Friends, way back on September 28–that’s last month, 16 days ago–I posted about our pastor’s sermon on a parable: The Rich Man & Lazarus | Cranach: The Blog of Veith. That innocent little post has now chalked up a record 422 comments at last count. What happened is that a very heated debate broke out between Lutherans and non-Lutherans on the true meaning of John 20:23. Before long, Luther was getting bashed, and non-Lutherans were getting bashed, and feelings were getting hurt on both sides. Then, at about comment #359, people started talking about ME, taking me to task for allowing unkind things being said on my blog. I should not allow certain things to be said. I should establish a code of conduct, require registration, moderate comments, monitor what people say, and delete negative remarks.
I actually do delete some comments when they go far over the line, but I can’t monitor everything that is said, especially what is said on posts from a month ago. And in principle, I value open and free discussion. That becomes impossible if people insist on silencing their opponents. In general, this blog has the reputation of having a higher level of discourse than other blogs, a reputation I don’t want to lose. At the same time, there seems to be some misunderstandings. So I will offer some thoughts:
(1) The word “argument” has become a synonym for “fight.” (As in, “He had an argument with his wife.”) That shows the decay of contemporary argumentation. An argument is supposed to be a train of thought that leads to persuasion. The goal of an argument is not to score points but to win over your opponent to your way of thinking. An effective argument ends in agreement.
When you insult, mock, name call, or otherwise make your opponent angry, you will never win the argument. That is, you will never persuade your opponent. Instead, you will make him or her “defensive,” as we say, and from behind that defensive bunker, your opponent will never surrender, no matter how good your logic and evidence may be. So mean and vicious and hurtful remarks are simply counterproductive. I shouldn’t have to ban them. They are the equivalent of an admission of defeat.
In the current case, both sides were giving as good as they got. At the same time, it is unfair to zap your opponent, and then get all upset when you get zapped in return! Again, both sides were doing that.
(2) Ah, but Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” If Jesus can call people names, I can too. No, Jesus spoke as one with authority, and not as one of their scribes. We are not Jesus and lack His authority. We are scribes.
When I read that passage, I do confess and feel that I am a viper. Some people do bear God’s authority by virtue of their vocation. When I am castigated by my pastor, or parents, or boss, or the police officer who caught me breaking the law, they do have the calling to deal with me and I take their words to heart. When someone without that calling castigates me, it does not convict me but only makes me angry.
(3) Ah, but we must proclaim the Law to convict people of sin! First of all, not all disputes involve moral failure. But, setting that aside, applying the Law is far more involved than just calling people bad names or even saying they will go to Hell. Applying the theological use of the Law means holding up God’s Law as a mirror so that people will see themselves and their sin, provoking repentance and then a turning to Christ, to the Gospel which also must be proclaimed. But if the person you are attacking does not see his sin, but rather is provoked into self-righteous indignation, you have failed to apply the Law successfully. Preaching the Law is more like surgery than beating with a blunt instrument, which is why Luther and Walther call the ability to apply and to distinguish Law and Gospel is the highest art.
(4) It is good to hold discussions with people whom we do not agree with. We have a tendency to only talk with people like ourselves (Lutherans with Lutherans, Christians with Christians, conservatives with conservatives, liberals with liberals). But if we ever want to, again, win anyone over to our side, we need practice talking with those who do not believe as we do.
One of the great strengths of this blog is that it attracts–how, I don’t really know–people of many different views. I loved it when that Muslim guy joined in recently, stating his objections to Christianity, which many of you–including diehard opponents usually–joined together to defend. I’m glad to have the “spiritual but not religious” Bunnycatch3r here. And the whole gamut of Christian theologies. And the atheists who chime in. Don’t you see how good that is?
The old record for most comments was held by a series of posts involving Michael the atheist. You commenters, for the most part, treated him with great gentleness. And do you remember how he said, at one point, something to the effect that this blog was his support group! I don’t think we came to an agreement with him before he stopped posting, but who knows what might have happened to him since then and what part some of you might have played in his life? If I excluded him or deleted his negative comments about Christianity, or if you just resorted to calling him names or got all offended at his very presence, the opportunity to talk with him seriously about Christ would never have happened.
So, in conclusion, I’ve got to trust you, and I do. Learn how to argue. Don’t have a thin skin. Talk with people you don’t agree with. Try to win each other over. Realize that we have in common both the wretchedness of our sin and the forgiveness of our Savior.