CAN WE ALL GET ALONG?

Many people are familiar with Rodney King’s question asked in light of riots and unrest in Southern California on May 1, 1992, “Can we all get along?” It seems the answer is obvious, but my sense is that even if we can’t, most of us would agree we could do better with our conversations, discussions, and debates.

In my reading the past two or three weeks I have noted thoughtful observations from a variety of authors, that if put into practice, would greatly improve the quality of our discourse. All the authors I will be citing are writing from a Christian perspective about how Christians should interact, and Christians certainly need to hear what is being said, but the points made speak to all our interactions regardless of with whom we are speaking or whatever the subject.

The initial quote that grabbed my attention was in an article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today concerning disagreements among believers about biblical interpretation. He suggests, “We are not asked to be right but to be faithful to the truth we believe God has revealed to us. And to be charitable toward those who believe God has led them to a different conclusion.” While Galli is writing to people who believe the Bible, his basic point about being charitable to those who think differently than we do covers a lot more than just Bible interpretation.

A second article from Christianity Today by Mark Alan Bowald is about the death of longtime professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School George Lindbeck and what evangelicals can learn from him. Bowald relates Lindbeck’s answer to a question about what holds evangelicals back: “Their unwillingness or inability to be self-critical about the ways in which they undertake and express their commitment.” Again, while Lindbeck was talking about Christians, his point about an unwillingness or inability to be self-critical covers a lot more than just matters of faith. A second lesson Bowald underscores evangelicals might learn from Lindbeck is to be more generous towards those who come from other traditions. I hope it is obvious how this lesson also has a much wider application.

What struck me last week was a couple of comments from John Dickson in his new book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus. Encouraging readers to take a strong stand in certain matters, he also implores “but do so humbly and graciously.” He concludes the paragraph by cautioning that we should not make our case with smugness on our part or with disdain for those who do not agree.

I realize I am not the first person to raise this matter of how we talk with, to, and about one another. Lots of articles have been written as well as entire books dealing with the subject. As much as I wish we all would get along, I don’t think we all will ever completely agree on much. I think the authors I have quoted give us some real challenges for our discourse and interactions with those with whom we disagree in the Christian community as well as at large.

Part of the reason I am writing about this and citing these observations is that I needed to hear what these writers are saying. How about you?

Do we need to be more charitable to those with whom we disagree? I do.

Do we need to be more self-critical about the way we express ourselves? I do.

Do we need to be more generous towards those who come from a different background? I do.

Even when taking a strong stand, do we need to be more humble and gracious? I do.

Do we need to guard against being smug and/or showing disdain for others? I do.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

(Photo courtesy of the boy’s grandmother, my wife–staged!)

 

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DO WE NEED TO BE SO HARSH?

In reading a lot of opinions and responses lately I am wondering if we need to be so harsh. A lot of it, of course, relates to current political back and forth, but it includes far more than just that. I read a lot of it on Facebook, in periodicals, book reviews, blogs, and a variety of other places. What is particularly unsettling to me is the tone of a lot of writing within the Christian sphere.

What really got my attention was what one author wrote in the revised and updated edition of one of his books. The first edition, published in 2005, dealt with a controversial subject among Bible believing Christians. You can tell how beat up he has been by what he writes in the first chapter of the new edition: “Instead of immediately consigning our opponents to the lake of fire, let’s remember that we love Jesus. Let’s remember that we’re trying to understand Jesus, and worship Jesus, and obey Jesus, and become like Jesus, and share Jesus the very best that we can.”

I don’t want to say what the issue he deals with is because I don’t want it to get in the way of the larger observation I am trying to make. What he writes is a good reminder for everyone who wades into the choppy waters of controversial biblical and theological matters.  

I’m not suggesting we should never critique or refute the ideas and interpretations of others. I just think we should be respectful to those with whom we disagree and not attack their motives. We can be passionate about what we believe and still be gracious in our disagreement.

The reason this bothers me so much is because I have been guilty of it too many times myself. Metaphorically speaking, too many times I have shot the fly on the wall with a bazooka. And while I killed the fly, I also did a lot of unintended damage.

For example, I have some strong opinions when it comes to the meaning of I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and the general purpose of the book of Revelation. In terms of the greater Bible believing community, I hold a minority position with regard to both the purpose of Revelation as well as what many call “the rapture.” There have been times in the past when I was unduly harsh about others in talking about my understanding of “the end times.” What a rebuke it was to me when I read in Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth “no one should approach Revelation without a proper degree of humility!” Our harshness towards others often seems a little prideful.

In the church I grew up in we learned a few slogans we claimed defined us. My two favorites were and are “We are Christians Only, but not the Only Christians” and “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Love.” The first is unique to my church background, but the second is widely used. It comes from a German Lutheran theologian around 1627.

Here’s the challenge: even if we can’t agree on what is essential and non-essential, even if we agree something is essential but don’t have unity on it, we are to be loving. Do we need to be so harsh?

Share this if you think others would benefit from it and I invite comments below.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070463@N03/25778464120″>Profile of a lion cub yawning</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;