Monday, July 12, 2010

Enjoying Tantalising Theological Arguments

“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.”

~Acts 15:12 (NIV).

This article is a follow-up to the recent article, Eluding Endless Theological Arguments, for there are always two or many more angles to just about everything.

Now, I use, or start from, a certain premise here, having a cogent case for positive, and what I call “tantalising,” argument. This mode of tantalising argument is always enshrouded, like Barnabas and Paul did in Acts 15 at the Council at Jerusalem, in high reason. The points they made were telling. They, by their evidence, commanded a further hearing. This event was a critical tipping point in the history of the Christian faith. Imagine if those in the Council had ears not to listen! (We should praise God for their wisdom and humility.)

Two Disparate ‘Jumping-Off’ Points

If I simplified the scope of this topic to two forms of argument—discussing one in opposition to the other—it might help catapult one form into the realm of ‘highly commendable,’ whilst setting for the other a sort of no-persons-land; a place we best not venture to or find ourselves in.

These are discussions of the robust versus those simply of the endless (and pointless) variety. The latter begin and end as, “I’m right; you’re wrong; I’m going to prove it.” This is obviously never a sound basis for healthy discussion or debate. These debates only confound us.

We could safely also say, on the other hand, that maturing people cannot hope to continue to mature, through their learning, unless they’re open to others with worthy things to say, which they’ll say, I might add, in very constructive ways—so as to shed light on the truth in the most gracious of ways.

This is God’s design for fellowship:

“Iron sharpens iron,

and one person sharpens the wits of another.”

~Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV).

Although this proverb is in some ways obscure (“face” otherwise transliterated as “wits,” which has many meanings in Hebrew) it is generally accepted that the meaning is we sharpen each other’s intelligence and personalities, acknowledging of course, that no person is an island.[1]

Extrapolating this idea to the concourse of prevailing learning centres, a.k.a. colleges and universities, we come to accept and even expect much lively debate in the name of edification. That much is a given.

Discovering the Truth Together - A Noble Goal

Can there truly be a safer or more inspirational space than learning the truth together? Truly my most vivacious period of mindfulness was enjoyed in the seminary setting amongst those who were thriving like me at the very thought of reasoned debate.

This place is a weaving journey where God controls the ebb and flow of discussions and destinations are found to the wonder of those that behold such discussion. These ‘debates’ are never found in the disrespecting mode; quite the contrary—robustness is found and love between the protagonists ensues.

This is a thoroughly gorgeous place; the halcyon of trust is afforded by and between two or more whom more equally esteem the other(s) for the fun, inspiration and growth via the engorged theological or spiritual tussle, with minds and hearts aglow.

Holding Many Balls

Enjoying a good debate—one maintained in a loving spirit—is like holding many balls in the air at the same time. The mind is not disposed to one thing over another. The mind is free, yet never more active. This edifies the mind and even more so endears the heart to life.

Trust, again, is operative, as parties collude on the common, greater goal. This is what life truly is about in the context of relationships. Pinnacles are reached and new ones are explored, all in the name of truth—for which we’re to love.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs - Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 22) (Nashville, Tennessee: Word Inc., 1998), p. 208.

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