There are many frustrating things that arise when vigorous theological debate takes place. Often, however, our frustrations differ from person to person. Two people can read the same post and come away with very different opinions on the tone, content, helpfulness, etc.
One thing that has frustrated me in recent weeks – and I’m not saying I am innocent in this regard – has to do with the kind of general comments whereby someone will decry the tone or content of others, but they will not name specifically who they are speaking about.
Now, I realize that I am currently doing the same thing up to this point in the post. So let me explain my problem specifically.
Albert Mohler recently weighed in on the Trinitarian controversy. He remarked that the “Arian” charge has been made against the likes of Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. But I don’t know who has explicitly called these men “Arians.” There’s no link embedded in the post that directs the reader. We are left guessing. How are we to avoid guessing when there have been some public widely-read posts? And what if we think of certain people that Dr. Mohler did not have in mind? Whose fault is that? Surely writers need to be sensitive to human nature, to some extent, when they speak of individuals but do not name them?
James White recently discussed the debate on the Trinity and did something similar. He made all sorts of comments about the tone of those on his side, but he did not actually show us or explain to us what was so objectionable. Again, we are left guessing.
So why do I bring this up? Because it is very easy to be the “voice of reason” by making comments about “tone” but not having to actually defend your case. It is quite convenient when one makes general statements that they don’t actually have to back up with evidence. I tend to think the “tone police” sometimes smack of false piety.
Moreover, how does Dr. Mohler know that critics of Ware and Grudem are driven by their anti-complementarianism? Who are these people he speaks of? Can we at least get a link in order to verify this point?
Click to Tweet
I think we should generally name the person we are engaging. They may not like getting critiqued, but at least they know who is speaking about them. And, perhaps even more importantly, readers are not left guessing.
If I speak in generalities about people that exist in my own mind, I don’t have to really own my public criticism in the same way if I had named an individual (or individuals). My critique just hangs out there and people can arrive at whatever conclusion they wish.
The passive-aggressive approach to debate is infuriating. Just name the person. Tell us who is wrong. Because when you tell us who you are speaking about, then you might actually have to justify your position and make a more compelling argument. And that can only be a good thing, right?
I may not like it when someone comes after me or responds to me. But at least I know they are willing to be up front. And for that I am thankful.
Name your opponents. Critique your opponents. Do so in a way that not only helps them, but also helps your readers. And if you can’t do that, then it is probably best to stay out of the debate because then it only looks like cheap point-scoring.
I think we’ve lost the ability to have rigorous theological debate. Politics quickly take over and substance gets thrown out the window. There’s a Greek proverb that goes something like this: “When war begins, truth is the first casualty.” Indeed.
So can we get back to debating the actual points under dispute rather than defending the honor of our friends by using the same types of rhetoric and arguments that we’re allegedly decrying? Yes, I’m speaking about Albert Mohler’s recent piece. I believe he’s a better man and theologian than what he wrote. And I’d be very glad to see him show why someone (such as Bruce Ware), who has made statements that contradict the Nicene Creed, can still then be viewed as holding to Nicene Orthodoxy.