There has been an awful lot of talk lately about a certain book released by a certain individual. Much of the talk has been very constructive and seems to be the result of good, critical thinking. What troubles me about the whole conversation is what I have observed and, most recently, personally experienced. Please allow me to clarify.
It seems that, regardless of the issue, it has become unacceptable to disagree with anyone on any level without being labelled as a “hater” or someone who is “intolerant” or, worse yet, someone who is “bashing” someone else because of their belief. On one hand I am completely sympathetic to those who have been the victim of behavior that could plausibly be characterized is such a way. It is inexcusable, particularly in the Christian context, to demean and deride someone on a personal level simply because they have a view of a particular subject that differs from your own. However, the other side of the argument is the particular point that I am addressing here.
Disagreement does not equate to condescension by default. It is simply illogical to presume that someone with a differing viewpoint automatically harbors ill will toward the person on the other side of the issue. It can also be quite harmful.
I have experienced just such a situation recently with regard to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. After expressing various forms of disagreement with the author’s theology (as expressed in his own words) I was informed by someone who I believe to be my friend that they had lost respect for me because of my “bashing” of Rob Bell. You might imagine that this came as quite a surprise, but it served a very healthy purpose. I responded to this person by thanking them for their honesty and inviting them to have a personal conversation regarding their feelings. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to review everything that I had said in all forms of social media over the preceding three weeks. If you haven’t done this, I would highly recommend it. It is a fabulous way to be more objective about your own words.
After reviewing my words, I was relieved and perplexed all at the same time. I was relieved because I confirmed my suspicion that I had not said one solitary thing of a derogatory nature aimed at any individual. I had simply taken issue with a particular author who, by his own testimony, had revealed his diversion from biblical truth. However, I was perplexed because now I had no answer as to why my “friend” felt the need to send me the message that they sent.
After pondering this situation for several days, I have come to the conclusion that some people must assume, by default, that any disagreement on content must necessarily indicate an assault on character. This is truly unfortunate and saddening. It is unfortunate because it is simply untrue. These two things can, and often are, mutually exclusive. It is not always easy, but it is always possible to disagree without being disagreeable. It is saddening because this is the way, apparently, that many people are beginning to think. If you disagree with me then you must necessarily not like me. If you disagree with me then you must necessarily think I am a horrible person. It would be profoundly saddening if this were indeed the reality in which we currently live.
Two important passages of Scripture come to mind for application in the life of the church.
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” -Ephesians 4:14-16
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” -Jude 3-4
Brothers and sisters, a Christian never has the luxury of being unkind. However, a Christian also cannot afford the luxury of remaining silent. We must strive together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). This means that from time to time we will be in the position to stand up and fight for the truth of God’s Word. I pray that when those times invariably come, God’s people will have a greater fear of God than they do of man.
Soli Deo Gloria.