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Saturday, March 25, 2006

For My Modern Brethren

I've been thinking about some comments posted by Jeff and Tim back on my post: I'd Like to Make a Toast. They expressed their concern as to my ability to adequately express myself in a coherent manner which would allow for meaningful discussion with modern thinkers. The following are my concerns about their suggestions:

I read many blogs. (Actually, my news aggregator reads many blogs, and delivers the new stuff to my home page.) One thing I come across time and again is how tied we as believers are to the modern debate technique known as "rhetoric;" which is a worldy and impersonal approach to communication that hinders Christian discussion. Many of us have worked to rid our vocabulary of meaningless Christian jargon, (and by meaningless, I mean "religious" words for which we have no common definition even amongst ourselves, and are completely unknown outside our subculture.) but we have yet to develop a better way to communicate. Our dependence on the rhetorical debate technique is preventing us from having meaningful discussion.

For example: On the alcohol post, Tim voiced his opinion that abstaining from alcohol was, in fact a biblical position. He gave support for his opinion in the form of quotes. He then challenged me to refute his sources. In the past, this would have been a great way to discuss the issue of missionaries drinking on the field. But the days of debate being the only recognized form of "thoughtful discourse" amogst believers are over (and if they weren't before I typed that last line, I hereby declare them to be over).

Any form of communication that necessitates pitting one against the other is a bad start. I don't see why we would advocate a system that refers to the person with whom we are speaking as an "opponent," or "critic," or "adversary." If we instead take part in a discussion between "friends," "brothers and sisters," and "fellow seekers," the conversation can be unifying, encouraging, and edifying. Sure it's ok to disagree. Sometimes, we must do it strongly even. You might think it's a question of semantics, but the moment we start to think of the person we're talking to as our rival, we've begun to play by the world's rules.

We label every person and every person's every thought. Without even really listening to someone, we assume we know what they're saying and why. "Oh, you're Amyraldian." "You're arguing infralapsarianism, and that's been proven wrong." How does this help a conversation? I'm not saying we should limit ourselves to rehashing past arguments. We should learn from the discussions that wiser men and women have had before us. But do we really need to boil everyone down to one of two camps on every issue? Liberal or Conservative? Calvinist or Arminian? Open communion, or closed? My answer, to all of these questions is yes. I'm sure there's a label for that, too.

And don't get me started on "hyperbole." Exaggerating the other guy's position just to make a point is, well, lying. But that's what happens in every debate. Someone shares their thoughts, and we make a charicature of their statements in order to easily show the flaws in their logic. But all the while we know that the guy on the other end of the discussion isn't really saying that homosexuality isn't sin or that Calvinists shouldn't participate in evangelism. We only argue with ourselves when we put words in people's mouths.

Along those same lines, posting a list of quotes from your research here is like bringing some upper-classmen to a playground disagreement. Sharing the sources that have convinced you is a good thing, but challenging me to refute them is the opposite of discussion. By citing outside support, you've stepped out of the conversation, and put dead historians and Greek scholars in your place. If you didn't want to talk (type) it out with me, you should've said so.

Sarcasm is ok, though. It allows us to say things that, while true, would make us look like total jerks if we weren't just being sarcastic. Besides, it's usually pretty funny.

Jesus convinced people by asking questions and quoting (and paraphrasing?) scripture, not by challenging anyone to refute anything. Paul even referred to pagan religions and quoted popular philosophers. I'd prefer to participate in a conversation by asking questions (my favorite lately has been: "How's that working out for you?") over trying to expose logical inconsistencies in someone's "argument." Besides, even the most rational of us hold on to beliefs that seem to be contradictions, don't we? Our faith requires it of us.

I guess I'm advocating a system of communication that doesn't have rules that rule anyone out. I think we shouldn't disqualify people from participation in the conversation because they don't argue well enough or have enough historical support of their position. I'm tired of people thinking that using Greek is a trump card that should end all questions. I love conversation. I think the free exchange of ideas is beautiful. I am not uncomfortable with unanswered questions or apparent contradictions. Why are you?

It's funny; as I type, I'm reminded of the classroom rules for group discussion set by my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Ludlow. If I remember correctly, they went something like this:
1. There are no stupid questions.
2. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion.
3. We can disagree, but we must do so politely.
4. Always tell the truth.
5. Don't betray confidences.
6. It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

I think there was another one about waiting to speak until you were called on. Anyway, I don't expect that any of us would stop using the rhetorical method any time soon. In fact, we're so modern, there may be some conversations we are incapable of having outside of a debate. I think it would be cool to explore those.

16 comments:

Stepson said...

I guess Jesus was a Liar because He sure did use hyperbole. If you disagree, then you should promptly poke out your eyes because I'm sure you've dealt with lu5t, and you must literally hate your mother to have left her to go to the mission field, right?

You took Jesus' claim that He'd give you all authority on Heaven & earth quite literally cuz you sure claimed authority in putting 'debate' to death - can I have those same powers?

You say, "Any form of communication that necessitates pitting one against the other is a bad start." - Are you not doing that very thing by saying your way of communicating is better than Tim & Jeff's?

You also say, "We label every person and every person's every thought." - Who are you calling, or should I say labeling modernist in your title? I assumed it was Jeff & Tim. Are you not guilty of labeling them & their thought patterns as modernistic?

You continue, "You're arguing infralapsarianism, and that's been proven wrong," but are you not saying the very same thing by arguing that debating & rhetoric are bad & have been proven to be wrong?

You continue by stating similarly to the "piting one against the other" vein, that, "If you didn't want to talk (type) it out with me, you should've said so," - so you continue to have the freedom to set the rules for communication while saying the other party is wrong if they play by their own rules. That's just bad logic.

Why do I say that's bad logic when from your post you're clearly against logic: well, you say "I'd prefer to participate in a conversation by asking questions...over trying to expose logical inconsistencies in someone's argument," yet that's exactly what you are doing with Tim & Jeff's position - pointing out logically where you believe they are wrong. Which is exactly what I'm doing in this comment, I understand. I'll end all the issues in your post with that. But of course, it's all relative now, isn't it? That's the acceptable sarcasm...& I do find it quite funny!

From Stepson to Stepchild, I hate to put you in a box with a label, but your still a modernist in a postmodern's closet just trying on the wardrobe.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepson,

You sure are goading our host. I appreciate your defending me, and I agree with most of what you wrote, but you're not being very polite. Please keep in mind that this is one of our missionaries you are addressing. Your ideas will be much better received if you share them in a civil tone.

Dear Stepchild,

I really appreciate this post. I have been troubled about our exchange on the "I'll Drink to That" :) post ever since.

Please forgive me for remaining skeptical. Like Stepson, I'm suspicious that you are taking it upon yourself to throw out 3000 years worth of traditional form to suit yourself.

I've read what you just wrote with an open mind, however, and I'm stretching my brain to grasp what you are advocating. If I can learn to talk with people better, especially one of our precious missionaries, and the lost of a new generation, I sure do want to do so. To that end, could you please help me with some things I did't understand in your post?

Did you see the teacher's guidelines as helpful or not helpful?

If you write something like "IMB missionaries shouldn't be prohibited from drinking socially," and someone disagrees with you, what do you want to happen next?

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Stepchild,

I don't think you are speaking in a language some of your other readers can understand with a clear mind and without involving pride and or feelings. It seems silly that we can't simply dialogue without using other men's thoughts.

Of course Jesus should be forming how we think and respond to question and even the thoughts of other men who have followed Christ. But when we dialogue, why can't we speak (type) from those thoughts without simply siting those other men's words but continuing to allow them shape how we think?

If we wanted to know what those men thought we could read their books, lectures and go back to our own Greek notes from school. Let us freely express how we see life in response to questions asked and stop trying to one-up others. Let us discuss from our own perspectives.

roebuck said...

Stepson,
The irony is, to me, that you missed the whole point of the discussion.
It seems to me the idea is that debate as a style of comm is used SO much that it becomes a blunt instrument.

Jeff says it well when he speaks of ideas being much better received...

I would like to add to that saying there exists many types of discourse of which 'rhetoric' is one, but, in this situation, is it the best, and ONLY method.

As the "Body of Christ" tribe, could, we, the counsel of elders sit around the evening fire and interact with one another speaking from earned wisdom, the Book, impressions from the Spirit, etc. all within the common bond that drew us to the tribe in the first place.

We do not necessary have to put the warpaint on for every conversation.

JRR

Anonymous said...

why is it that we cannot have a conversation about spiritual things without drawing others into the discussion? i mean, if i wanted to talk with a friend about different types of coffee or a city that i visited i wouldn't be comfortable quoting some historian talking about the properties or origins of coffee or reading verabtim from a travel guide.

i like much better getting a coffee with a friend or travelling with that friend to a different city and sharing our experiences/perspectives. that is not to say that i think there is no room for historical research or sharing someone else's opinion...i guess i just hope we can do more than that.

-borne

Stepson said...

Anonny,
The matter is that at the end of the day there is right & wrong, and truth & error, & which side of the line you fall on, no matter if you like labels or categories or not, has everything to do with how you lead or mislead others to Christ & how you do or do not glorify God.

Sears & Roebuck,
You're right about Jeff being right because Jeff is right. I understood the blog...I do not argue that 'debate' is always BEST, but I argued that communication must have perameters, boundaries, and must be coherent. To say that a discussion cannot ensue unless all parties adhere to your rules, while at the same time knocking rules & the other partys' comm style, you're in essence entering into a debate yourself about your comm style vs. theirs in an entry that is essentially knocking debate.

I think it was Tupac who said, "keep ya head up." Christ reigns!

stepchild said...

stepson,
I'm really sorry you couldn't get my meaning in my post. I'm not trying to set new rules for discussion, I'm trying to ask folks like you to come out of the modern debate technique that really keeps us (you and me) from understanding one another. I'd never say that discussion shouldn't have parameters. Of course it should. But don't you see a difference between debate and discussion? I assume you don't talk to your friends about sports or the weather in the same way you've addressed me here on my blog.

I've proven that I am not capable of "coherent" discussion by your rules, so I'm asking you to try another way. It really isn't my way, its the way most of the people around me communicate as well. I'd hope you'd see the irony (ok, attempt at irony) in parts of my post, like when I "declared" the time of debate to be over. I'm nobody to "declare" anything. That said, the only people I talk to that insist on rhetoric are the Christians I interact with online. I'm not throwing out traditional form; I'm recognizing and warning against it's limitations.

Also, I wasn't intentionally labeling Tim or Jeff with the title of my post. I was trying address people who hold a modern worldview, and warn them that maybe a couple of us don't speak their language. Anyone is free to read it and decide if the label applies to them. Your "style" of communication here has been pretty modern. I'm not, and that's why your post sounds to me like you hate me.

Theories, ideas, worldviews, and schools of thought have names. In order to have meaningful discussion, using "labels" and generalities are necessary. But "labeling" a theory or worldview is different from labeling a person. In my experience, people rarely fall neatly into such catagories. Assuming that they do results in us having a conversation with a hypothetical person.

I've always understood a person to be "modern" when he/she operates from a modern mindset. The term "modernist" generally refers to those who advocate modernism- the people who say that it is good/better than other worldviews. You seemed to use one and mean the other.

I agree that there is right and wrong. I don't believe that you or I always know what those things are. Hence, my questions on this site. You are not the authority on what is "coherent" for everybody. I don't think my questions hurt my ministry. I do think asking them glorifies God.

If you don't mind my asking, why have you commented here on my blog?

Jeff,
Thanks for your post. I appreciate that you're making an effort to understand me. If I was a better writer, this might not be as big of an issue. It makes sense that you'd be skeptical of ideas that sound strage- especially if they are similar to ones that you disagree with. You may think some of my conclusions are wrong. I'm ok with that, and I'm open to changing my mind. Usually, God uses discussions with friends to adjust my perspective to His.

I think my sixth-grade teacher's rules were good ones. I wish we "grownups" followed them as well- I think we'd certainly communicate better. When I say something like, "IMB missionaries shouldn't be prohibited from drinking socially." (By they way, I'd probably say something like "M's shouldn't be prohibited from drinking in cases when it hinders ministry" instead.) When someone disagrees with me, I'd love to hear why they disagree. I'd love to hear about the experience, convictions, and concerns people might have with my ideas. I'd love for someone to respond to what I say, without getting all worked up about what they think I'm saying, or what I might say, or what other people who agree with me say.

Did anyone else see a difference between Tim's comments and Steve McCoy's on the Alcohol post? I did. It would be so great to discuss scripture with something like: "These verses have convinced me. What do you do with them? How does your opinion fit with this verse?" You know- really asking, with an attitude that others might have some valid, valuable opinions, and that as believers, we are all qualified to understand and interpret scripture. This would be opposed to a "I'm right, and here are people that agree with me" list of random sources that I'm never going to study enough to be able to comment on. Does that make any sense? Stating your opinion as fact does not make it fact. Truth is not relative, but our perspectives on it are. If we admit that going into a conversation, I think our discussion can be fruitful.

Anonymi, (get it?)
Thank you for encouraging me. Do any of you find it difficult to communicate in the rhetorical way? How have you delt with that? Any advice for carrying on "coherent conversation" with folks like stepson? I'm serious, here. I want to have a good discussion. That's the point of this blog, remember?

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

I'm hearing and trying to understand. I only have a moment just now, but I'll be back with you tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Stepson said...

Bro, homey, compadre, mi hermana...I don't hate you. I hate liberalism and from my (lack of) understanding, & my (skewed) perspective, post-modernism seems to me a devilish evil coming on strong with all the subtlty that Satan & Screwtape can muster so that we are like the frog slowly cooked in the boiling pot.
That doesn't mean that I think that I KNOW I am right, but I have yet to be convinced of it's benefits vs. its detriments thus far. Like you, I'm open (maybe that's a lie - maybe I think I'm open yet I'm hard-hearted & closed minded, it's very possible), & I guess I'm a modern but I still don't think I understand what a modern is - I just know that it's not post-modern & that's cool!
I do agree that there is much wrong with the church & change is necessary in most capacities, especially in our denomination. I think the reason we cannot communicate well is due to the fact that you're in Europe which is far advanced in post-modernistic scale that most of the USA, so you're coming from a context I don't understand, I don't live in, & I don't agree with so far, so our very foundation & beginning points are difficult. I'm sure my own faults play a large role as well.
At the end of the day, I read blogs, a myriad of them, just to see what's going on in the common Christians mind, because God knows, you can't ever figure it out at Church or in 'fellowship'. We all just smile & nod & say we're great so that the other person will quicly leave us alone. People are real on their blogs for the most part, so it's like getting to hear what those churning wheels behind the smiling facade are actually saying. Because I'm anti-postmodern, your blog caught my attention & I responded.

Love you like a red-headed stepchild,
(just kidding)...(about the red-headed part, not about the love - I gots love for my postmodern brethren whom I don't understand at the moment),
SS

David said...

"We label every person and every person's every thought. Without even really listening to someone, we assume we know what they're saying and why."

I appreciate you for recognizing this. I've recently contemplated getting a seminary education, but the rhetoric of the more educated folk in my denomination has been so negative, analytical, non-constructive, critical...I am honestly afraid I'd lose my ability to just talk to a person and listen to their ideas without trying to figure out which "camp" they're in, and then miss the opportunity to actually be of any use to the Kingdom in the process.

It's refreshing to hear someone admit this is happening. I don't really know what that means for my potential future higher education, but it'd be nice to hear that the SBC denominational leaders are actually working on loving in the name of Christ instead of labeling any other sundry names.

cafeaddict said...

i guess i see communication as an art. expression in all of its forms is important to me and valued. so i don't think of communication in terms of "right" and "wrong." i see it terms of clear and unclear.

having spent the better part of 6 years trying to master another language, i have learned a few things about communication. one is that to be understood, you have to speak the native's language. may sound simple but believe me it ain't (used that word for all my southern readers). all of us would consider it a waste of time to try and speak spanish to a french person. they speak french and to communicate with them, i too must speak french.

the same is true within the modern-postmodern divide. i know i can't talk to my dad (Mr. Modern) the same way i talk to my friends. he wouldn't understand. for example, if i am going to tell him why i made a certain decision, i have to use the form of an essay. i state the decision, give the history, go through my reasoning and then prove that my conclusions were the best for the evidence i had at the time. i would never go through this with a friend. i would use different words and just explain my journey. if i were to do that with my dad, he would check my pockets for drugs.

i want to be heard, both as a person and as a missionary. to do that, i have to have a working knowledge of several languages. i don't want to make a judgment call on which one is best. what is the point? the reality is that that person speaks that language and understands only that language. and honestly, i kind of like the challenge.

we don't have to be missionaries to learn the value of being multilingual. just get married, you will learn the same thing!

Anonymous said...

Stepson,

What's up with the link when I click on your name? That's just gross.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

I'm sorry that I checked out for a couple of days. We had a really painful family misunderstanding here in the Young household Sunday night, and I got knocked sideways pretty badly.

I'm back in business now, running at about 87% and getting better.

So, where were we?

Oh, yeah. I asked you how to do post-modern discussion, and you replied. Okay, may I please be a post-modern communicator in training? How about this:

Your sixth grade teacher told you that it's not what you say, but how you say it that's important. Well, I've had many of my church members hold to something akin to this, mixed with the other idea from your teacher, that everyone is entitled to his opinion. They end up with a kind of "nobody's right and nobody's wrong, we just all have different opinions" mode of thinking. This gets them in all kinds of trouble in the Christian life, because of course there are many things that are true, and everything else is false, and if someone says something that is false in a nice way, or if someone gives his opinion but it's wrong, then there's a problem.

I'm not sure I'm getting anywhere definite here, but isn't that part of a successful post-modern exchange? :)

Love in Christ,

Jeff

stepchild said...

Jeff,
I'm sorry to hear about your family's misunderstanding. Glad you found some resolution.

And I do appreciate you coming around to keep up the discussion. When one has a blog about trying to be heard, one of the best things that can happen is to have someone listen.

You mention the relativism of "nobody's right and nobody's wrong, we just all have different opinions." I agree that this can be frustrating, and dangerous in terms of biblical truth.

One one hand, I really do believe that none of us have it right on every issue. I also believe that even when we are "right," we're coming from a limited, subjective perspective. Again, truth is not relative, but our perspectives on it are.

On the other hand, there is a big difference between how we arrive at our opinions concerning sports and the weather versus how we get to biblical truth. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of truth. This gets back to my original post: biblically, how did the NT church make decisions about their faith? They didn't each bring their arguement with "irrefutable" documentation as evidence in support of their side. They didn't have a democratic vote, with the majority being "right."

My understanding of Acts 4:32 ("...All the believers were one in heart and mind...), is that they spoke with people who could provide wisdom (the apostles), they prayed, talked it out, and waited for total unity. It was the Holy Spirit who led them, convincing them of truth. Not human logic, not what made sense, but God Himself. Sure, they would talk it out, as we are here, because it was understood that God would speak through the unique individuals involved in the discussion. Having even one dissenter meant that the issue was unresolved.

Admittedly, having a conversation like this could take a long time. But this way, instead of writing someone off as uninformed or unreasonable, we consider that God might use anyone taking part to speak into the conversation. If the dissenter is wrong, the Holy Spirit would convince him of that.

Jeff, I appreciate that you're doing that here. Keeping up with the conversation, and prayerfully (I hope) engaging with the "dissenter" (me, I guess) in order to have a fruitful discussion.

P W Hatcher said...

I just happened on this blog a couple of days ago. I don't want to interrupt the flow (too much), but could I interject a few things (I guess that's a yes.)? Stepchild, you said: "Again, truth is not relative, but our perspectives on it are." Do you mean that,
1) Truth is a concept, and only has meaning when properly defined as being that which comes from the mind of God, and coming from the mind of God is objective reality (not relative), whereas,
2) our perspectives, not coming from the mind of God, at least not fully, not perfectly, sometimes more or less, are subject to many things, not the least of which is our sinful natures? If so, I agree.
It's not that truth does not exist, or that we cannot know truth, it is just that being what we are we cannot know even as we are fully known.

I read your post, as I have said a couple of days ago, and have been thinking about it in respect to things going on here state side (IMB). Much of what you alluded to in your post intimated that that was, at least in part, what you were getting at also. I got up this morning and read yesterdays post at founders.org/blog/ on "the debate", and it made me think again about what you posted. Debate isn't always the best way to communicate, is it? There is this big problem with egos, motives, SIN.

What I've read - just a couple of your posts - I like. I am tetering in the middle of the century mark, so I don't know if I'm modern or post-modern. I think that is why, in part, I think I will stick around a while; to see what I am.

Thank you for your service. God bless your work,
Wayne Hatcher

stepchild said...

Wayne,
Thanks for reading. I've learned a lot about myself since starting this blog. Specifically that I'm not as good at expressing myself as I thought I'd be.

I really like the way you explained my thoughts about truth. I agree. The only truth we know is what God reveals to us. I hope He continues to show us His perspective through these sorts of discussions.

Don't worry about "what you are;" it's better not to have a label. Hey, maybe we'll invent a new label just for you! I think a lot of these questions about communication are rooted in the fact that our understanding of our faith is so modern. How can we talk about it without depending on human logic? I really don't know yet, but I'm enjoying the adventure of giving it a try!