Public Debate

"Years ago when it came time for public debate, we said 'I'm right, and your position is not as good.' We don't know how to debate that way anymore. Today when we debate, we insinuate 'I'm right, and you're stupid and evil.'" - Mark Davis

Blogs are amazing things. When I first started blogging almost two years ago, it was because I thought it would be a great place for me to hone my writing skills, test-drive some ideas in the public marketplace, network with some people who were doing things on the cutting-edge of ministry, and respond to some of the things that are important to me. I made two mistakes when I started:

The first mistake I made was to include my real name. isn't very incognito. I'm not one to go around googling my name, but if I were, I would notice that my blog is one of the first things to show up on a google search for "Chris Freeland." So, any perspective ministry that might consider me as their future pastor will likely stumble across this blog as they search the web to make sure my name hasn't shown up in any news articles (particularly on the arrest pages).

The second mistake I made was to reference Pyromaniac (my infamous uncle) in one of my original posts. He blogrolled me, blogspotted me, and all the sudden instead of seeing 10 or 15 visitors on my blog every day, I started seeing 90 or 100 on some days.

That's intimidating. Particularly when you read some of the people who comment on Pyromaniacs on a regular basis. Some of these guys (and their homeschooling wives) have nothing better to do than nitpick words and throw rocks at each other. I've searched high and low for a job that would allow me the free-time to spend hours perusing blogs of people I don't like just for the sheer joy of catching them on a point I disagree with and using my stellar debate skills to run them into the ground... but I don't have that kind of time.

And I'm not sure that's a very God-honoring use of the blogosphere.

Now, this is by no means a defense of the Pyromaniac - he can defend himself, and he's certainly not innocent of this kind of thing (by his own admission). Lord knows I don't agree with everything Phil has ever posted. But there's a right way and wrong way to enter discussions with people in a public arena even such as the blogosphere, and that's where the quote above comes in.

There are issues that must be discussed by Christians. There are ideas that must be vigorously debated among Christians. But in those discussions, motive is everything. It is one thing to say "I am right, and your thought is not as good as mine." It's something completely different to say "I am right, and you're stupid and evil."

Ideas are not identity, but we don't separate the two very well.

When we mistake ideas for identity, we show our ignorance of the issues. (How's that for alliteration?) Instead of stopping long enough to understand the person presenting an issue contrary to ours, it's too easy to cast dispersion on their character as if to say "you can't trust this person's character - why should you listen to their ideas?" That's not fair fighting.

The Lordship debate is a great example that I've been on both sides of at various points in my life. But the issue isn't ever going to be resolved because neither side can stop calling the other side names long enough to understand the other person's actual perspective. News Flash: Everyone on the lordship side isn’t a rabid “fruit inspector” who spends his life looking for reasons why the sinners around him must not “really” be saved. And everyone on the no-lordship/free grace side isn’t an antinomian or a Bob Wilkin/Zane Hodges groupie.

Another example of this is the current controversy at Bellevue Baptist Church - the former church of the pastoral giant Adrian Rogers. They're enmeshed in a church controversy that seems destined for a church split. One of the members of a faction who opposes the elders has chosen to start a blog in order to chronicle his point of view. In poor taste, he chose to publish an email correspondence between himself and one of the church staff members. Check it out and see how long it takes for the debate to turn from ideas to identity - by my count, one paragraph by each party involved.

I fail to see how either example in any way reflects the biblical mandate to speak the truth in love, or to lovingly show another his faults in hopes that you might restore your brother. Frankly, we as Christians so busy proving someone else wrong that we fail to demonstrate one iota of good Christian conduct in our dealings. We don't care about the discussion of ideas - if we assassinate individuals, we won't have to worry about their ideas anyway.

Shame on us.