If you’re connected to churches of Christ, feel free to read this. If you’re not, this probably isn’t for you. I don’t want to air our dirty laundry for you! I’m writing in response to the hubbub about 4th Avenue’s decision to have a female preaching intern.
I’m a weirdo. I go to Summer Celebration and FHU Lectures. Let that sink in…
I was trained at Crieve Hall, Lipscomb High, Freed-Hardeman, Harding University, and Knox Seminary (a reformed, predominantly Calvinist school). I read Hugh Fulford’s News and Views, Patrick Mead’s Tent Pegs, The Jenkins Institute’s Hope and Expectation, Rubel Shelley’s FAX of Life and the Gospel Advocate. Some days, I’m afraid my Facebook feed might destroy the universe when posts from the left and the right collide with each other like matter and antimatter.
My behavior doesn’t make me a traitor, a coward, or unwilling to make a stand. Don’t look me in the eye and call me wishy-washy. Truth is real and worth searching for. I’m not afraid of hard questions from either side. I believe that God’s will is simple, but his Word isn’t always. Scripture itself teaches me that in 2 Peter 3:16 and church history colorfully illustrates the point.
Here’s why I read what I read and do what I do: the right and the left speak different languages. Literally different languages. They have different vocabularies and different dialects.
The right has a vocabulary of book-chapter-and-verse that sometimes devolves into fragments and proof texts. The left has a vocabulary of story that sometimes forgets some significant details and turns in the text. Each language has different assumptions and preferences. Each side carries baggage. Both sides are biased.
I’m writing this article because of what I saw in the comments and posts about 4th Avenue. Here’s what happens: The left makes fun of the right for not speaking their language. The right makes fun of the left for not speaking their language. We go around in circles, tell all our friends how smart we are and how dumb they are, and get nowhere. Nowhere! I’m sick of it.
If we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need translators. People who can stand in the middle. People who can go to Freed-Hardeman lectures and find the good and reject the dumb. People who can go to Lipscomb’s Celebration and hear truth and reject error. People who remember that the only kind of brother they have is the erring brother. People who love the people with whom they strongly disagree on important matters—who can hug them without a dagger in their hands. You can’t prove to me from scripture that doctrinal perfection is possible. History confirms that unity has never come through perfect doctrinal agreement.
Let me act like a translator for a moment.
Conservatives, can I let you in on a little secret? Patrick Mead knows that 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 exist. I promise he does! He just doesn’t think they mean what you think they mean. Like it or not, he has some compelling reasons, too. And don’t be fooled: you don’t take every “simple verse” simply, either.
Liberals, can I let you in on a secret? If the conservatives can’t hear your direct references to scripture, they can’t hear you at all. Oh! And they’re not all cranky, grace-hating old fogies, either! If you don’t like the “conservative monopoly on truth” – then you probably should back off your tendency to claim to monopolize grace.
We need conservatives who talk with liberals instead of about them.
We need liberals who listen, (and not lament!) conservatives.
We need fewer open letters about churches and more lunches and studies with them.
We need to respect autonomy and embrace connection.
We need intellectual honesty and searching of scripture. We need grace and the freedom that Christ gives us.
We need hearts that search for what is right, but also realize that we haven’t all come to the same place.
If we’re going to have those things, we desperately need translators. People who can speak to both worlds.
Want to be a translator? Want to bring peace? Here are a few suggestions.
FIRST: Make friends with someone on “the other side.” Have lunch with them. Get to know them. Learn to love them. Like them! It’s a lot easier to spout venom anonymously behind a keyboard than at a friend—even a friend with whom you disagree. In scripture, correction happens within relationship (see Matthew 18). Outside of relationship, it is impossible.
SECOND: Whenever you find yourself thinking, “I can’t possibly understand how somebody could think that” – congratulations! You just found your new job. Your job is to understand how somebody could possibly think that. Until you understand how, and why they think like they do, you don’t have the right to criticize what you do not know. Seek first to understand, then be understood. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19) Beware the sound of one hand clapping! If you only know what you think, of course the other side seems ignorant. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) As much as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all. (Romans 12:18) You may still disagree, but you’ll be disagreeing with the real story, not some straw man in your imagination.
THIRD: Season your speech with grace (see Colossians 4:6). Romans 5 teaches that God offered you grace while you were his enemy. I think you’ll find that being gracious to the people you see as wrong, erring, or dumb will make a bigger change than simply proving them wrong. When you win an argument, you’ve made a loser. Biblical discussions shouldn’t be a zero-sum game where there’s a winner and a loser. If truth is prevailing—that’s a victory for everyone.
FOURTH: Shut up! See James 1:19 again! It’s not my job to fix your congregation. It’s not even really my job to fix mine. It’s my job to work on me. Read Romans 14:4. It is not our job to judge God’s servants. That’s God’s job. I’m content to let him do it, thank you very much. The most helpful and hopeful line of Romans 14 (which deals with some tough topics, I might add) is that God is able to make his servant stand. That implies to me that the servant wouldn’t and couldn’t on his own. If you read the issues that plagued the early church, they were no “matters of expediency.” Does bacon damn? Is circumcision essential to salvation? It’s okay for me not to tell everything I know. I don’t have to show up at every argument I’m invited to.
Let’s be translators. Let’s fix this mess. Let’s quit displaying our bad side to the people who need Jesus the most! Let’s show the world how Jesus would disagree.
If I’m going to spin my wheels, I want to go somewhere. The only way my spinning wheels will go somewhere is if they have traction. And to find traction, we need translators. Be a translator!