Culture Friday – Advice for disagreeing Biblically

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Friday the 22nd of May, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

AUDIO: Those talking points, they made the rounds. What does that mean, are you saying I got talking points? Whoa, whoa. No, you gotta answer. You gotta answer the accusation. You had a whole day to talk. Let’s get Katie in, at least she’s got something to say that’s original.

So that’s obviously a debate playing out on a cable news show. But these days, it can sometimes feel like we’re all on cable news.

Christians are shouting at and dunking on each other over politics, social issues, and the daily news cycle. 

The Coronavirus only seems to have increased our polarization. Social media is riddled with landmines so sensitive, even the most innocuous comments can set off an explosive argument.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Culture Friday and we now welcome Glenn Sunshine. He’s a professor of history at Central Connecticut University, a senior faculty member of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and author of books like, Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home.

Professor Sunshine, Good morning!

GLENN SUNSHINE, GUEST: Good morning! Thanks for having me.

BASHAM: So, first things first, I have to confess I’m a little bit guilty of what Nick described there. I’m a pretty passionate person, and I grew up in a family that loves a good debate. So I don’t tend to shy away from them.

You wrote two articles at Breakpoint recently that I think are helpful for everyone—but maybe especially valuable for people like me—on how to biblically disagree on hot button issues.

So to lay the groundwork, I know a lot of people who are uncomfortable with, let’s say, spirited discussions. They feel being a peacemaker will mean avoiding arguments over doctrine or politics altogether.

But even further, in recent years we’ve seen a growing perspective that it’s not appropriate for certain Christians to engage in certain debate. You’re two men, does that disqualify you from talking about women’s roles and treatment within the church? Because that is the kind of thing I hear a lot lately—that men should be listening, not speaking on this topic.

So I guess my first question on Biblical rules of engagement is should we be engaging and who should be engaging?

SUNSHINE: Well, first of all, there are a couple of different ways you can answer that. The first one that comes to my mind is that I have found that very often it isn’t really worth engaging in some of these conversations. And the reason for that isn’t because I’m a white male, heterosexual, or anything like that. It’s simply because people are not listening. 

Very often what I find particularly on social media discussions is that people don’t really care what you have to say. They’re just trying to be provocative. They’re trying to annoy people, whatever. And they’re not going to listen. And Jesus tells us that, you know, if people don’t receive your message, shake the dust off your feet, and walk away from them. He tells us don’t cast pearls before swine. And what he’s saying here is don’t try to force issues. Don’t try to force a particular, you know, introduce material into a place where it’s not welcome or people won’t listen

So, on one level that’s one way of answering the question. Another way of answering the question, though, is are there some categories of people who do not have the right to speak into a particular situation? So, for example, does a male have a right to say anything about women’s roles in the church? It’s a question you might want to ask St. Paul.

You know? The fact is truth is truth and it isn’t subjective. Our culture doesn’t believe that there is a firm truth out there. They believe that all truth is really subjective. It’s perspectival, that sort of thing. And that’s really not a biblical perspective. Truth is truth. And no matter who the messenger is, if they can make a solid case for it, a solid Biblical case for it especially in those kinds of issues, then it doesn’t matter who they are. It’s not a matter of the person, it’s a matter of the content that’s being presented. That’s the thing that counts.

We have a culture that believes that truth is relative and personal, that your truth depends entirely on a whole bunch of secondary characteristics—are you white? Are you male? Are you LGBT? Are you—whatever? And that’s what really determines what “your truth” is. That’s really not the case. Truth is an objective matter.

EICHER: You know, professor, it seems appropriate that we’re having this discussion at a moment when so many of us are reflecting on the life and legacy of Ravi Zacharias.  

All the tributes I’m seeing—one quality keeps coming up again and again. People who knew him, who read his books, who heard him speak—they point out that he was an apologist who made tough arguments with a gentle tone. One person said that he used his intelligence as a tool not a weapon.

That example dovetails with some things you said about tone in your essay.

Can you talk a little bit about that and the sort of Ravi Zacharias model?

SUNSHINE: Well, yes, the first thing that we have to remember is that when we’re engaged in a discussion with someone, the goal is not to win the argument. It’s to win the person. The goal is never to attack the person, it’s to attack the argument. Because the person that we’re talking to is someone who is made in the image of God and is therefore deserving of honorable treatment. You treat them honorably. You respect them. You don’t insult them. You don’t demean them. 

This is a consistent teaching in scripture. Read through the New Testament when it talks about how you deal with your opponent. If you treat them with gentleness and respect, if you don’t revile them, if you don’t insult them, no matter how they treat you, no matter how badly you’re treated, your responsibility is to treat them with respect, with courtesy, with honor because they’re made in the image of God. And, if you fail to do that, you’re actually insulting the God in whose image they are made. 

Now, this leads you to the kind of tone that Ravi took in all of his interactions with people. He always treated them with respect. Now, he made some really pointed arguments, but they were never personalized. Unlike Saul Lewinsky who says that you have to personalize the argument. That’s the way you win. That’s not the way you win as a Christian. He never personalized it. He never treated people with disrespect. He always dealt with the arguments. He dealt with the issues. And he did so in a very direct way, but always with perfect courtesy. And that’s the model we should be following.

BASHAM: When you bring up perfect courtesy, I think another trap we can fall into, and boy I know I have, is always thinking that all our anger is righteous anger. People point to John the Baptist calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Or Paul wishing castration on the judaizers. Tough stuff.

And we assume that if we believe we’re in the right—which we all almost always do or else why would be arguing—we’re free to follow that model. 

What’s wrong with that assumption?

SUNSHINE: Well, first of all, it is the case that Jesus did kick the furniture down the front stairs of the temple. I mean, there are times where you see in Scripture even Jesus acted very impressively. He called the Pharisees white-washed tombs, hypocrites, on and on. 

But what is more notable is that when you look at the way Jesus acts overall, even where he is being—people are trying to trap him and things like that—he very rarely responds that way. Most of the time, he responds to people basically meeting them on their own terms and answering them on their own terms. He treats them more often than not, again, with respect, with gentleness, and so on, the way he treated all of his enemies when he went to Calvary, which by the way includes us. 

We do see Jesus getting mad, but he gets mad at actions and when he pronounces judgement on people, there is always an either direct or implied if you repent, this changes. There’s always this implied call to repentance. 

So, it’s never about the person. It’s about their actions. And that’s, again, the same sort of thing that I’ve been suggesting in terms of arguments. You deal with ideas, not with people. You deal with actions, not people. You don’t personalize it.

EICHER: Do you think that this moment, before we let you go here—it’s been a great conversation—but do you think that our modern times are particularly divisive? I mean, is this the worst time in history? Because I do know people point back to previous, let’s say, political campaigns and there were some horrible things said even in American history. But do you think these are historically bad times?

SUNSHINE: Not in terms of political invectives. I mean, we’ve seen some—as you say—some absolutely horrendous through American history. But in one sense, we are really different. We’re in a culture that really no longer believes in truth. That instead our opinions, our preferences, our desires trump truth. And that cultural change that we see there where there is no longer a consensus that there even is an objective truth that we can look for. We don’t even care about facts. It’s our preferences, it’s our opinions that matter. That changes the game considerably. And in some respects, that makes this a very different and a very dangerous time.

EICHER: Well Glenn Sunshine is professor of history at Central Connecticut University, a senior faculty member of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and author of books like, Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home.

Professor Sunshine, thanks for being with us.

SUNSHINE: Thank you for having me.


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One comment on “Culture Friday – Advice for disagreeing Biblically

  1. Phil W says:

    Hahahahaha! The closing music you chose for this segment got me laughing. I generally love your musical choices, so thank you. Great work.

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