Discussion vs. Debate:
A model for SBCToday commentary, and wherever Christians assemble to talk theology


Norm MillerNorm Miller is the director of communications and marketing at Truett-McConnell College.


Discussion vs. Debate: The title itself invites both its subjects. Honestly, to which are we most prone? There, I did it again: invited either a discussion or debate or both.

Webster defines a discussion as an informal debate, and a formal debate as contentious. The question is whether Christ followers should discuss or debate. Jesus was contentious, even righteously indignant; however, those traits showed when he was dealing with Pharisees, moneychangers, et al.

But was Jesus contentious with the Pharisee Nicodemus? The account reveals that the two had a discussion, not a debate – at least not a formal, contentious debate. Nicodemus had some truth, and Jesus had a distinct divine advantage in that vein. He was(is) the Truth, knew the truth, and was able to discern the hearts and minds of men like no other.

Nonetheless, the exchange between the God-Man and the one who considered himself a man of God provides a rubric for what is writ on the digital pages of SBCToday.com.  Acknowledging that all analogies eventually break down, consider the following in light of the aforementioned discussion.

The children of God have known discussions, debates, set-tos, controversies, splits, and many other difficulties indicating, among other things, that we are not yet as sanctified as we ought to be. Indeed, the SBC Conservative Resurgence reflected all such aspects and more. And I’m sure that the people of God on both sides have some personal regrets and wish that some events and interchanges had been handled in a more God-glorifying manner.
Sola Dei Gloria, a most worthy goal, we see written often. Therefore, let us live by that ancient adage. Let the words of our keyboards and the meditations from our handhelds be acceptable in the Lord’s sight, and to those to whom we write.

It is my humble preference, therefore, that the message threads on this blog be as considerate as a congenial discussion and not as condescending as a contentious debate. Vitriol, of course, is not a spiritual gift.
So, discussion or debate? That is the question. Obviously, for this co-laborer, discussion.

While it is difficult or even impossible to minimize or ignore that the readers/writers of this blog have very strong opinions, and thus appear to represent opposing sides, ought we not strive to avoid the “us vs. them” mentality? Granted, that is difficult; but this writer believes that our carnality naturally views those who don’t share our opinions and beliefs as being “on the other side.” Whereas participative bloggers may be on opposite sides of a question, must we draw lines in the sand? Doing so too easily blinds us all to the reality that we are God’s children, obscures the Golden Rule, and instills amnesia to the command that we must regard others more highly than ourselves. We must remember that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

I ponder such matters thusly: Debaters take the pro or con and employ rhetorical and argumentative skills to win the debate. But who wins among God’s children in that scenario? To the extent that we are carnally motivated, we all lose. And the watching world wonders whether we have ever met the Prince of Peace, or even if he exists at all. True, we are the only Bible some will ever read. Let us comport ourselves accordingly.

Let us not consider ourselves on opposite sides of the table. Rather, let us consider the table round. If the table is rectangular, then the psychological and even the spiritual advantages can too easily belong not to any human, but to him who would work ill among us.

If the table is rectangular, then we come to it with this tacit position: “I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’ve got to prove otherwise. Let the debate ensue.” If such is the case, how will anything ever be settled to the satisfaction of the participants and to God’s sole glory?

Ah, but if the table is round, then there is the unstated acknowledgment of equality, of no sides extant, a centrality of purpose, a humility extending to all, and the universal understanding that all at the table have some truth to contribute that ultimately will raise the quality and amount of truth held by that body corporate. That ought to be the goal of those assembled, and not that one side wins over the other. How can be there be sides to a round table, anyway?

Above all, know that no one owns the truth. Propositionally, it is outside of us, challenging us, teaching us, judging us, encouraging us, and, hopefully, unifying us. How can we not be unified if we all gather around the objective truth of God? If unity does not prevail, then the truth is not at fault. Let us all consider ourselves a Nicodemus in that we have some knowledge of the things of God, but not all. Let us admit that others may have more such knowledge than ourselves. Let us all say to each another, “I’m a mere beggar on the road of life, and I’ve found a piece of bread. Let us eat.”

And where is Jesus in all of this? Well, if he reigns in our prayer closets and pulpits, then he shall reign in our presence, for he is wherever two are gathered in his name.

Application:

  • When posting an original or responsive thought, abstain from ivory towerism and self-deceived spiritual superiority, for God opposes the proud.
  • Abstain from curt comeuppances and the “I told you so” attitudes.
  • Be as gentle with others as was Jesus with Nicodemus. Forthright is fine. Forceful? Not so much. Being gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent doesn’t mean your commentary must inject the adder’s poison.
  • Employ deference, not defiance.
  • Make sure your comments emit more light than heat.
  • Remember that the Golden Rule is not a gilded club.
  • Be pointed, but don’t pierce.If you find you must add an emoticon (smiley face) at the end of a comment, that’s probably a sign that you need to rephrase the statement, or not make it at all. Digital jest hardly comes off that way. Usually, it offends.
  • Respond to others as if you were responding to Jesus. Granted, some of us make that nigh unto an exercise in futility, but try anyway. You, if no other, will be better for it.

God, please grant me the power and humility to practice what I preach. Amen.

Norm Miller is director of communication & marketing for Truett-McConnell College.