Rob Buckingham's Blog

Is it Possible to Disagree Respectfully?

I enjoy writing a weekly blog; I love tackling the tough topics and looking for ways to express my Christian faith by engaging with the issues of the day.  I also appreciate the interaction that we make available on the Bayside Church website as well as social media – at least some of the interaction.

Last week I wrote a blog asking the question, “Is Hell Eternal Torture?

In the blog I affirm the traditional view as the one I have always believed and taught, but also presented two other views that are held by Christian people.  I gave a reading list that contains books that present teaching on hell from various perspectives for those who would like to study further.  Some of the comments were constructive while others were critical.  How dare I suggest there are different views on hell?  Hell is eternal, conscious suffering and one day I’ll find out the truth of that – ouch!  “It’s a pretty pissy article, one that I’d expect to hear more of as time goes by. I have read the Bible, do read the Bible, done my post-graduate Theological and Biblical studies. It’s nice to present the various ‘views’ but one thing’s for sure – the contemporary church is getting more piss-weak as time goes by. Sure, they do a few nice things and dress a little more hip, but overall, pretty shallow and out of touch. The real legends of Biblical exposition are dying off and new generations of neo-Pagan, post-Christian era heretics are on the increase.”

One person commented, “I would have lived a wild life if I didn’t believe in hell – fear is a great motivator and anything less than hell being hell dilutes grace I would have thought?”  My reply, “But perfect love casts out fear. What a shame that people follow Jesus as a “get out of hell free” card. I’d hate to think my kids stayed in relationship with me because they feared the consequences if they didn’t.”

What strikes me the most from some interaction to my blogs, is the lack of ability in some Christians to have a mature, respectful discussion on Bible topics where different views are held.

Now I’m not referring to the key truths of the Bible – the things that affect a person’s salvation.  If I start writing blogs denying the deity and humanity of Jesus, or salvation through Christ alone, or forgiveness and pardon through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then please stop reading what I write.  When I speak about holding differing views I’m referring to the negotiable truths of the Bible.  I would put my blog on the three views of hell in this category.  Other negotiable beliefs include:

  • Varying opinions on the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming
  • Did creation take six literal days or is Genesis 1-2 is a poetic allegory?
  • Should women be allowed to teach in church?
  • Can a Christian lose their salvation or are we eternally secure?
  • What is the correct way to interpret the book of Revelation?
  • Is a divorced Christian allowed to remarry?

The church has wrestled with these and other matters for centuries.  Are you aware that there are four views on Christian baptism; four views on church government; four views on The Lord’s Supper; five views on how the Law interacts with the gospel; three views on creation and evolution; three views of the Millennium and six views on worship?  And this is just a small sample of the negotiable subjects on which Christians differ in belief and practise.

The problem is that most Christians never get exposed to various views.  Their church teaches ONE view – the RIGHT ONE of course – and when they hear something that differs from what they’ve always believed, they hurl insults and cry “heresy.”

I love it when mature Christians can have a respectful discussion on a variety of topics.  What a shame though, when people feel that “their” viewpoint is being threatened or questioned and they retaliate by making statements like “well I just believe what the Bible says” – like I don’t? Or, “I don’t like the Bible to be watered down to make people feel comfortable, warm and fuzzy.” Or, “if you studied the Bible you’d see the truth” – like I haven’t spent almost four decades diligently studying that amazing book! The all-time smack down though is, “when you meet Jesus face-to-face He’ll sort you out.” Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m sure He’ll have a few pluses and minuses for each of us like He did for the 7 churches in Revelation. I’m so glad I can rest in His ultimate grace and love though.

Having mature discussions on negotiable truths means that I will ask questions and listen more than speak.  It means I won’t spend the whole conversation trying to convince another person that they’re wrong and that they should convert to my way of thinking.  It means that we may respectfully agree to disagree, but we won’t break Christian fellowship and unity over something that doesn’t affect our salvation.  It means that I wont feel threatened because someone believes differently to me.

For those of you who are mature believers in Jesus and enjoy learning different points of view on various Biblical subjects, I recommend the Counterpoints Collection. It’s published by Zondervan and available online. I’ve downloaded and read a number of these books on my Kindle and found them interesting and very helpful in broadening my understanding of Scripture. With volumes featuring contributions from some of today’s most respected scholars, these books represent the very best in Christian scholarship.  Happy reading!

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