16 January 2009

Always look for different angles

One of the things that we who take our religion, our doctrine, our church seriously need to remember is that when we come across folks who at best seem to take our religion/doctrine/church irreverent or poorly (or at worst seem to desire to actively do harm) is that we should try to understand things from their point of view - we should try to figure out why they are approaching the idea the way they do.

Now, this is not some hippie-style "can't we all just get along" cry, but rather a comment about how we approach others. The simple fact is this - if we want to deal with these folks, we need to understand how they think in order to best handle them. (If you don't want to deal with them anymore - one word, and it starts with R and ends with "epent." We love our neighbors - even the _________ ones.) Let's briefly consider the benefits that can come from trying to understand the direction the person causing you theological grief is coming from.

1 - It prevents hatred. We know we are not to hate - but sinful human beings love to hate. And it's even better when we can feel justified in our hatred, when we can claim that it is a righteous anger -- why look at what this ________ is doing to our religion/doctrine/church, oh that I could smite him! And this feeling of justifcation is much simpler when we simply assume the worst. However, if we stop, pause, and consider their reason for doing something - it becomes harder to simply hate off the bat.

2 - It provides an opportunity for discussion. Ask someone why they do something, what makes them think it is a good idea. We all like to talk about what we think (if you didn't know that, look at blogging - pontificating to the masses is good) - let them talk to you a bit. If you ask them what they are thinking (and ask in a "so, why did you do this," way and not a "What in the name of David and Pete Scaer were you thinking you crackpot" way) - and suddenly you won't be a scary Conservative/Confessional/Curmudgeon Lutheran, but someone to talk to.

3 - It sharpens your sword. Only when you know why a person does something can you successfully change their mind. It maybe that they have laudable goals and just did something foolish - then you show them a better way. It may be they have misplaced goals - then you try to point to better goals, and there can be improvement. Maybe they caved to pressure - then you know how to encourage and bolster. If you know where a person is coming from then you can best help them.

In other words. . . those liberals/open communers/contemporary worshippers/whatever other things are horrible that I'm not hip to at the moment people are indeed people too. Instead of thinking of them as archvillians, tools of Satan meant to be broken - view them as fellow servants of God, but once who have gone astray. Figure out how Satan has lead them astray, and then try to lead them back. And remember to be grateful when a faithful brother applies this to you instead of simply crucifying you at the first sign of theological stupidity.

Merely buzzing about the ears,


Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

"Only when you know why a person does something can you successfully change their mind."

Or, maybe I might learn something and change my mind.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

WHAT!?!? But if *I* know a theological point, I know that *I* must be right. . . I couldn't be more sure of being right if I had gold tablets and super-special glasses. . . .

Being a theologian is a task for the humble, as you point out.

wmc said...

Nice post and valuable to discourse that might actually go somewhere. Further thoughts:

1. Try to summarize and defend the other person's position. If you can't, you haven't listened.

2. Try to identify what is true in the other person's position. Even heresies have a nugget of truth in them or they wouldn't fly at all.

3. Consider that you might be holding a common error. Often, when two people disagree, it's because they are both wrong.

4. Instead of seeing things in terms of black & white and compromised shades of gray, entertain the possibility of things being in color. Unless, of course, you are dealing with the color blind.

Julianne said...

thanks for the post! I hope to remember this in the future...

jas said...

Hmmm. This is encouraging. Epieike (Greek) in 1 Timothy 3.3 connotes being open to the persuasion of someone with whom you disagree. When we are engaged in theological conversation it is especially appropriate . . .

1. to be open to the persuasion of others, and

2. to base our own efforts to persuade on the hard data of sources we all accept as authoritative for shaping our theology (and reading these sources in their appropriate context).

If we are not open to the persuasion of others, then we demonstrate a hubris that holds the bride of Christ in contempt. When our efforts to persuade the one who disagrees are based on personal opinions or non-Lutheran sources, then we need to ask ourselves whether we are even interested in having a conversation. The goal is always to uphold and promote the Gospel in Christ's church. If we can't even talk to each other, how can we uphold God's grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Rev. J.A. Waddell