I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to discuss theology and doctrine in the midst of community. We as Christians ought to theologize. We should talk about God and make the truths of Scripture applicable to all of life. Theology is necessary. Theologians are needed. Burk Parsons said, “Theology is not a philosophical pursuit of abstract speculations about God. It is in fact the examination of that which God has revealed to us. As faithful students of the Word of God, we are, by necessity, students of theology. The two are not at odds with each other; rather they serve to complement one another. Whereas the Word of God is the foundation of our knowledge, theology is the expression of our knowledge. Thus, the study of God cannot be separated from the Word of God.” Here are some suggestions for thoughtful theological dialogue.
1. Read the primary sources (especially of the viewpoint you’re opposing).
2. Quote your opponent in context.
3. Understand the position to which you disagree with fully before commenting.
4. If your conversational partner does not recognize his position, you have not done a good job articulating it. You may not understand it fully.
5. Be charitable, respectful, and thoughtful in your dialogue.
6. Avoid exegetical and informal fallacies. Do your homework and think well.
7. Let the truth affect your passions but do not become angry, frustrated, or boisterous. A belligerent person cannot appreciate the truth.
8. Recognize you do not possess all the truth and everyone has a specific vantage point.
9. Be kind to those who speak in haste or even misspeak.
10. Make whatever complex theological truth applicable to the mission and worship of the Church.
11. Attack the argument; not the man.
12. Admit ignorance, lack of study, and error when it becomes apparent. Willful ignorance is arrogance.
13. Don’t zing your partner or use rhetorical grenades. We aren’t attempting to turn phrases but get at the truth.
14. Appreciate other traditions than your own.
15. Don’t walk away mad. If one is becoming too incensed, kindly ask for a break in the conversation for the sake of unity.
16. Don’t make unfounded assumptions or statements that cannot be corroborated with evidence.
17. Don’t assume an ill will or bad motive.
18. Don’t ignore the issue for the sake of unity. Truth unifies. Sin divides.
19. If you wouldn’t publish it in a book, don’t write it elsewhere. If you wouldn’t say it to someone personally, don’t say it via another medium.
20. Recognize different contexts. Is this discussion of public or personal nature? Some topics are inappropriate for public discourse but not so for private discussion.