Agreeing to Disagree
"The surest signs of a healthy society are open and free debates. We must be able to agree to disagree. In a democracy protecting the rights of our adversaries is as important as protecting the rights of our advocates." Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
"A man who knows that the earth is round but lives among men who believe it to be flat ought to hammer in his doctrine of the earth’s roundness up to the point of arrest, imprisonment, or even death. Reality will confirm him, and he performs that greatest of all services in a free society: debate." Hilaire Belloc (1871-1953)
"We come back to that sharp and shining point which the modern world is perpetually trying to avoid. We must have a creed, even in order to be comprehensive. Anyone setting out to dispute anything ought always to begin by saying what he does not dispute." G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
"It is far easier to agree on what we are against than it is to agree on what we are for. Opposition movements are a potent force for social change until it comes time to actually make the necessary changes. We all know what not to do. But knowing what we ought to do is another matter altogether. The negative is no replacement for the positive." Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
"Our true friends will stretch us intellectually, will understand our deepest longings and fondest dreams, and will encourage us to embrace the future in dynamic and constructive ways. In difficult times they are most assuredly there for us—and we are there for them—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Likewise, in times of blessing our fellowship is sweet, sure, and secure. They even disagree with us at just the moments when we need such challenges and thus perform a service far greater than those who perpetually tell us what we want to hear." John Buchan (1875-1940)
"Friendship can take different turns—it can run like a river, quietly and sustainingly through life; it can erupt like a geyser, forcefully and intermittently at times; or it can explode like a meteor, altering the atmosphere so that nothing ever looks, feels, or functions the same again." Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
Of all men, Christians should be able to disagree nobly and graciously. Sadly, that is rarely the case. Karen and I are currently in South Florida, enjoying the sunshine, the seafood, and the pool while we do a bit of studying and writing. One of the books I am slowly working through is the new Knox Seminary Colloquium on the Federal Vision theological controversy. Last summer advocates of the Federal Vision theology, John Barach, Peter Leithart, Rich Lusk, Steve Schlissel, Tom Trouwborst, Steve Wilkins, Doug Wilson (nearly all of whom are dear friends) and their critics, Christopher Hutchinson, George Knight, Richard Phillips, Joey Pipa, Carl Robbins, Morton Smith, and Fowler White (many of whom are also dear friends) exchanged papers (and barbs) in Fort Lauderdale in an effort to clarify positions and hopefully mollify tempers over what had recently become a major brouhaha within the Reformed world. By all evidences in the book, The Auburn Avenue Theology, the participants somewhat succeeded in the former but failed altogether in the latter, alas.
Edited by Cal Beisner (also a long-time friend and my supervisor in a D.Min. program I have been working on the last few years), the book gathers together the various papers and the responses. Reading them has been both invigorating and depressing. The invigorating part is due to the fact that I have had to exercise brain muscles I haven’t used in far too long—these are brilliant articulate men dealing with marvelous doctrines of grace. The depressing part is due to the fact that the papers often talk past one another—major questions are left unanswered and bravado, hubris, and antipathy often substitute for dialog, discourse, and interchange.
I had assumed that what I would discover was that this controversy was essentially much ado about nothing; that it was likely more about personality than about substance; that at its root, it was more about logomachies than heterodoxies; that it might be whilst one side was defending the Biblical doctrine of justification of faith, the other was merely explaining propitiation or sanctification, or redemption or some other aspect of Christ’s finished work. Having carefully read more than half of the book, I still have yet to be convinced that this is not the case. More than anything though, I have come to the sad realization that even when we attempt to fight fair, charitably, and graciously (that after all was the stated aim of the colloquium), we tend to descend to a default mode of sloganeering and bombast. And the result is that “the name of God is blasphemed” because of us (Romans 2:24).