Thinking Out Loud

January 22, 2012

Disagreeing without being Disagreeable

…the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler…

Stephen Altrogge has written a great piece, “How to Disagree Online Without Being a Total Jerk.”  I guess if you really don’t want to be a jerk online, you don’t steal blog posts wholesale; but then again, Stephen has written this for the ages, so to speak, and it should be the sidebar of every site in the Christian blogosphere; with multiple iterations at CNNBelief and USAToday’s Religion page.  But if you prefer, here is the link

Science has proven that the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler.

It can start off very innocently, with two Christians on Facebook debating the relative merits of Calvinism. But after several comments, the innocence is usually gone, and is replaced with comments like, “I can’t believe that you would believe in such a stupid thing like free will! Have you ever heard of the Bible? You should try to read it sometime.” If it keeps going, someone will inevitably say something along the lines of, “I suppose you think Adolf Hitler didn’t have free will either!” At that point, the conversation is officially dead in the water.

How can we avoid dreadful conversations like that? How can we disagree with a person on the Internet in a godly, humble, God-honoring way? The truth is, we will give an account to God of every careless word that we speak AND every careless word that we type. I want my online interactions to be honoring to God. Here are a few suggestions for how we can honor God in our online speech:

Remember That Your Opponent Is Created In the Image of God

When we’re sitting snugly behind our computers, it can be easy to forget that the person on the other end of the conversation is a real person. A real person who is created in the image of God and should be respected as a fellow image bearer. A real person who has real feelings and strengths and weaknesses. A real person whom God really, really cares about. The words that I type will have a real effect on that person, either good or bad. My words have the potential to build them up or tear them down. To corrupt them or bless them. To strengthen them or be a source of temptation to them. God will hold me accountable for the ways in which my words affect others.

Remember That Your Opponent Is Your Fellow Brother Or Sister

If my opponent is a Christian, they are also my brother or sister in Christ. They have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and they belong to him. Jesus values. The Father treasures them. The Spirit dwells in them. If I insult them, I am also insulting Christ. If I speak poorly of them, I am speaking poorly of Christ. There is no place for maliciousness or backbiting or insulting in the house of Christ, and that house extends to the digital world.

Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Be Comfortable Saying To Their Face

Being behind a computer screen gives me a weird, and often times sinful, boost of confidence. Suddenly I feel like I know everything, and that every person who disagrees with me is a complete and total moron. I also may be tempted to say things that I would never say to a person’s face. But when I get behind a computer, the Golden Rule still applies. I’m still called to treat every person as I would want to be treated. I don’t want to say anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying in person.

Ask Forgiveness Quickly

If I sin against a person through online speech, I need to ask their forgiveness quickly. Just because it happened online and I don’t know them that well doesn’t mean that I’m not accountable for it. The house of Christ should be a place ruled by grace and mercy. I want to seek out grace and mercy from those whom I sin against.

Spoken words matter and digital words matter. I want the words that I type to be pleasing to the Lord, don’t you?

~Stephen Altrogge

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud frequently ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.  And watch for more here at TOL later today.

April 16, 2011

An Open Letter re. Theology Wars

Colin, at the simply titled blog Words, despairs over the recent theology wars that have erupted over things like heaven, things like hell, and things like the fate of every person who has ever lived; if you get my drift.  And so, he addresses both Christians and non-Christians in an open letter on his blog.  My first preference would be that you click and read it in context of his introduction, but failing that, I’ve reprinted it here.  In order to let its message fully percolate, he decided to close comments, and I’ve decided to follow suit here…

[to enlarge text hold down Ctrl and press + sign]

First, to my non-Christian friends:

I’m sorry. I can’t say this enough. Speaking on behalf of my incredibly dysfunctional family, Christians, I’m sorry that we’ve come across as the same self-righteous, I’m-right-you’re-wrong, jumping-to-conclusions, ignorant assholes that we always have. If you have Christian friends, I’m sure you’ve read some tweets, some Facebook discussions, or have even seen a news article on your favorite mainstream news website about how “evangelicals have called one of their own a heretic.”

“One of their own.”

It’s a shame, really.

I want to tell you that the true Gospel of Christ is so much bigger and so much better than these petty arguments that are going on right now in the Christian world. These debates don’t really matter in the long run. So please, try and look past the rhetorical argument (screaming match) going on right now and look at the living, breathing Christ standing behind it, because he sure as hell isn’t in it.

Matthew 7:16 says “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, and figs from thistles?” And Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” So as you look out across the Christian landscape, if you are going to judge us by anything—let it be that.

And I can’t stress enough that you try your hardest to not judge the God of the Bible by the way His followers are acting. Christ is alive and incarnate among us in Grace and Truth.

(And a side note, the earthquake/tsunami in Japan wasn’t Him either.)

Now, to my Christian friends:

We are not doing anything good for the Kingdom of God. Nothing. Our current arguments are nothing but rhetoric and in no way represent the living Christ.

Whatever “team” you are on in this current landscape, chances are that you are just “defending the true gospel.” The Gospel does not need to be defended. If we are walking in Grace and Truth like Jesus did, the true Gospel will speak louder than we ever could.

We must remember that we are one body with many parts. Our head is Christ. The body can’t survive if it cuts one of it’s own organs out. Well, it might survive, but it will walk with a limp at least.

If you are a Bell supporter, stop defending him. He’s a big boy and can take criticism. Defend nothing but the Gospel of Christ. His death and resurrection.

If you are a Bell detractor, please look at the fruit of his work before you start saying things like “false teacher,” “itching ears,” and “heretic.” Because if someone is leading folks toward the living Christ—that’s not false teaching. The false teachers the Scripture talks about would draw people away from Christ, not toward.

Regardless if you agree with Rob Bell or not (this is not about him by the way, this would be the same if any one else—Rick Warren, John Piper, John MacArthur, I don’t know—brought this conversation to light), he is doing work for the Kingdom of God. Matthew Paul Turner said on his blog yesterday that the fact of the matter is because of Bell’s message, many who probably closed the door on God a long time ago have a reason to reopen it. Let’s not give them a reason to slam it shut again. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, not us. If Bell’s teaching is off, the Holy Spirit of God will convict accordingly.

In John 13 Jesus, speaking to his followers, says that we will be known to the world by our love for one another. We must keep this at the top of our minds as we engage in public discourse. We are looking to the world right now less like two brothers who can’t get along, and more like two brothers who have decided to divorce themselves from their family.

If you believe the Bible is composed of the inerrant, literal words of God, that’s fine. I don’t. Which is also fine. I believe the Bible is authoritative, inspired by God, breathed by the Holy Spirit. I believe it’s the living, breathing Word of God. Literalist or not, we can both agree with that. The Word is Alive. Let’s let it be that and agree to disagree. If the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is at the center of our teaching, preaching, and conversation, everything else is just theology.

One more thing, Christians:

The fruit of the Spirit is









and self control.

Matthew 7:16 says “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, and figs from thistles?”

Correct answer: they don’t.

October 8, 2010

Checking Primary Sources

Are you easily intimidated spiritually?  It’s easy to do.  The other person seems more passionate about his or her faith.  (“A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”)  Or they are more versed on the nuances of Greek or church history or some finer point of doctrine.  (The present Evangelical culture places a premium on education.)   Or they have lived through some life experience which gives them church cred.  (This is essentially a modern incarnation of what in the previous generation called “testimony oneupsmanship.”)

Despite working in vocational Christian service for a couple of decades, I still know the feeling of spiritual intimidation.   Furthermore, because I try to render my own comments in an offhand or less threatening manner, I am probably more often intimidated than intimidating.

But this week something happened which made me wonder if I haven’t been underestimating myself.

I was in a discussion with an older man who was reiterating some party-line doctrine about a particular topic, and I was mentioning to him a couple of authors who are refuting that position.    I haven’t actually read their books, but I’ve been in discussions both in-person and online with people who suggest an alternative reading of the texts.    I think their view is at least worthy of serious consideration.

And he shared with me what he has always believed, which is what his church believes.   And then he had to leave.

About 30 seconds later, it hit me that while I had quoted or alluded to several scripture verses and mentioned a few chapters, he hadn’t mentioned a single one.     While I’m not strong on chapter and verse numbers — another way to be spiritually intimidated (or intimidating)  — I did toss in a few, while he provided none.

There are two takeaways from this.

The first recalls the line, “Of all the major faith groups in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.”   Quoting verse numbers is intimidating sometimes, and often needlessly so; but we will speak most authoritatively when we speak with the backing of God’s word, especially when we can reference books and chapters.   The force of our arguments is not the force of our own words, but the force of scripture.

The second is, we need to be able to say, “This is what the Bible says;” instead of “This is what I’ve always believed;” or “This is what our church teaches.” We need to check primary sources, in this case the one primary source as the source for what we have come to understand on any given issue.    (“Study to show yourself…rightly dividing the Word…;” “…sharper than a double-edged sword…;” “All scripture is inspired…and powerful for…rebuking…correcting…;” etc.) Too many people are living a second-hand faith quoting second-hand doctrines.

Let me take it further and suggest that any discussion that person most likely to appear victorious in any theological discussion will be the one who, proof-texting aside, has an argument backed by scripture.

We need to, as did the Bereans, search the scriptures.   And if we’re deficient in the area of remembering numeric references — despite being able to recite credit card, PIN, or computer passwords effortlessly — we need to work harder at developing this area of Biblical knowledge; chapters at the very least.

January 19, 2009

Chasing After Words – Encore Presentation of 6/11/08

Ever wish some of those doctrinal bloggers would just let their hair down and deal in some real world issues?  I guess that’s what I was thinking on June 11th when this post originally appeared.

Acts 18:15
But since it involves questions
about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”

1 Timothy 6:4
he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels
about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions

2 Timothy 2:14
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling
about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.

Looking back with consideration to what I’m doing today, I wish I had pursued an MTh degree.   There was a time it almost happened.   My lowly honors B.A. in Sociology and Philosophy doesn’t enter my day-to-day activities.   I think theological education is great; and while pastors don’t tell you everything they know on Sunday mornings, things they’ve studied are often looming in the background to the text they choose to preach on that week.

I have been fortunate to have a gift for writing that has allowed me to be an ‘influencer’ in various facets of the Christian world.   From my days writing record reviews for Contemporary Christian Music magazine in the ’70s and early ’80s, to position papers on FM Radio broadcasting in Canada that helped pave the way for Christian stations here, to various articles and related speaking opportunities on Christian culture generally and Christian music and publishing specifically; to a book on a particular social issue hopefully publishing in the fall of this year.

The blog you’re reading was sparked to some degree by some writing an old friend sent me; it wasn’t an article like the kind I write here, but it reminded me that my creative output had been slowing down.   So armed with a backlist of newsletter articles, I started blogging and in the process more than tripled the time I had spent reading other peoples’ blogs and discovering new ones.

Many of the Christian blogs are written by Christian academics writing to other Christian academics.   They may be pastors vocationally, but they are part of an academic world.   Three or four this week comment about completing DMin degrees in the spring.   One talks about a symposium he has been asked to participate in overseas.   Several discuss the latest commentaries.   One mentions the new edition of a Greek text.

Like I said in the first paragraph, I think education is great and I’m openly green with envy about some (not all) of the subjects these guys (and a lesser number of girls) get to study.    But it is incredibly time-consuming, and for the ones who are in pastoral ministry, much of this is at the expense of time that could be spent with parishioners.    In fact, there’s one blogger who I have to hope doesn’t have a congregation that reads his blogs, because  I think some of them might be rather upset if they did.   Or, as one church board member told me:

“Over the years we supported and indirectly paid for the completion of his masters and doctoral studies.   But as soon as he completed his doctorate, he was outta here.”

Which ranks right up there with

“We encouraged him to take a month off and get some third world missions exposure in the far east.  Instead he came back and typed his resignation and now pastors the International church in the capital city.”

Much of what is discussed in the theological blogosphere is about words.   As I said so eloquently in an earlier post on this topic, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”   The NIV scriptures posted above remind me how all this “talk” is represented in the Bible.  Oddly enough,  I couldn’t find a reference to the word “blog” in the King James, but I think that many bloggers are afflicted with the same spirit of words.  A bunch of guys talking to each other, talking about what others have talked about, and talking about what someone said about what they talked about the day before.  (With one doctrinal group much more vocal than their counterparts, but that’s another topic for another day.)

So, it came to pass this morning that I had a revelation:  Christian academics are rather cultic.  Some of them, anyway.   The problem for me, and others like me, is that it’s easy to sucked into the vortex of these theological discussions.  “Though I speak with the words of a theological genius, but have not love…” It’s easy to think that these are things that really matter.  Many of them dance around core doctrinal values, which lends to their air of importance.   But much of it is just words.   Theological wood, hay and stubble, if you like.   That’s why I’ve tried to keep this blog with both of its blogfeet firmly planted on the ground.

So there you are.   I just declared some of the most brilliant Christian academic minds in the blogosphere as part of a cult.   What are you going to do about it?

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