Monday, July 4, 2016

How Do We Respectfully Disagree While Being Committed To Truth?

Introduction
As a defender of the Christian worldview, I constantly come across people who wish to reject Christianity because of some detail of a particular, debated view that is important to them. I have heard people reject Christianity because of views regarding creation, free will, ethics, eternal damnation, reason, and many others. Many different views exist within the Christian worldview regarding each of those, and if a Christian faces a challenge to one of the details, they will usually defend a particular view and explain that the other views are false (or strawmen). This is important especially if a skeptic has an incorrect understanding of Christianity and is rejecting Christ based on that misunderstanding. However, many different views on the same details of the Christian worldview are held by those who defend the truth of Christianity.



"Us vs. Them"
Unfortunately, this can, and too often does, lead to Christians on different "sides" of an issue to almost be "at war" with each other. One will claim that the other is defending a false view, and conclude that they are also doing great damage to evangelical efforts by defending a view that can easily be demonstrated as false. The same also leads to negative claims about the other person's relationship with God. Fellowship with those with whom we disagree strongly is negatively affected, which limits the Body of Christ's ability to minister to each other, to complete the Great Commission, and to find the truth of the details together. In extreme cases (which I've seen more recently), some Christians question the other Christians' salvation and even call for people to cease fellowship and ministry with them.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having differing views, as long as they can be openly discussed in an honest, respectful pursuit of truth by both sides. However, while differences are worked out, it is important that Christians understand where they agree when disagreement tends to take "center stage." One of the debated details that I am constantly engaging is the debate about the age of the universe and earth. I have noticed that it is quite common for those in this debate to focus so heavily on disagreements that agreements are rarely discussed and when they are, they are often understated or completely misrepresented (less agreement is acknowledged than is actually present). When the beliefs of an opposing side are misrepresented, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the offended side often dismisses the other because of their misrepresentation, and also "warns" others to avoid that particular side. The terms "false teachers" or "false prophets" are sometimes invoked to instill fear in those who may otherwise be open to the opposing view.

"Us With Them"
I have seen hostility grow quite a bit between young-earth creationists (YEC) and old-earth creationists (OEC) due to misrepresentations of the sides' views. These misrepresentations have caused there to appear to be less agreement than there is and has caused much polarization that is not necessary between the two. So, today I want to take the time to list out several areas where we, in fact, agree. There are several different versions of both young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism; however, the views that I am comparing seem to be the most popular among them (as represented by Answers in Genesis and Institute for Creation Research on the YEC side and Reasons to Believe on the OEC side). I know this list is not going to be comprehensive (but it is longer than is generally accepted by those who misrepresent the other side). Please understand too that I do not represent any of the three organizations; they are free to correct my claim that they, in fact, accept any of the items in the list. I also encourage representatives from those organizations to add to this list. It is my hope that you, the reader, will reference this list of agreements any time that you hear one side or the other making claims about what the other believes, and understand that we have much more in common than what may be represented.

The List
  1. The authors of Scripture believed they were recording historical events
  2. The Scriptures were inspired by God (who is omniscient, omnipotent, and the standard of moral goodness) and are thus historically and scientifically accurate 
  3. The Scriptures are authoritative (invirtue of their divine inspiration) in everything they teach
  4. God created the universe from literally no preexisting material (ex nihilo)- matter is not eternal
  5. Genesis 1-11 records actual, historical events
  6. The Genesis 1 days are to be interpreted as literal
  7. The order of creation presented in Genesis 1 is historically and scientifically accurate
  8. The universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for life's existence
  9. Biochemical systems bear numerous hallmarks of design
  10. Life is not merely physical
  11. Life cannot come from non-life
  12. Consciousness is not physical
  13. Consciousness cannot come from unconsciousness
  14. Rationality is not physical
  15. Rationality cannot come from the nonrational
  16. God did not use natural processes to create animals or humans
  17. Humans are different from animals, not just in degree but also, in kind
  18. Adam and Eve are historical people
  19. Adam and Eve were the first humans
  20. Adam and Eve did not have parents
  21. Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humanity
  22. No human was created without the Image of God
  23. The Image of God is not a term used to describe a functional degree
  24. The Image of God is an ontological feature essential to humans
  25. The Image of God is the foundation for (but not limited to) human moral responsibility, intrinsic worth, ability to reason, free will, and advanced artistic expression
  26. Animals do not possess the Image of God, thus if they possess any of the features above, those features must be ontologically grounded in a feature essential to animals
  27. The creation of humans marked the end of God's creative acts
  28. God is currently resting from his creative acts
  29. The Garden of Eden was a physical place (no longer in existence)
  30. Humans did not die before the Fall of Adam and Eve
  31. The Fall was a historical event that separated humanity from God
  32. Adam and Eve did not physically die on the same day they fell
  33. The Fall made the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity necessary for redemption from the Fall
  34. This was all part of God's eternal plan (Jesus was not "Plan B")
I have only focused on one particular detail within the Christian worldview: origins. I have not gone into the many other details. That means that when the entirety of the Christian worldview is taken into account, the number of agreements compared to the disagreements is dramatically disproportional to the level of hostility between the proponents of one side and the other. We also cannot forget that the Apostle Paul stated very clearly what the Christian worldview depends upon for its truth: the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15). 

Agreement Helps Resolve Difference
In light of all these areas where both YEC and OEC proponents agree (especially the single sufficient condition for Christianity's truth), it really seems childish that we cannot have more respectful dialogs and fellowship. We need to "take the chips off our shoulders" and realize that the challenges that are coming our way may very well be sent by God to refine our understanding of who He is and what He has done. God gave us His Word and a reasoning mind that can interpret it and compare our interpretations to His other revelation -His creation- to discover which interpretation is accurate. Being armed with the correct interpretation will allow us to defend the correct view of the details of the Christian worldview when someone wishes to reject it because of a wrong detail. Peter called the Church to "be prepared to give a reason for the hope that they have" (1 Peter 3:15a), and part of being prepared is being willing to be challenged by a brother (or sister), seriously considering that challenge, and being prepared to change a view when the weight of evidence is on that side. 

What Should We Do?
I've written many posts over the years on ways to properly investigate the details of the Christian worldview. I believe that if these methods and understandings are used by all sides, that hostility, misrepresentation, and disagreement will decrease while fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and agreement will increase.

Much of the hostility among adherents to differing views within Christianity comes from the idea that a view undermines the truth of Christianity. However, this is not often the case thus has led to much unnecessary division. But how do we determine if a view is merely in disagreement with ours or actually undermines the Gospel? For more on this check out this post: Zombies of Christianity

I have seen over and over again in several internal debates where one side will claim that if someone accepts an alternative view that they are accepting man's fallible ideas instead of God's infallible Word. But is this actually true? I believe there is a distinction that is often overlooked in these debates that will help keep both sides humble and focused on the search for truth. This post details the distinction: Man's Fallible Ideas vs. God's Infallible Word

It is important that we are committed to the truth and not necessarily to a particular view. However, it is also important that we recognize when merely a detail of our view is false and not the entire worldview. This understanding, I believe, will encourage productive discussion in these debates because we are free to follow the evidence where it leads without thinking that we have "compromised" the Gospel (because we haven't). For more on this important tool, see this post: Is Your View Falsifiable?

Armed with the understandings of the distinction between God's Word and our interpretation of God's Word and the distinction between the necessary and accidental details of a worldview (see posts above), we can understand how to properly interpret nature and Scripture to be compatible. After all, both nature and Scripture come from God, so they do not disagree. Any disagreement between the two is a product of man's fallible interpretation of one, the other, or both. For more on this read this post: Are Nature and Scripture Compatible?

As an OEC, I come across the accusation that my view necessarily compromises the Gospel and Scripture quite often. When I've asked the accuser to defend that statement, they usually offer a misunderstanding of my view, or they are not aware of the way in which the supposed problem is reconciled to be consistent with the Gospel and Scripture. I put together a list of the most common areas where compromise is alledged and resources that demonstrate that the allegations are false.
Does Old-Earth Creationism Compromise Scripture?

Conclusion
Jesus prayed that the Church would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). How should we expect this if we do not recognize the true extent of our agreement? Paul called the Body of Christ to value and respect every member (1 Cor 12). How can we say that we value and respect members of the Body of Christ if we constantly misrepresent them? It is not wise to "shoot ourselves in the foot," so why would we do this to the Body of Christ? Jesus stated that the true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). How can we claim to be true worshippers if we misrepresent members of the Body of Christ and are not willing to accept the truth when the evidence is pointing in that direction (both indicating that "...the truth is not in us" [1 John 1:8]) ? My call to you today is this: while we rigorously challenge each other (and ourselves) to recognize what is true about when and how God created (among the many other doctrinal differences), we need to recognize the areas where we already agree so that the Body of Christ does not suffer self-inflicted wounds and damage its ability to carry out the Great Commission (Matt 28).

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