In today’s ‘tolerant’ and ‘don’t judge’ atmosphere, when discussing biblical things, if the other person blows up it’s often seen as a failure of communication on our part. But in many cases it’s not.
Though we can’t account for how other people respond, there are many Bible verses given over to what kind of speech we are to employ. Here are just a FEW!
- Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips (Ecclesiastes 10:12).
- The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17).
- A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)
- A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
- Anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:22).
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
- Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).
- But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
- Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:15).
- Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19).
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
- He must gently reprove those who oppose him, in the hope that God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25).
Before we get to solutions in the next part, let’s look at-
1. What civil biblical discourse is
2. Why Christians disagree
Here, James A. Herrick, Professor and chair of the Department of Communication at the Christian institution Hope College, partner with the Reformed Church in America, states from his article What Do We Mean By “Civil Discourse”: A Biblical Model of Managing Disagreement that civil discourse is:
… talk—including conversation, dialogue, speech making and writing— on questions of moral significance. By ‘moral significance’ I mean questions that affect the choices we make, individually and in groups. Discourse, then, is talk or communication about (1) our choices and (2) about the principles we embrace that influence those choices. Ultimately, discourse is talk about the way we are going to live our lives as individuals and in communities. … So, understanding how discourse can be improved is important.
I’ll insert here that as we discuss ideas and interpretations from the Bible, there’s no higher ‘moral significance’ to be had on earth. The highest basis for any conversation is when we speak of Jesus from His Word. Therefore, the principles to be understood from these conversations are or should be highly prized.
I’d also add that these conversations are of moral significance but are also of theological significance. And lest a person think that ‘theological conversation’ or is only for seminarian eggheads, if you say “God is love” you have just uttered a statement of theological significance. Theological discourse just means talking about Jesus or conversing about things from the Bible.
Professor Herrick resumes his definition of discourse, now explaining when disagreement enters into it:
One more nuance should be added to our definition of ‘discourse,’ for the term also tends to simply staking out and defending a position on an issue, and in this way entering into the larger arena of public discussion of that issue. That is, inherent in the very concept of discourse are both the presence of disagreement and the goal of persuasion. I take these two components to be a facts about our efforts to talk through important issues—(1) we usually run into disagreement, and (2) we typically seek to persuade those with whom we disagree. It is precisely these elements which make it so vitally important that our discourse be civil discourse, that is, that our efforts to persuade those with whom we disagree be hemmed in by some sort of ethic of advocacy that keeps the discourse constructive and respectful.
Of disagreement, I’m frequently asked, ‘If two people are Christians and read the same Bible, why do they disagree on what it says?’ It’s a good and valid question. Here, Professor Herrick outlines three reasons why in his view, Christians disagree.
3. Clash of worldviews
1. Sin is always the root of disagreement. Herrick gives the example of the church members at Corinth. Their failure to address sin caused a disagreement between themselves and their overseer, Paul.
2. As for the second reason disagreements arise, ignorance, Paul mentioned those often. He said ‘don’t be ignorant’ over spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:1). Paul said don’t be ignorant about eschatology. (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Paul also said not to be ignorant of satan’s schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11). And what are some of the most vociferous theological arguments about? Eschatology, spiritual gifts, and satan’s schemes. Ignorance of the Bible’s contents itself also factors into this reason why Christian disagree.
3. Worldviews. Any worldview that excludes God will be wrong about the source of truth, morals, righteousness, etc. Any Christian where Jesus is not at the center of their worldview, will also be incorrect in a number of ways.
Knowing what theological discourse is, and why disagreements occur within such discourse is helpful to know as a basis. Tomorrow, Lord willing, part 3 will look at on what to do about differences when they arise in theological discourse. Solutions, we need solutions! 🙂