Saturday, May 14, 2005

 

A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

In my last post, I critiqued the types of approaches toward non-believers that I consider to be ineffective. This post by Messy Christian captures the essence of the tone which I think we would be well advised to repudiate. In it she states:

I have seen in the blogosphere, people who crusade for doctrinal "rightness" or purity so much that they've become unbalanced. Their posts are heavy on the finer points of theology, but no matter how elegant the argument, they usually drive me away because of their smug tone and lack of love for the brethren who disagree with them. (emphasis mine)

So how do we transition from diagnosing such ineffective approaches to the hard part of prescribing productive methods? As a starting point to this dialogue, I would point to a post from Wendy at Just A Little Bit Odd. Although she is specifically discussing issues surrounding the (mis)treatment of homosexuals by Christians, this assertion gets to the heart of what is required to effectively present the gospel in general:

In order to gain a more sympathetic hearing for the gospel, we must first demonstrate love for the sinner. The key word here is demonstrate. I ask you, who is a homosexual more likely to listen to? A pastor closeted in a study? A small group of people yelling on a sidewalk? Or a volunteer laboring in an AIDs clinic? It’s hard to not like someone who is helping you or serving you in some way. It’s even harder not to listen to what they have to say at that point.

From the starting point of the advice rendered above, I would suggest that it is crucial to honestly engage the issues of non-believers. What complaints do they have against Christianity and are some of them valid? Any honest assessment would acknowledge the validity of at least some of their issues.

Darren at ProBlogger points out an interesting idea:

I once heard of a debate between a Christian group and a Pagan group…Each side was told to prepare arguments against their own religion/faith perspective. The Christians had to say what they didn’t like about Christianity, what they felt uncomfortable with and had to deconstruct and poke holes in their own framework for thinking. The Pagans had to do the same for paganism.

The result was fascinating - rather than the two groups coming away with reinforced hatred of and anger towards the other the event was incredibly constructive. Both groups found that they learned not only a lot about the other group - but about their own perspective.

(Hat tip: Classical Values)

Now that sounds like an effective means for fostering productive dialogue. I really would be interested in seeing a similar dialogue open up between Christians and non-Christians now, since it seems to me the blogosphere offers the perfect medium for facilitating just such an interaction. I’d be curious to know if anyone else thinks it practical or worthwhile for this sort of conversation to evolve online. Call it a Carnival of Spiritual Examination or something like that…

Of course, the foremost prerequisites for making any sort of progress in such a dialogue would be humility and consideration for the opposing viewpoint. It is in this vain, that Ales Rarus wisely urges us to heed these words from St. Clement of Alexandria, a father of the early church:

Be thoughtful in all your talk, and give back a useful answer, adapting the utterance to the hearer's need… Take care never to speak what you have not weighed and pondered beforehand; nor interject your own words on the spur of the moment and in the midst of another's; for you must listen and converse in turn, with set times for speech and for silence.

Now lest anyone fear I am suggesting abdicating the core convictions of Christianity, I will refer back to a sentiment that Jollyblogger had astutely pointed out a while back:

I think we Christians are often unwilling to listen sympathetically to our opponents. When I say ‘sympathetically’ I mean that we try to understand them as they understand themselves, not that we agree with their views.

The Bloke from In the Outer summarized it quite well in a recent post. He offers this as a concluding sentiment:

My hope is that we wake up and drop the critical spirit and start extending grace to each other. I pray that we realize that the more we shed voices of dissension the more ineffective the total work of the gospel is.

Amen. If we are to be at all serious about accurately portraying the love of Christ, it’s high time we all cool it with the arrogance.

UPDATE: John at Blogotional is also touching on the 'humility' theme. Check out his recent post for some further insights on the aforementioned subject.

William at Beyond the Rim has some really interesting thoughts to share regarding humility from a more personal perspective. I really liked this quote:

For me, God is using the Internet, the blogosphere, and other writers and commenters to remind me that while he has given me something unique to say, it is just one note in the Symphony of Redemption and while I need to play it well and true, it is only a very small part of a very large piece of music.

Comments:
Thanks for the link. I agree. I think sometimes we are a little too eager to "defend" the faith and have too much of a "warfare" mentality, when God is about attracting, wooing, reconciling and most of all relating authentically ...
 
Chad -

Another great post. An idea: what do you think of creating a cooperative blog with atheists who know what they think and aren't afraid to discuss it? Of course, we'd have to find Christians of the same mindset, for the groundrules would be what you've discussed: humility and civility.

This isn't an original idea. A blog by the name of Debate Space is the joint creation of a conservative Christian Marine stationed in Iraq and a liberal from Boston, Mass. Their purpose: to debate political and cultural issues with civility, with the goal of understanding the other, even without agreeing. So far, so good.
 
That's a really interesting idea and along the same lines as some recent thoughts I've had and I'd be open to that. I checked out that Debate Space blog and it is putting into action just that kind of rational dialogue, albeit of a more political nature rather than a theological one.

Another thought is maybe making a more concerted effort amongst several fair-minded bloggers to engage in an oline discussion forum periodically - whether it be open-ended or more specific in nature. I checked out the thread of dialogue that has extended from here back to Leighton to Gaunilo to Infidel in Exile to who-knows-where-else so far, in which you've been participating as well.

This is the kind of thing I'm thinking about. Maybe it doesn't have to be a new cooperative blog necessarily, but perhaps a new cooperative "network" comprised of bloggers exploring/debating certain common themes that would change from week to week.
 
My only thought there would be that it might be tough keeping up with the discussion if it's scattered across several different blogs. I made the same topic trek you did (surprised to see the conversation over Leighton's "Why I'm Atheist" post STILL going on!), and I could see how it could get cumbersome. A central location might alleviate some of that.

Off topic: I see you're from Denver. That's my hometown. Well, at least it was until I left for college. Never made it back, as God now has me here in Dayton, OH. Consider me jealous, though I hear the sprawl and resulting traffic are a real pain.
 
I hear what you're saying about it being hard to keep up with the dialogue at different blogs, especially when you have extensive comments and links from comments...it can get maddening. I'm still thinking about this, though. There is a really good idea in here somewhere, and it WILL come to fruition.

As an aside, I grew up in Pittsburgh so I feel your pain with regards to moving from CO to OH. It is true that the traffic is bad, particularly on the highways. But the ample sunshine and mountains make it all well worthwhile.
 
So here's an idea. Grad school keeps me too busy to commit to participating in a new blog, but what some motivated person could do is keep a post handy with links to all the various sites and threads where discussion is happening. Blogger lets you change the date of posts, so as often as you wanted you could bump it up to the front page of the blog.

My bias would be to focus not just on trying to understand people's positions (which is actually not so hard as it sounds when all sides are motivated to do so), but also to figure out creative ways to try to live together. I tend to view "genuine" dialogue as happening between two people who speak only for themselves (and as such are readily open to adjusting their viewpoints), and that kind of approach is virtually impossible in this context--everyone will come to the table with some sense of championing the ideas of some role model(s) or defending the integrity of less articulate community members or something along these lines. It's just something to be aware of ahead of time, I think.

Incidentally, Brandon had a couple of threads on the somewhat related issue of street preaching a few months back here and here. I would probably wind up repeating some of the things I said in the comments over there.
 
As to one of the best balancing act between condemning the sin and loving the sinner in relation to the homosexual/lesbian argument I have ever seen, go to The Theological Education Institute and John Rankin (www.teihartford.com). You won't be disappointed. I just wish I had his grace.
 
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