Thanks to Crossway sending along a review copy, I was able to read (and will soon review) Andreas J. Kostenberger’s Excellence: The Character of God and Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. I mentioned yesterday about the need for clarity and charity in the justification debate. Both of those are best extended beyond that one conversation. In Kostenberger’s book, he relays some advice from Millard Erickson (which originally appeared in Quo Vadis, Evangelicalism?) that is especially important for theological discussions.
In the chapter on grace, and particularly in the section regarding scholarly criticism, it is suggested that evangelical scholars take the following pledge:
- I will not point out the presuppositions of another’s position without acknowledging that I have presuppositions myself
- I will not contend that another’s view is historically conditioned without conceding that mine is also
- I will be more concerned not to misunderstand or misrepresent others’ views than to claim that mine has been misunderstood or be misrepresented
- I will be more concerned that my language be fair and objective than I am that others’ language about me may not be
- I will not caricature my opponent’s view to make my own appear more moderate
- I will not employ ad hominem arguments
- I will abstain from the use of pejorative language
- I will not impute motives or emotions to others
- I will think of intellectual arguments in terms of differences over ideas, not as personal disputes.
All of this comes in a chapter where Kostenberger is quick to acknowledge that not only would many unbelievers fail to associate graciousness with Christians (189), but that “many conservative evangelicals (including some complementarians) are not particularly gracious and approach those with opposing viewpoints in an adversarial manner” (193).
But he continues:
We are much better known for clinging tenaciously to our convictions, and identifying and opposing falsehood, than for our graciousness.
I know this has particularly characterized me in past conversations, maybe even a few on here. I am hoping that as I grow and mature, I can grow in grace as well and that will filter into the way I criticize and disagree. It is a shame that while I generally agree with many pastors/scholars within evangelical theology, their rhetoric is turning many people off and leading them to look for truth elsewhere. I’d rather not give examples, and this isn’t meant to be a blanket statement. I’m sure if your use your imagination, you can think of a prominent pastor or two who consistently says things that unnecessarily alienate people because of the statement’s rhetorical force. This isn’t to say some people leave what I would consider evangelical theology for intellectual reasons, but it is to say that the rhetorical flourishes are not helping much.
Hopefully, as we move forward in the discussion of justification and other hot topics, I can follow the above guidelines and I would hope you can too. I know it may be a lot to ask in the world of blogging, but I’m confident that grace-seasoned rhetoric and dialogue is possible even while clinging strongly to what you believe is true.