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FIRST-PERSON: Debating doctrine with kindness -- is that possible?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (BP) -- Doctrinal debate is a tricky thing.

We are called to walk in unity with one another, to honor one another as brothers in Christ and to edify the Body. But the very act of asserting doctrinal truth demands that one call another wrong. I cannot hold to one truth without denying another.


Yet, the common response on many blogs to being confronted doctrinally is to yelp like a whipped puppy. "How could you say that about me?" "Are you calling me a heretic?" "How dare you?" Instead of responding with biblical or theological content, the preferred response seems to be to define oneself as a victim.

Of course, the easy answer to this is to "speak the truth in love." The devil is in the details. How can we argue ... er ... discuss doctrine without offending or being offended? How can we disagree in unity? Can that oxymoron even be a reality?

I would offer the following thoughts.

(Please note that these are for discussions among those who hold to historic orthodoxy. We are commanded not to tolerate those who would come among us to undermine the truths of the Gospel. What I am talking about here covers disagreements between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, Continuationists and Cessationists, Baptists and paedo-Baptists, and other doctrine that does not touch the Gospel. I am not advocating ignoring heresy or heretics.)

1) Make your point biblically.

There is nothing wrong with saying not only what you believe but that you believe someone else is mistaken in their interpretation of Scripture. If someone is offended because you lay down a biblical point demonstrating why you believe he is wrong, the problem is his, not yours.

2) Show biblical honor and respect for those with whom you disagree.


In both word and in tone, demonstrate honor to your brothers and sisters with whom you disagree. Avoid derogation that belittles. I am amazed at how often, even among Christians, ridicule and name-calling are mistaken for discussion.

3) Show some humility.

I'm a little embarrassed now when I look back at how I argued with people when I was a young whippersnapper. I saw every issue as black and white and was sure that I was right about just about everything. I was willing to argue any doctrine like a Texas steel-cage death match.

Here's the thing: I don't know everything. Neither do you.

I saw an amazing thing on a comment stream the other day. In a discussion at, one of our commenters addressed another, who had challenged his viewpoint, and said, "I see the point you are making." Too often, though, we act as if we know everything and that those with whom we argue have no legitimate points. That is arrogance, not conviction. That kind of self-assurance does not come from either the Word or the Spirit, but from the flesh.

When we enter into discussions, we need to demonstrate the humility to listen to the other's argument. Learn from it and even be willing to acknowledge a good point made by the other side.

4) Accept the mystery of doctrinal disagreement.

We have the same Holy Spirit and the same Bible. We believe the same Gospel. But we disagree on so many other things. How can that be? It amazes me that other Believers cannot see what is so clear to me as I open God's Word. And yet they do. Frequently.


This is an addendum to the previous point about humility. It is a recognition that none of us comes to the Bible without prejudices or previous experiences that affect our ability to see the truth. Everyone talks about forming their doctrine only from biblical exegesis. It is a noble goal. But if we are honest, each of us falls short of that ideal. We are products of our emotional makeup, the people who have influenced us, and the things we have been through in life.

We just have to learn to accept this conundrum. I need to be convinced through ardent pursuit of biblical truth that my position is right, but I also need to recognize that I am shaped by many things other than simply exegesis (my sinful nature not the least of those factors).

People who love Jesus and love God's Word disagree with one another. Get used to it and accept that. When you get to heaven, your doctrine will be perfect. Realize that in the meantime it will never be so. Keep trying, but realize you will never completely succeed.

So, it's really pretty simple what we need to do. We speak the truth and we love one another. We study the Bible and seek to know the truth on issues. But we also maintain the humility to realize not only that we CAN be wrong, but that each of us is, in fact, are wrong about many things. We keep growing and learning and discussing and sharpening ourselves as we grow in Christ.


In summary:

-- Study the Bible faithfully and form your convictions from the Word.

-- Make your point forcefully and clearly.

-- Maintain the humility to realize you are not perfect in your knowledge and that you can learn from others, even those with whom you disagree.

-- Always treat Christians, even those with whom you disagree with respect and honor as part of the eternal family.

This column first appeared at Dave Miller is pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, editor of, and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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