Thursday, November 16, 2006

How to Deal with Those Who Differ From Us

Roger Nicole wrote an article by this same title that I've found useful. I was reading it for other purposes, but the recent tipping brouhaha suggests I should put it on the blog for wider consumption if you've not read it before. You can find the full article in the Founders' library here.

Nicole's basic point is that we need to ask three major questions in precisely the correct order:
I. What do I owe the person who differs from me?
II. What can I learn from the person who differs from me?
III. How can I cope with the person who differs from me?

For each of these major questions, the article is full with sub-questions and points to ponder. A few nuggets:

I. What do I ow the person who differs from me?
We have obligations to people who differ from us. This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth that has a priority over agreement with any particular person; if someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to mininmize the importance of the difference; and therefore, we do not owe consent, and we do not owe indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being -- we owe them to love them. And we owe them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealth with or treated (Matt. 7:12).

And how do we desire to be treated? Well, the first thing that we notice here is that we want people to know what we are saying or meaning.... So when we intend to take issue with somebody, we need to do the job that is necessary to know that person so that we are not voicing our criticism int he absence of knowledge but that we are proceeding from teh vantage point of real acquaintance.

II. What can I learn from the person who differs from me?
Nicole offers a few additional questions to identify opportunities for learning. (a) Could I be wrong? "The first thing I should be prepared to learn is that I am wrong and the other person is right." (b) What are the facts? "In the second place we may learn from one who differs that our presentations, while correct as far as it goes, fails to embody the truth in its entirety on the subject in view." (c) What are the dangers? "I may learn from those who differ from me that I have not sufficiently perceived certain dangers to which my view is exposed and against which I need to be especially on guard." (d) What are the ambiguities? "We may learn from those who object that we are not communicating as we should and that they have not rightly understood what we wanted to say."

III. How can I cope with the person who differs from me?
Here, Nicole gives a lot of great advice on how to respond (defensively and offensively) to both biblical and general arguments. And he gives this counsel about our goals in disagreement: "remain aware at all times of the goal to be achieved. It is the consistent perception of this goal that will give a basic orientation to the whole discussion: Are we attempting to win an argument in order to manifest our own superior knowledge and debating ability? Or are we seeking to win another person whom we perceive as enmeshed in error or inadequacy by exposing him or her to the truth and light that God has given us?"

It's an exquisite work in describing what Christian maturity and charity looks like in polemics. Well worth the read!

For another viewpoint, Jollyblogger has some good comments as well, using the Apostle Paul as a model for how to refute error. Grace and peace.


Anonymous said...

I have recently published the authorized biography of Roger Nicole, entitled Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole. It is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher, Solid Ground Christian Books.

Mike Hess said...


I also found Nicole's article helpful as well. It is important that those of us who hold to the "doctrines of grace" do not fail to practice grace ourselves. It would do all of us much good (especially myself) to sit back sometimes and ponder over how difficult we can be to teach as well. I know that I for one can be quite stubborn to yielding to something that I know is right, yet is so difficult to live out in my own life.

Great post!

Mike Hess