10 Reasons Why I Never Argue Theology

This is a guest post by Sam Riviera. He spends most of his time and energy caring for others in his community so that through his life and actions they might see Jesus. He also makes some of the best cookies you have ever tasted.

If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Argument about Theology

Does Our Theology Define Us?

Have we ever said “What those people believe is wrong!  We believe what the Bible says.”

“Those” people might say the same thing about us.

We organize our beliefs about God, religion and what we think the Bible says into a system we suppose is consistent and call it our theology.

Does Our Theology Unite Us or Divide Us?

If we base our theology on the Bible, then your theology and my theology should agree.  Correct?

But we all know that probably none of us agree on everything.  With that in mind, here are ten reasons why I never argue theology with anyone:

  1. I think I’m right.  You think you’re right.
  2. I know I’m right.  I attended seminary.
  3. I know lots about theology and can devastate almost any opponent in a theological “discussion.”
  4. Maybe I’m not always right.  I heard N.T. Wright say in an interview that he is probably wrong a third of the time.  I concede that he probably knows more about theology than I do.  If he thinks he is probably wrong a third of the time, then maybe I’m occasionally wrong.
  5. I hate arguing with people.  When I look back on it later, even though I may have won the argument, I never feel good about it.
  6. I’ve noticed that my superior theological knowledge never really changes anyone’s mind.  They only pretend to agree.
  7. Arguing theology consumes too much of my time, time spent researching my position – wasted time.  It leaves me little time to help or serve others.
  8. Arguing theology prevents me from really getting to know other people.  It prevents me from hearing their stories and from knowing their joys and their sorrows.
  9. Arguing theology just doesn’t look like Jesus to me.  Somehow I can’t imagine Jesus arguing theology.  I can imagine him partying with sinners, forgiving prostitutes, healing people and dying for me.  I can imagine him talking about the Father’s love.  I can imagine him engaged in lively discussions with the Pharisees.   But I cannot imagine him arguing theology.
  10. Arguing theology prevents me from loving my neighbors.  When I’m trying to prove the correctness of my beliefs, I end up thinking I’m right and they’re wrong.  That mindset does not help me love my neighbors as I love myself.

Why do you avoid arguing theology?

Do you love discussing theology?  Why?


Comments

  1. Kathy says

    I love reading theology. It provokes me to go to the word and explore and confront my own beliefs. I don’t always come out on the side of the author but I always come closer to God–even if it’s just to realize that I’m struggling with a particular truth Funny thing is, God always encourages me and loves me in my honesty. People never do. We humans are conditional in our approval it seems, in everything these days, and altho’ it’s sad that I can’t share my journey with others, it is safer. I agree with all your points. I’m hoping to find a place to go and worship on Sundays again but I’m not there yet and that’s OK. I’m not a ‘lone ranger’ Christian. I just want to get on with what he’s called me to do. One author described Jesus as being ‘a stranger to self-hatred’. Very thought-provoking as I have come to feel that church is not a place for healing when there is always the threat of correction and condemnation when what we need is to ‘come alongside’ one another as fellow pilgrims. Thanks for giving me the chance to share!

    • says

      And thank you for sharing. As you seek to follow Jesus, He will lead you into community with others, because God has created us for community. But don’t rush it, and be patient as God seeks to develop His live and His love in you.

    • Sam says

      Thank you for sharing! Some forget that with most of us, our theology is “in process”. While we may not have known people online for twenty or thirty years, isn’t it interesting to observe the changes the “theology” of people we have known personally over all those years? I find it amusing that some are as passionate about a position that differs radically from their position of years-gone-by as they were about that former position.

      Our safe place to worship, and the people with whom we may safely share our journey may not always be found within the four walls of a building with a sign out front that proclaims “church”.

  2. Jonathan says

    You’re so spot on:

    1) Jesus never, ever argued with anyone. He was just nice to everybody.
    2) We are never commanded—anywhere—to defend the truth and seek the purity of our teaching.

    Geez, I’m glad you cleared that up. I wish someone had told that to the Reformers, some of whom were burned for translating the Bible into their native languages so people could read it, who argued for salvation by grace against a salvation by works Gospel, who argued for Jesus as the son of God, uncreated, instead of just one among many of “God’s” created beings.

    Yes, I’m so glad you cleared this up.

    • Sam says

      Jesus did get in the face of the religious experts/authorities of his day who thought they had it all figured out, didn’t he?

      “We are never commanded—anywhere—to defend the truth and seek the purity of our teaching.” – This post does not say that. Perhaps you love to argue, but I do not. I would not call translating the Bible, understanding free grace or Jesus divinity arguments, although some have made them that, have they not?

      • Jonathan says

        If you won’t call them “arguments,” then you’re playing a semantic game. Call it “debate”, “defending the truth,” or “apologetics”—call it what you will.

        It’s all a form of argument in formal logic or in common street language.

        I applaud your goal: you’re seeking to be gentle and kind, winsome and friendly-as-possible. But c’mon. This post undermines the history of theological reflection and men and women who have bled and died because of the argument that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, that he is fully divine, not created, that the Bible is knowable and to be known to the common man, that Christian and Liberalism (see J. Gresham Machen) are distinct religions, and on-and-on.

        They encountered and heard real arguments. Not comments. They argued back, and preached. They changed the world. And we’re commanded to emulate them, and strive to be like them as they strove towards holiness.

        Not to mention, this entire post is one long and contra-biblical argument that you/we shouldn’t argue about theology, without ever setting forth clear and logical propositions that NOT arguing (again, fill in whatever verb you’re more comfortable with, the result is the same) theology honors God more than standing in the gap and defending the truth he has set forth once and for all.

        Moreover, you’d have to argue (!) Paul was wrong to publicly oppose Peter to his face for Peter’s heretical goings-on in Galatia. There seems to be no end to general themes and verses pointing out the fallacies in this post, EVEN IF THE INTENT WAS WELL-MEANING AND LAUDABLE.

        Someone said recently: “Why do people have this idea that confronting wrong theology is hateful? It’s actually one of the most loving things a person can do. Wrong theology affects all of life and is responsible for so much pride, shame, and misery. And I’m speaking from experience here: I am *profoundly* grateful for the people who confronted me and led me to the doctrines of grace. Profoundly. Grateful.” Spot. On. They call it “confronting.” It’s still one person, coming to another person, hearing what they say, countering what they say, and making an appeal. That’s argument. Just not mean-spirited argument. Even if Proverbs does say, “Answer a fool according to his folly” because, sometimes, idiocy just needs to be called “idiocy.”

        If all you’re trying to say is, “Arguing for the sake of beating others in a game is wrong and dishonors God,” then say so in a much clearer way.

        However, from this post, I could not conclude that is what you were saying.

        • Sam says

          The posts says that these are the reasons I don’t argue. If you like to argue theology or whatever it is you like to argue, that is up to you. You comments assume many things about me which you do not know, but as I said, these are reasons I do not argue.

  3. Loren Sanders says

    1. We may very well both be wrong, or we may end up finding out that we do agree but just came at it from different directions. Iron sharpens iron, but not unless it is tested.
    2. D.L. Moody was totally uneducated, and yet because of him, countless thousands have become educated in seminaries…
    3. Hubris begets hubris in most circumstances.
    4. N.T. Wright is probably wrong a good deal more often than that (see his “rethinkings” on Paul in recent years. I know I am wrong more than a third of the time (why I need to keep trying until I get it right).
    5. Debates can lead to arguments, and vice versa, but they are not inherently the same. Nothing wrong with a deep discussion that exerts a little “heat” in the undertaking, so long as no one is berated, and our “attacks” are not personalized.
    6. If you are try browbeating folks into agreement, they’ll say anything to end it. Try discussing it as equals over a pot of coffee (or iced tea, or…)
    7. Studying theology leads me to a better understanding of God and His word, which changes who I am and how I think, and better enables me to help others by being able to answer their questions, or guide them away from snakes.
    8. Sounds more like you are saying that you just tend not to listen to people, but are blaming your inconsiderate ways on theology rather than on you…
    9. Wowzers! What a twisting of definitions to suit your desired outcome. Christ most definitely argued theology, and on a regular basis – usually because He first told someone what was right, or because they questioned the rightness of what He did/said – that included everyone from the Pharisees to His own followers to people on the street. (BTW: I have to say, that your image of Jesus “partyin” with sinners (or anyone else) is really stretching things more than a little beyond the texts as we are told only of one “party” He attended during His incarnation – the marriage in Cana – and His words to His mom before turning the water into ripple give the impression that His attitude was far from that of someone wanting to hoist a few and sing off-key Foghat songs until the sun came up)
    10. Thinking that you are always right and everyone else is wrong will indeed hurt your ability to interact with and love on your neighbors – but don’t blame a wrong spirit on theology; there is precious little possibility that you could think and feel like that about yourself when it comes to theology and NOT think and feel like that in pretty much all situations with other folks. Folks who tend to think they know all there is to know about theology are the same folks who think they know all there is to know about lawns, movies, cheese-making, comic books,… ad infinitum. What we are talking about is a personality/spirit type, not an external subject – folks who tend to think they are right all the time, tend to think they are right ALL the time. ;-)
    I think the real question here may be, why do you REALLY avoid arguing/discussing/etc theology? What about it disturbs you so much that you put so much effort into avoiding it even though the Bible does indeed teach us to study that we may be approved, and to defend what it teaches us without fear?

    I’m not trying to be abrasive about this, and I also realize that in some measure you are promoting – okay, provoking! – “argument” about theology by posting this at all, but if you indeed go to such lengths to explain away the need to do so…I think those who “hear” you, pretty much have to ask for the meat behind the milk of it all.

    May God bless and keep you and yours.

    • Jonathan says

      It’s also worth noting, (and I meant to include it earlier), that having a defined, cohesive, and cogent theology allows for accountability.

      Nothing above does that. As John Piper once said, “You cannot separate the fruit of love from the source of truth.” The former without the latter is liberalism: believe what you want, just be sure you love. The latter without the former is demonism (at worst, for even they believe God is one, but tremble) or cold-blood Pharisaism (at best).

      • Loren Sanders says

        You gotta love that Piper never lets anyone on any “side” off the hook – he stridently peels away the layers we all pile on top to get to the nugget buried underneath. I may have a few disagreements with him here and there, but after countless hours of sermons, books, conferences, etc, I can honestly say that John Piper has ALWAYS challenged me in some form or another, and that he has contributed a great deal to many of the things I hold clear (pardon the pun).

    • Sam says

      Loren, you might notice that this is a post from two years ago, and no one commented then. It was part of a series. The first several points are tongue-in-cheek. I rarely argue with anyone about anything. I don’t have the time. I do on occasion respectfully and compassionately discuss things with people.

      I am old enough and wise enough that I do not feel the need to challenge, correct and silence those with whom I disagree, for I may have once been in that place myself. I also have come to understand more and more that such an idea is not the spirit to be found on many Christian blogs, which is why I spend less and less time on them.

      You don’t know me and yet you assume my motives in writing this were to “provoke”. That is not correct.

      • says

        Sam,

        Excellent, gracious, loving replies to all the attacks. Thank you. Ironically, in a way, you were “arguing theology” with them. Ha! But you modeled it in a way that showed love, care, and concern. You never belittled, never attacked, never condemned.

  4. Loren Sanders says

    I should also mention I think that I found my way here because an old church friend who is still on my Facebook list re-posted this with nothing more than a hearty “Amen!” and knowing that “going deep” so to speak on theology isn’t her typical move, I figured I would take a read and see if perhaps she had changed somehow in the years since we worshiped at the same church every week, or if this was merely a simple “It’s all good with Jesus, so judge not, and so on” type post/statement.

    And having read through it, I found it (if unintentionally so) being exactly the kind of thing that is touted and flouted all over the place by folks who figure they have their fire insurance and a great small group where they get together, watch British movies, eat cookies, gossip, and for two or three minutes a week talk about Jesus – usually by asking for prayer requests.

    So,…if I came across as snarky, attribute it to my frustration at hearing so much of that stuff in the church these days. I apologize if I in any way came across as overly flippant (though I think sarcasm can be a proper tool if used correctly), or even oh-so-holier-than-thou.

    I’m going to shut my piehole now and go to bed.

    • Sam says

      Yes, you do come across as those things, but I assume nothing about whether or not you really are that way. I know absolutely nothing about your friend or the kind of people you mention. None of that describes me and is about as far off as you could be.

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