourse].

      > As Paul said in the previous post, “Why not just be wronged?” All things in Love!

      Sure, no problem!

      • Easy to say, hard (impossible?) to do.

        And is it really the loving thing to do to let someone else wrong you? Perhaps the loving thing to do is to resist, so that they don’t get away with murder, which obviously would be bad for them as well as you.

        • I just looked up the definition of offend; “cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful.”

          Only those with whom I have a close relationship (i.e.love) can hurt me. The others just annoy, so yes I suppose I am thinking within a narrow meaning of offend.

          Feelings are internal. Actions are external. There is a difference between being offended and letting someone getting away with murder.

          Love hurts!

  6. Excellent post and a great reminder.

    Can I piggyback off the Poe above with a question? With inerrancy going by the wayside, every single word in the Bible is no longer authoritative in an inerrant sense as coming straight from the mouth of God. This is allowing things like all the “New Laws” that Paul came up with (because in my circles, any word Paul uttered has become a de facto NT Law) to be tossed aside as authoritative laws on par with anything Moses wrote, but to be reassessed in light of Paul, guided by the holy spirit, giving extremely great advice and insight into many things.

    So…to piggyback off the Poe…post-inerrancy, what do we do with Paul and others who have great advice, insight, etc…but aren’t necessarily commanding us modern believers to do or so one thing or another?

    Make sense?

    • Hmm.

      The question of how to interpret Paul, and the question of inerrancy, are two different topics. The first topic relates to hermeneutics; the second questions relates to inspiration.

      You’re associating these two topics, because your are used to hearing arguments where the inerrant Bible is used as a rhetorical foundation for reading the New Testament as having a set of hand-and-fast, specific, directly applicable, true for-all-times-and-places guidelines. These two views often travel together because both appeal to people who want to preserve a sense that the text is authoritative and binding.

      However, the question of interpreting Paul in context, and how best to accomplish this task, in order to apply him correctly, invokes a conversation in which both proponents of inerrancy – or those with other views of Scripture – can engage. There’s a small mountain of commentaries and books by evangelicals that hold just that conversation.

      I suppose that someone who is firm on inerrancy (in one of its many forms) is going to be a bit loathe to allow the idea that Paul’s biases and prejudices as a first century, education Jewish man may have affected the inspired text of Scripture. Someone who does not hold to inerrancy will be more likely to allow that argument, or even find it obvious. However, even there, I don’t think it’s cut-and-dry.

      • That having been said, my overly simplex answer to your question would be:

        If it seems that Paul’s words could not or should not be directly applied to contemporary circumstance, then the next step is to figure out what principle he is establishing or following. Then, apply the principle or theological truth that is at stake.

        To pick a very uncontroversial example, if I read, “Do not worry about eating or not eating food sacrificed to idols,” I could shrug and claim the text says nothing to me today, because no one in my town sacrifices meat to idols. Or I could look at what principle he’s establishing this pronouncement, and apply to to any of a host of contemporary situations.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        “The question of how to interpret Paul, and the question of inerrancy, are two different topics. The first topic relates to hermeneutics; the second questions relates to inspiration.”

        I disagree. If the Scriptures are not inerrant or infallible in some sense, then how we handle Paul’s words(and ultimately all the words in the Scriptures) differs greatly than if you are dealing with them as being ‘Divinely’ superintended and ultimately as God’s word to us.

        • I’m not claiming the two topics have no relationship to each other, and no influence on each other. However, your approach to one is not strictly determinative of the other. In fact, people are all over the map.

          The doctrine of inerrancy (or whatever you posit) is not without consequence. Still, 9/10 a speech about “inerrancy” turns out to be nothing more than a very long rhetorical wind-up. You wait, you twiddle your thumbs, you hope that one day the Latin oration will end, and you will hear what the real argument is. What does the speaker think Paul has said? How does he plan to apply it?

          One question is, “Can the Scripture ever be wrong in something it contains?” (Then: what kinds of things can it err about?)

          The other question is, “What does the passage teach?”

    • Patrick Kyle says

      “So…to piggyback off the Poe…post-inerrancy, what do we do with Paul and others who have great advice, insight, etc…but aren’t necessarily commanding us modern believers to do or so one thing or another?”

      Exactly. And herein lies the problem, at least for me and some others. For the sake of conversation , I am lumping inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility into one category, even though technically they are not the same but closely related. The idea is, ‘What makes/gives this particular set of writings the authority to determine doctrine and codes of conduct/morals?’ And if they have authority, to what extent and over whom? If these writings are not in some sense infallible, and do not entirely, accurately and truthfully communicate what God wishes to tell us, then where is the dividing line. Which parts are really God’s word to His people, and which parts are cultural and personal baggage recorded by the various authors. Who determines this? What part does our current culture determine as far as what God really said versus what previous cultures thought important?

      If the doctrine of Inspiration is nothing more than plain old inspired common sense (or some shade thereof) , or like unto other ‘inspired’ poets, authors,etc, then really, how authoritative and binding is it?

      You can see this in liberal theologies and churches. First it’s the hard passages in the OT that are questioned and dismissed. Then the hard sayings of Paul. Finally, the words of Jesus Himself are called into question. (Jesus Seminar, anyone?)You end up with people like Matthew Fox and John Spong using the scriptures they don’t believe as a pretext for their moral and social agendas.

      If God is unable or unwilling to give us a word that we can trust above all, we are left with a great unknowing. The Scriptures are reduced either to the ancient philosophic wranglings about God in which even the various authors contradict each other, or a compendium of folk wisdom, common sense, and civic piety, interspersed with ancient stories that may or may not be applicable to modern life.

      Life is hard. Being a Christian in many ways makes it harder. If it is ultimately impossible to be sure what God has said, then why bother? Why waste life wrangling over things you can never know?

      (Note: I do believe that God’s Word is authoritative for all people, in all places, at all times. So I am not facing this existential crisis.)
      All that being said, I think this question is at the root of many of the major disagreements on this blog.

      • Serious question. To what degree does it matter that there is an absolutely staggering amount of disagreement as to what the Bible “authoritatively” says?

        • Patrick Kyle says

          Mike H,

          I would say, not as much as it might first appear. Two reasons. First, the fallen nature of humanity. (No, I was not convinced by CM’s series of posts on the subject.) Our affliction with sin guarantees that we will disagree with each other, especially on something like God’s word. Secondly, looking from the outside, there is not as much disagreement as it would seem. I had a friend convert from Mormonism because he was trying to debunk Christianity. He told me that the Mormons are taught that the Christian Church was hopelessly divided. When he really studied it he told me it rocked him to his core that the various denominations were pretty much unified on the important points. He said that most of the disagreements concerning the Scriptures appeared to him to be a matter of emphasis, appeals to various traditions not withstanding. He converted to Christianity and went back to everyone he brought into Mormonism while on his mission and evangelized them into the church. (All 52 of them.)
          Opponents of the church like to make hay of the fact that honest men disagree honestly. Most of our ‘disagreements’ fall under several broad historical categories: Catholic/Orthodox, Methodist, Reformed, Lutheran, and Anabaptist. These theologies are all well thought out and have various levels of connection to our shared histories. They all embrace the Scriptures as God’s Word, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection, His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Apart from ‘baptizing’ certain ‘Traditions ‘as authoritative,(Catholic and Orthodox) most of our disagreements can be chalked up to a difference of emphasis.
          Fighting and arguing in the trenches of the internet with every self appointed expert can make our divisions seem worse than they are. Look to the official doctrinal statements of the various churches for a real look at what the issues are.

          • Thanks for responding Patrick. Didn’t really mean this to turn into an inerrancy post – so apologies for getting away from the original topic. You had said:

            “Life is hard. Being a Christian in many ways makes it harder. If it is ultimately impossible to be sure what God has said, then why bother? Why waste life wrangling over things you can never know (Note: I do believe that God’s Word is authoritative for all people, in all places, at all times. So I am not facing this existential crisis.) All that being said, I think this question is at the root of many of the major disagreements on this blog.”

            I took this to mean that you think that the root of the disagreements is that people don’t believe in biblical inerrancy – that people either ignore what is true and obvious or are ignorant of it but if that wasn’t the case disagreements would disappear. Apologies if I’m reading that wrong.

            You also said:

            “If God is unable or unwilling to give us a word that we can trust above all, we are left with a great unknowing”.

            In your response to my question you said “Our affliction with sin guarantees that we will disagree with each other, especially on something like God’s word.” Using that argument of our sinful nature, wouldn’t it also guarantee that we’d misunderstand to begin with? This argument seems to say that while the Bible might be inerrant and inspired, even then the Bible simply doesn’t have the capacity to speak in a way that we can understand because our sinfulness trumps that ability.

            But isn’t the point of inerrancy and inspiration as defined precisely to break thru our unknowing? Or is it just not up to that task? If it isn’t, why bother. No, that’s an explanation that neuters the effectiveness of inerrancy at the outset.

            You also said that Christians basically do agree about everything, so maybe our sinful nature isn’t that big of a problem after all. Or since we do understand and agree, so our sinful nature effects how we treat one another but not our understanding. Which leads to the question, do Christians pretty much agree on the essentials? Or even what is an “essential”?

            In regards to pervasive interpretive pluralism, it’s reality. It’s not invented by critics of the church. So I’ll just say that one is a non-starter for me – the amount of interpretive pluralism is obvious and simply staggering. Yes, different denominations recite the same creeds, but the differences are way beyond matters of emphasis. Have you ever seen the Four Views books – hell, salvation, the historical Adam, divine providence, free will, war, baptism, the atonement, etc? Those are major doctrines, not secondary issues or matters of emphasis.

            I’m really not trying to be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. I just don’t think that Biblicist inerrancy solves the problems that it claims that it can solve.

  7. At a tough time in my life, when I was at my height of whining and bellyaching a older and mature Christian man who I respected said to me, “Christian crybabies make me sick!”. I was stunned! And offended! But he was right. I was complaining I was whining. Suck it up. Already today, there’s a lot of anger and finger pointing at old churches, theologies, church groups, and who knows what. Israel spent 40 years plus grumbling and complaining in the desert and God hated it. You know how that turned out. Like many of you, my life has been filled with multiple tragedys and pain and rejection. But God is there in all of it, and some day he will explain it to me. And it will make sense. Until them, ill stay in faith and trust…..and not point the finger of blame in accusation to others.

    • -> “Christian crybabies make me sick!”

      Good words. I like it, because as I think about my own Christian walk, there are times that would’ve nailed me between the eyes, and appropriately so. I try to keep my whining and bellyaching to a minimum now. Not always successfully, mind you, but I’m getting better.

    • ” But God is there in all of it, and some day he will explain it to me. And it will make sense.”

      God didn’t explain or make sense of it to Job; I’m not sure he will to me, either. I don’t think I want explanations from God, anyway. In fact, I’m not really sure what I want from God.

      • RF. I meant after I’m DEAD! Sorry for the lack of clarity. Of course, we can’t expect answers in this life. We might get them, but probably not. My expectations are that all things will be made clear in the light of His glory. But that’s after we enter eternity

        • I understood that you meant after your are dead; you were very clear about that. My comment is in response to what you meant. If God did not explain the meaning of Job’s suffering to him in his eyeball to eyeball as narrated by the scriptures, I don’t see why we should expect he would do so in the hereafter. Is there anyplace in the scriptures, or the extra-scriptural traditions for that matter, where we are promised an explanation of why things were as they were during our lifetimes?

    • “Cry baby cry
      Make your mother sigh
      She’s old enough to know better
      So cry baby cry…”

  8. David Cornwell says

    Thanks to Andy for making such excellent points about how to carry on good conversation. Yesterday Sean O Riain made some excellent points concerning theological talk. He said:

    “1. I do not currently, and will never in present human form, know all there is to know and understand in relation to God and His creation. This must remain in the forefront of all religious study, dialogue, and communication.”

    I think theology is about conversation with each other. When we draw hard lines around the points we make, we shut down good talk rather than make it possible. This is when theology can become law, legalistic, and non-yielding.

    • +1

      Frankly, I have developed my own theology that’s some sort of mix of everything that’s come before it. It’s my own attempt to grasp the idea of God/Jesus/Spirit and put the incomprehensible into a box I can understand. Mostly Wesleyan/Arminian, but with a dose of Calvinism, and little droplets of stuff that would probably be considered heretical by some here. I think it behooves us (can I use the word “behooves”?) to not get so rigid in what the experts before us have established. They all had their own flaws and biases. There’s beauty and truth in the DISCUSSION of who God is, not just in “What I think.”

  9. I’ve also been learning that not everyone deserves to be argued with. That has changed a lot of my interactions with people. Don’t get roped in, just walk on.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Isn’t there a Proverb or two that translates idiomatically into “Don’t waste your time arguing with an idiot”?

      I remember that from an old episode of All in the Family, where Rev Felcher quotes that proverb to Archie Bunker in KJV, then gives the above translation.

      • Proverbs 14:7 is the one your referring to, HUG.

      • There’s also Matthew 7:6, the “don’t cast pearls before the swine,” which I view as the same thing as “don’t waste your time arguing with an idiot.”

      • In the immortal words of Gene Scott, “everyone has the right to be wrong!””

      • Peace From The Fringes says

        I always heard: “Don’t wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty, and the pig likes it.” (apologies to pigs everywhere)

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      But, but … or as the font of all wisdom, XKCD put it: http://xkcd.com/386/

  10. Bravo for use of the Lou Piniella pic, by the way! Perfect!!!

  11. “Why not just be wronged?” Been thinking about that one all day. In Andy’s favor, the post was three plus years old. That’s how long it took Jesus to explain what the Kingdom of God was about. A person can grow a lot in three plus years, I hope I have and I hope Andy has as well. And finally in his favor is that Damaris is his wife. That probably counts more than the rest put together.

    Here’s what I hear:

    “Your take on Scripture is seriously flawed. Nevermind about the Holy Spirit, you need me to explain to you what it really means for you.”

    “The whole point to living the Christian life is to win arguments.”

    “Doctrine, doctrine, doctrine!”

    “Don’t give me this love business, get out there and win or don’t come home!”

    “God hates wimps!”

    “Spreading the Gospel is like selling Vege-matics. If the old ways don’t work any more, come up with new ones.”

    “If you want to really understand God, read the Old Testament.”

    “Jesus passed the ball to us. It’s all up to us now. Get out there and win!”

    I never heard of Poe’s Law until today. That’s one mark in favor of Andy, not that he likely had ever heard of Poe’s Law either. And I suppose it demands I concede a certain amount of hyperbole and rhetoric in my response, tho that seems to me obvious to the tenth power. I was offended this morning when I first read it, and I’m carrying the remnants.

    However as the day turned out, I did not have to go to Bible study with the fundamentalist King James Only true believer who leaves me angry for days, called on account of weather, so this was my substitute lesson. My favorite post today was by Johan. Indeed if I can’t sit down with someone in a friendly, non-combative atmosphere and tip a few as we explore Truth, I really don’t want to spend much time with you. Andy, if you bring your wife, I’ll even break out the Yukon Jack. Unless, of course, you can prove that sharing a bite and a drink is wrong, wrong, wrong. Someone help me understand! (Poe’s Law, Poe’s Law, Poe’s Law!)

    • You got that right, Charles.

      What this post seemed to largely miss is that, if I engage in real dialogue with someone else, I may be the one who ends up changing my understanding; if I’m not engaged in real dialogue with someone, but only want to show them where I just know their wrong, then I most likely am seriously wrong about some things myself.

  12. I think you are funny and clever, Charles!