enough with disagreements already


While attending a family friend’s wedding reception last weekend, I sat near a person learning improv comedy. One of the basic principles in improv is “Yes, and” — this opens up dialogue and keeps the comedic flow going. The thing is, dialogue takes a lot of time and effort, and being the busy Americans that we are, it seems we don’t have much time for it.

Like internetmonk, I dislike arguing. Some people like arguing and do it for sport with no hard feelings or after taste. It’s been my experience that most people get their feelings hurt when intellectuals do battle. I’m tired of remarks that begin with “some things that I disagreed with” [caveat: click thru for context b/c I pulled this quote out of context to illustrate my tiredness with ‘disagreement’] or “that does not mean that I endorse everything“… maybe it’s my wishful thinking, but I’d think that very few people agree and endorse 100% of what someone else says or writes. Do most people have a different default mode?

Believe you me, I was not oblivious to the blogosphere’s buzz about the Desiring God conference with Piper, Keller, Driscoll, and others. Roger Overton has a nice link list of summaries to the conference [ht: faithmaps]. And, CT did note that “Piper does scare some people.”

The blogosphere sure reacted to Piper’s critique on Driscoll’s cleverness. Yes, and, I see that it has already played itself out, with Driscoll quenching the rumors [ht: reformissionary via faithmaps] in what he called the bloggerdom, quickly and valiantly for the sake of unity. And, Tony Jones reacts to Keller’s brief remarks about Emergent’s impact, to which Keller clarifies a distinction between evangelical orthodoxy vs. orthodox Christianity. Is this getting too nuanced for you too?

Jumping tracks, and checking in with the red letter words of Jesus, he’s on record for saying both “For whoever is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40) and “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Ken Collins wrestles with this apparent contradition, by interpreting the statements in context. I prefer the former, a more open stance to those who seek to follow the historic Jesus, rather than articulating an exactingly precision of 4-point, 5-point, or 7-point Calvinism or multi-faceted dimensions on atonement theories. Personally, I don’t draw my boundaries as broadly as the National Council of Churches, or even Emergent (though I’d like to be on friendly terms with those in the Village), and not as narrowly as the Reformed brethren (aka ‘humble orthodoxy‘).

This kind of vocal disagreements over theological precision is patently discouraging to observers and outsiders, even disgusting. Perhaps we should review & practice Faithmaps’ 2002 exhortation on developing a praxis of theologial disagreement and part 2.


0 thoughts on “enough with disagreements already

  • Chris

    Nice post DJ,

    I can’t tell you how discouraging this has been. I guess we have to learn how to adapt to new forms of communications (public blogs). I know Driscoll and others seem to hate the blog world and the criticisms that flow.

    Speakers can no longer say things at church, in a conference or any other public venue without the possibility of the info becoming “viral” and spreading across the nations.

    Think about, I knew about Piper criticisms of Driscoll, before Driscoll knew, and I was not even at the conference. NUTS!

    But, this is the new reality and those who have platforms, are now speaking to the entire blog world, and it does not matter if they like it or now.

    On another note, I’ve kind of personally floated away from the Emergent Village crowd. Not really in a bad way…But, the problem I’m having is the flip side: which is the reformed crowd. (which I love and respect) So far, I have not been able to find a “middle ground” crowd, sorta speak. Very frustrating!

  • Tim Keller

    DJ – Yes, it is wearisome. However, I wasn’t trying to pick a fight or criticize emergent in my comments at DG. I was making the point that the older Stott-Packer-Francis Schaeffer evangelicalism is fragmenting. Stott’s ‘evangelical essentials’ are not seen by the emergent as essentials. That’s noteworthy and worthy of reflection, I think, since Stott and others carved out the space between fundamentalism and liberalism a half-century ago. Emergent (IMO) is moving out of that older space, and trying to create a new space between older liberalism and older evangelicalism. My guess is that they are basically coming to the same place as the post-liberals. But I wonder if they can really make a movement out of it without doing the institution building that Stott, Ockenga, Billy Graham etc did. I doubt it, though I am not totally sure of my doubt (!) since you don’t get back into Narnia the same way you did last time.

    I don’t think these kinds of comments should be considered cheap shots nor the kind of charges that should be made personally before they are made publicly, etc. If you can’t say measured things like this in a public forum, I’m not sure what you can say.

    By the way, DJ–I’m sorry I never post on your website. I hope this makes amends!

  • the bloke

    “I disagree with you!”

    I wonder what that means to the speaker. To the hearer, it seems like it is a critique, but then the reply might be, “Well, so?” or even, “Whew! I was afraid you’d not!” or “Thank God!”

    Perhaps when someone makes such utterances, it is a declaration not so much about the wrongness of the other party’s position but more so about the speaker’s difference in perspective or even, the speaker’s emotional response to whatever he or she disagrees with.

    Of course, in matters of faith, we have the issues about claims on truth. It seems for some of us that is very important and then we find in reality that we run across many different interpretations and perspectives which then troubles some of us.

    Consider that when Christ Himself says, “I am the Truth,” it is a statement that possibly means something very different than what most people take it to mean.

  • Roger Overton

    Hi DJ,
    While there’s some truth in your complaint (especially in regards to the criticisms of Driscoll), disagreement is fundamental to discussion. We all have beliefs and opinions about things, but one of the central ways we learn and grow closer to the Truth is through discussing our disagreements and weighing them appropriately. I appreciate Dr. Keller’s point as well, “If you can

  • Sivin

    nice of Tim Keller to post a comment. 🙂 I’m wondering whether “trying to create a new space between older liberalism and older evangelicalism” necessarily means that one is disconnecting themselves from “evangelicalism”? (cf. Evangelicals like Stott carving space within mainline church contexts such as the Anglican Communion)

    Perhaps the Asian American Church younger leaders may model a way forward in terms of working out disagreements?

  • Tim Keller

    Sivin–I don’t care whether Emergent calls itself ‘evangelicalism’ or not. Stott and others believed that the separatism of fundamentalism and the theologically innovations of liberalism drained Christianity of its vitality and power. They came up with a ‘space’ to inhabit that they believed was sufficiently ‘in’ the world and still sufficiently ‘not of’ the world. Stott had a set of evangelical essentials, including inerrancy and substitutionary atonement, that he felt was crucial for the church maintain in order to stay in that space. IMO history has confirmed their analysis, since both fundamentalism and mainline liberalism have faired poorly in comparison. Now emergent wants to find some new space–in a theological place that Stott would not go–that they think will be a better place for spiritual and ecclesiastical vitality. Whether they call it evangelicalism or not doesn’t matter. Even though I see a lot of understandable reasons for their move, I don’t think it’s a wise one, either theologically or practically.

  • djchuang

    I try to keep my posts under 1000 words, so they are not deeply nuanced treatises, and sometimes brevity does leave out needed disclaimers, caveats, measured explanations, etc. So, hopefully, comments (and minor revisions) will provide needed explanations for the various perspectives of readers. Can you imagine how wordy everything would be if we had to cover our bases for every kind of listener/ reader?

    Roger, no harm intended by pulling a few of your words out of context. I’ve revised my post and added a caveat – I hope that helps. In my discussions with everyday people, I have not found that when someone says they disagree, that it has resulted in a changed perspective in the person being disagreed with. YMMV- your mileage may vary.

    Tim, thanks for your comments and public remarks. I thought they were well-measured and acceptable in the very limited time and format you had to work with. I share a similar perspective on what kind of impact Emergent might have. I believe, if my recollection is correct, that even Doug Pagitt has said that Emergent might only amount to an asterisk in the history books. So, even if Emergent is creating a new space that might meetup with post-liberals, it may well risk losing evangelicalism’s vitality, and yet it may also find something valuable and useful along the way. I find myself on the margins of the Emergent conversation myself, but I do sense that some Emergents don’t care to receive theological cautionary remarks outside of their own venues and relationships. As such, I don’t think it’s fair that if I were asked about Emergent’s future that I’d have to answer with “Oh, I don’t know, you’d have to ask them yourself.” (btw, I was able to get to Redeemer’s 10:30am service on Sunday 10/1, sat down just as you started the sermon; I had dropped my wife earlier so she would have time to settle down while I circled to find parking; this impeccable timing caused my wife to roll her eyes back in disbelief *grin*)

  • Sivin

    Thanks Tim for response to my question. I thought it’s really great you are taking time to respond in the comments sections. How would you see the place of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement in this whole discussion especially in terms of “for spiritual and ecclesiastical vitality” and also “evangelical essentials … crucial for the church maintain in order to stay in that space”? I recognize this is a broad question but I’m interested in your views on this.

  • Tim Keller

    Sivin– in general, the Pentecostal movement fits in the traditional evangelical ‘space.’ Its theology is conservative-evangelical. But it does have a tendency to ‘list to the right,’ away from the cultural/scholarly engagement that the original evangelical architects (Stott, Carl Henry, etc) wanted. I actually wonder (and I don’t think there’s any way to prove it) that the reason emergent is ‘listing to the left’ and seeking different space is because they see evangelicalism as drifting into a more hard-line, fortress-mentality attitude toward culture. If so, some parts of the Pentecostal movement may be responsible for this.

  • Ben

    Congrats DJ on finally landing the Tim Keller comment(several!). I think I’m going to point Tony Jones to this conversation on his blog.

  • Tony Jones

    I find Tim’s comments here to be more nuanced and understandable than what I have heard on the recording. That is, indeed, understandable, given the contraints of of the time and venue at the DG Conference. It’s true that I don’t feel contrained by the particular doctrines that Schaeffer thought essential for forging a third way between liberalism and fundamentalism. His thoughts were important and progressive for his day, and we are called to think just as robustly for our day. And, while I do have some affinity for post-liberals, I also part ways with them at significant points. Plus, I’ve been just as influenced by my training at Fuller and my reading of (evangelical) biblical greats like FF Bruce. So, I may be drifting, and I may not.

    Regarding my openness to correction, I guess I’m no the one to judge that, although I have sat under some wonderful teachers in my life, and I’ve been shaped by each of them. I will say that I have a policy that I’ll meet anyone I can at anytime I can to answer questions and address concerns they have about my own theology, or about Emergent Village (the broader emergent church movement, however, I am unable to answer for). That’s exactly why I invited the presenters at the DG Conference for coffee while they were in town. So, DJ, please don’t assume that I’m unwilling or unable to receive cautionary remarks. I welcome them, for they make my thinking sharper. On my blog, I was just asking why Tim was suggesting that we/I are sliding away from orthodoxy. I’ve now had that question answered. My next question is, what, in particular, is leading Tim to that conclusion?

  • Tony Jones

    Sorry, one more point I’d like to make abundantly clear: I have a great deal of respect for Tim, and I actually desire to develop a friendship. I’m not out to make enemies. I’m out to make friends.

  • Roger Overton

    Thanks for the caveat DJ.
    You’ve never disagreed with someone about something and changed your mind after hearing their view, or vice versa? I wonder, are you more dissatisfied with the fact that people are disagreeing over things, or with the tone in which they’re disagreeing. I think disagreement is healthy and vital for our understandings to mature, but I’m often dissappointed with the tone in which people disagree. (And that often includes myself.)

  • Scot McKnight

    Tim,
    I’m glad you bring up both Schaeffer and Stott, for I think the former paved the way for the Religious Right with his two late books — How Then Shall We Live and Christian Manifesto. Stott set the agenda for many of us in the American scene. He was, in my estimation, a proponent of generous orthodoxy. What do you think of such an idea?

    On Stott, it might be fair to say he believed in inerrancy, but you know full well that he had problems with that term — he preferred to call Scripture (as do I) truthful and trustworthy rather than inerrancy. It seems to me to be a capturing of Stott to push that term for what he said. Clearly, in Evangelical Essentials, he does not disagree with the inerrantists but he makes it clear that he thinks that is not the best term for a theology of Scripture. At one time on Tony’s blog, you and I had a similar conversation.

    Now, to be fair to Stott, he pushed the boundaries for evangelicalism, and the right side of evangelicalism in the USA thought he was soft on eschatology, on final state, and on social justice/evangelism.

  • djchuang

    Tony, thanks for stopping by, commenting, and engaging dialogue here and there and everywhere. I’m glad you’re making progress on getting your questions answered, and I’m (naively?) hopeful you’ll get to meet Keller in person too. I believe I couched my impression (not assumption) about some Emergent conversationalists fairly, “that some Emergents don

  • Ben

    I agree that theological disagreements should be talked about and aired out appropriately and are thus essential and healthy. I would also suggest that as pastors and church leaders, our job is to think about our theology and discuss it, but more importantly to live out the IMPLICATIONS of our theology in our communities. I think this is more important, especially in view of the non-Christians who are watching us from the outside.

    For instance, if you espouse the complementarian view of gender roles, isn’t it more convincing to those who disagree with you for them to see you as a husband and father who shows sacrificial love to your wife and family, and exercising “headship” through that? I think that would be more telling than an extended debate over Ephesians 5. I think that’s more productive sometimes then spending so much time debating theology, though of course that’s essential because that’s where it all begins.

    That’s one reason I respect Tim Keller, because I get the feeling that he is more concerned about living out the implications of his theology, rather than in just condemning “heresy.”

  • Tony Jones

    Stott also happens to be an annihilationist, which I think Keller/Piper/Driscoll/Wells/Carson would disagree with. So, maybe Stott is “sliding away” from Stottian evangelicalism.

    I’m not trying to be a smartass, just to point out that “evangelical” is a very slippery term, and it bends in a lot of different directions, making it troublesome to determine someone else’s relationship to the term.