In the last couple of years I have been highly inspired by a young theologian (well as best as I can tell by young I mean he is at least in his thirties) by the name of Michael Patton. He has reminded me how to conduct myself when teaching or discussing theology. He is somewhat of a reminder of how Dr. Walter Martin would approach theological subjects when there was obvious disagreement.
Michael leads a ministry call Reclaiming the Mind, and is a prolific blogger, and teacher. Much of my desire is to follow in his example of Irenic Theology. He was the first to introduce me to that term. Much of my recent thinking has been influenced by him, and for that I am grateful.
What I find interesting is that Michael is a Calvinist, and I am an Arminian/Pentecostal. He is a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary, but he is the most gracious Calvinist/non-pentecostal that I have ever met (well met in the sense that I interact with him at his blog and emails). I hope to be able to be his counter part as an Arminian/Pentecostal Ministerial Theologian. I say all that because I am going to quote and almost re-post a section of one his blogs (again you can read the entire posting at the link below). It is this attitude that attracts me to his writings and teachings. And has highly influenced me in the way I hope to engage others. I’ll admit I have lost it a few times with certain bloggers and even blown it, yes even recently, however that does not deter me for continuing in my efforts.
Blog Title: What Part of Gentleness and Respect don’t We Understand? by Michael Patton
You can read the whole blog by clicking on the title, but I want to focus on a few of his points.
He starts off by saying:
“I often talk about the importance of having an irenic approach to doing theology. It would seem that this term, “irenic” is suffering because of its overuse and mis-identification with those who would choose to abuse it. To be irenic means that we are peaceful in our approach to issues. This does not involve compromise, but a willingness to engage issues fairly.”
Then he defines Irenic Theology, and then he quotes 1 Peter 3:15. It is here that I want to focus our attention in what he says:
“Many of us only hear the first part of the verse “give an defense,” and upon this we justify our apologetic polemic ready to destroy, slander, or misrepresent any who disagree with what we believe to be the truth. We fail to recognize that this defense, in this context, is to be given to people “who ask.” This is requested information based upon a life of integrity in the midst of our suffering. As well, this defense is to be done irenically—with gentleness and respect.
I can hear the “what abouts” coming. And in the spirit of this post let me tell you how stupid you are for questioning my . . . ahem . . . Ok, let’s deal with them.
There seems to be examples in the Scripture where the prophets, apostles, and even Christ did not engage irenically. In other words, they often seemed to engage people with a fierce resolve, respecting the truth more than the person with whom there is conflict. I admit this is true. I also admit that there are times when such polemics are important. But we need to look at the context in which this type of polemic is brought about.
1. Should we be defending the faith like Christ cleansed the temple?
We often think we should speak with the authority of Christ. In defense of our attitude we will appeal to Christ’s attitude toward the pharisees or his cleansing the temple. But to refer to the example of Christ in these instances can be problematic seeing as how Christ’s actions are not always intended to set examples for us. I know this sounds off, but think about it. He worked great miracles in order to demonstrate his unique authority, he engaged people with a divine introspection knowing their thoughts, motives, and intentions, and he was the ultimate divine judge who has every right to judge all people. As well, this was not the modus operandi of Christ. Do you ever notice that he was only polemic in such a way to the self-righteous who arrogantly believed they had all the answers and were a step above all the rest?
2. Defending the faith like Paul encountered the Galatians.
Many times we will appeal to Paul’s example. His polemics, especially to the Galatians, are used to defend our own less than gracious encounters. But this has problems as well.
First, Paul was an apostle who carried the authority of an apostle. Being such, he had both divine authority and the divine ability to speak to a situation with infallible guidance. This is something that most of us we cannot claim. Can we?
Second, Paul primarily only spoke in such a way to those who were under his authority. He was their leader and had the right and obligation as their leader to engage them in a candid way. He was their pastor. Pastor’s can and sometimes should speak in such a manner to their flock.
ROBERT: Way too often we loose site of Pastoral authority in our lives. We somehow think that we have a right to have this arrogant attitude and I always hear Acts 17:11 quoted as the justification for this attitude and conduct. They make reference such as “We are just searching the scriptures to make sure they are right, and if they are not we have the right to correct them.”
Third, like Christ, Paul did not always engage people in such a way. In fact, as noted above, he encouraged his people to be gracious, humble, and respectful in all their dealing with those with whom there is disagreement. In 1 Thess 2:7 he describes his own ministry as one of gentleness, comparing it to a mother caring for her children.
Sadly, it often seems as if there are people out there who not only think they are an apostle, but also think that they are talking to their own congregation. Some even seem to enjoy polemical engagement in an unhealthy manner. In fact, I think that a lot of ministries would not know what to do if they did not have someone to fight.
Sadly, many times this attitude is found more in my own conservative Calvinistic circles than in any other. For this I am sorry and ashamed. Sometimes Calvinists often make the worst Calvinists . But, of course, it can be found in any group. Baptists have a knack for it. Even emergers can display the most angered, discounting, and arrogant spirit that I have ever seen.”
ROBERT: Again it takes great courage for Michael’s honesty in his assessments on how this attitude is more prolific in Calvinistic camps. Yes that has been my experience, but yet I agree with him they can be found in many other groups as well.
And yes, it is true it was at a Hyper (high) Calvinist blog where I blew it and was just angry and not very gracious. Which by the way can be a great place to practice being Irenic if you can handle all of the I am right you are wrong, burn you heritic. 😉
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