On Disagreement – Some Practical Suggestions

There are often differences of interpretation that result in disagreement between those who accept the scriptures as the source of doctrinal authority. How should we conduct ourselves when confronted with such disagreement?

First, we should respond with humility. We should realize that we are not infallible and could very well be wrong.

Second, we should hear the other person out. In keeping with the first point, the other person could very well be right. Therefore, we should listen carefully as they may be giving us a correct interpretation.

Third, if we still believe they are wrong and we are right we should carefully and clearly explain why it is we think so. This same pattern should characterize the ensuing dialogue. Our heart must remain humble and loving.

Fourth, if we think they are right we should take this situation to the Lord and ask him to lead us by his Spirit through his word. While we must be willing to have our understanding corrected we should not be hasty and given to change. Our decision to change our belief should be preceded by much thought and prayer. If we feel led through prayer, thought, and study to change our belief, then we should.

Finally, whatever the case, whether we think the other person to be wrong or right, we should pray for them. Just as we should pray for ourselves that we would be led by the Spirit through the Word to a correct understanding we should pray the same for the other person.

12 thoughts on “On Disagreement – Some Practical Suggestions

  1. Good post, but there’s also another dimension to consider: The honesty of your interlocutor.

    Almost every conversation I have with a trinitarian begins with a question: Do you believe that logical contradictions cannot be true under any circumstance? Most of the time, I’ll get assent, which is of course the only rational answer, else the Bible becomes a meaningless book. And when assent is given, I follow that up with the statement that since the Bible is truth, it follows that the Bible cannot teach logical contradictions. To that I’ll normally get another nod of agreement.

    So, before even cracking open the Bible, I ask them to define the Trinity. Once I get a definition from them, it’s then easy to show why their doctrine entails logical contradictions and therefore cannot be true regardless what they think the Bible says about it. If the person is honest, you’ll see it right away. If s/he’s not honest, there’s no point continuing the dialog. I just simply walk away.

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    1. We definitely need to evaluate whether the conversation is worth the time. As you said, some people just are not intellectually humble; they are not willing to have a respectful disagreement. In such cases, it is best to simply bow out of the discussion.

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    2. The implication of the question, “Do you believe logical contradictions cannot be true under any circumstance” is a leading question which forces your opponent into a logical trap. This uses human logic to conclude on a matter of God’s revelation of Himself as being unviable if it does not meet our logical criteria. Is this the proper way to handle the revelation of God? Does God’s revelation of Himself present logical contradictions? Well I suppose if you try to force an explanation of what God has said of Himself in the scriptures into our own logical test-tube then you will see a logical contradiction. But are you also able to acknowledge that God, who is infinitely above the limits of our own minds to comprehend, for who can understand the vastness of our universe or the complexity of DNA sequencing? So are we able within the limitations of our logic to ascertain the validity of God’s revelation? If the bible says Jesus walked upon the water (John 6:19), and I put it to my own tests of logic, then I suppose I would have to conclude some rational explanation of how Jesus body was able to defy gravity and be suspended on the surface of the sea. The question to ask though, is do I believe what God has said? If the bible says Jesus walked upon the water, and the Holy Spirit reveals to me the truth of this revelation, then I accept it on the basis of believing in God’s faithful testimony, though I must admit I cannot exactly understand how it is possible for a man to walk on water. Nor can I understand how Joshua called upon the Sun to stand still, and the bible says that the sun stood still for the course of about one day (Josh 10:12-13). This certainly does not fit into my logic, and contradicts everything I understand about astronomy and physics. However, I believe in the God who created the stars, and the laws that govern our universe, so I can accept that He can do it if He chooses to do so and accept His revelation by faith. The revelation of what God says about Himself is clearly progressive in the scriptures, and I tend towards the belief that we shall never fully comprehend the vastness of who God is. The seeming contradictions in my own puny mind, will likely dissipate as my understanding of His greatness and majesty continue to increase. What I cannot resolve in my own mind does not limit me to accept and believe what God has stated to be true. One could argue on what precisely God is saying, but as to the understanding of things like miracles, or the nature of God, I must bow with a humble admission of my own limitations and weakness, and accept by faith what may one day be better understood, but for now must remain outside and above my feeble ability to understand. (Ps 139:6)

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      1. Hi, Daniel. Thanks for your reply. Before I respond, a word of advice: Please try to create paragraphs for your posts. They’ll be much easier to follow.

        Now, as to the content of your post, there’s a difference between something incomprehensible and a straight logical contradiction (A = ~A). Nuclear physics is incomprehensible to me, but since nobody avers that it entails logical contradictions, we cannot place it in the same category. A logical contradiction is a conclusion that cancels its affirmation (e.g. married bachelors) and is at best incoherent. No sense can be made of a contradiction which makes it rationally impossible to affirm.

        I’m not setting up a logical trap; I’m simply stating that if logical contradictions are true, then we have no basis to accept anything the Bible teaches. Your appeal to biblical revelation is incoherent if we accept the proposition that the Bible teaches contradictions. If that is the case, then we can have confidence in nothing the Scriptures teach. It commits you to affirming, whether you like it or not, the inversion of every biblical verse. “I am God” can mean “I am not God.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery” becomes, “Thou shalt commit adultery,” etc. Moreover, every effort you make to communicate, including the communication of the meaning of the Scriptures, relies upon three basic logical principles: identity, contradiction, and excluded middle. Without these metaphysical principles in place, we can make sense of NOTHING in the Bible.

        For example, consider the concept being. Said concept is associated with something that exists. We thus identify it as an existent as opposed to a non-existent. Being does not imply non-being (contradiction) for if it did, then we couldn’t even conceive of being. And it is either being or non-being (excluded middle). These principles apply to EVERY thought, every word, and every letter of every word. These fundamental metaphysical principles are not invented but discovered as indispensable for human reasoning. They are fundamental because they are expressions of God’s essence. God is not “subject” to them; He is real, not Illusory (identity). His existence does not imply His non-existence (contradiction). And either He exists or He doesn’t exist (excluded middle). Being is being; being does not imply non-being; and either being or non-being are therefore fundamental to everything that exists which nothing can avoid.

        As Christians, we are not skeptics. We believe that what we see is not an illusion and that real knowledge is attainable. Everything else crashes against the rocks of reason and should be rejected by all rational persons. And since knowledge is attainable, we can differentiate between what is true and what is false. Whatever violates these fundamental metaphysical principles cannot be true by definition, so it isn’t a trap at all. If my interlocutor disagrees and affirms logical contradictions, then I take two routes: First, show him that no sense can then be made out of anything he says. Second, show him that he has no warrant to criticize other views for contradicting whatever platform he chooses to stand on. If illogic is an out for him, it’s an out for everybody.

        Once it is shown that whatever version of the Trinity you espouse (yes, there are multiple contemporary versions) entails logical contradictions, then you’re rationally obligated to either change versions or reject it altogether. Since all versions entail logical contradictions, a rational person will adopt another template to explain biblical data. Since the Bible does not and cannot affirm a contradiction, it follows that it cannot teach the Trinity. It is no different than if you tell me that the Bible teaches the concept of married bachelors. You can quote all the verses you want about unmarried persons and single persons and put them together to prove in your mind that all Christians must affirm said concept. But since the concept automatically implodes under its own weight, it follows that nothing you could quote from the Bible can rescue it. Since it is false on its face, we can safely reject it without even cracking open the Bible.

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      2. Well, here I go wagging my finger at Daniel for not formatting paragraphs, and this site runs all my sentences together. What gives?

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      3. Daniel, it is extremely important to distinguish between something that is hard to understand and something that is contradictory. For example, as Scalia said above, it is hard to understand nuclear physics, but it is simply a contradiction to say that a bachelor is married.

        It is the responsibility of the person claiming a particular doctrine is taught in the Scriptures to show that it is more like the first thing and not at all like the second.

        If someone challenges your view as entailing a logical contradiction, it does no good to grant the point and engage in mystery mongering for all the reasons Scalia pointed out above. You have to show why the view is actually just hard to understand but not logically contradictory.

        Lord bless.

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  2. Wow, Thank you for your thoughtful responses. And I have listened carefully to your point about the distinction between contradiction and that which is incomprehensible. I concede with the point that from our own rationalizing of what the bible says we must remain consistent and work in the realm of A=A, and not A is both A and not A. That makes good sense, and it is how I apply myself to bible study.

    I did ask the question Does the bible present logical contradictions? And the implication of your original post was that a trinitarian view of biblical revelation presented logical contradictions. I am no philosophy major, but I do study the scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit seek to hear and obey those things which are revealed to us in God’s word. I believe as a student of God’s word, that I do not seek to dismiss what might appear a contradiction, but rather search out as best I can within my own limitations to understand the revelation. However when I conclude from my reading and meditations that Jesus was a real human being, and try to reconcile this with statements about Him that could only be true of the eternal creator then I have to find an answer that might go beyond my comprehension and accept by faith the revelation as given. This might seem to me to be a contradiction, and yet I must acknowledge that perhaps my limited view is what creates the contradiction in my thinking, yet if the text is plain, then I am forced to accept it’s statements. At this point I am not conceding that the bible teaches or presents to us factual contradictions, but only that which to our limited view may appear to be contradictory statements.

    You are right to say that we must always be consistent in way we handle scripture and logical, and to this I heartily agree. But there are times where we must bow before the revelation of scripture and accept by faith what God has stated, even in cases where it might appear to not be reconcilable in our thinking. I don’t believe we have to give into the notion that the bible presents logical contradictions, when there are statements of truth that we find beyond the scope of human understanding to reconcile.

    I guess my point in all this is that it is important I believe to recognize our own limitations to reconcile everything we read in God’s word, because some revelations are beyond the scope of our minds to fully grasp. For instance, I cannot grasp how God is eternal, or that God was manifested in the flesh. The bible says God is a spirit, and yet also says He was manifested in the flesh. One might argue that this presents to us a contradiction. My point is simply that we can accept statements made in our bibles that to us might seem contradictory, with the admission that though I find it difficult to reconcile, I do not have to concede to contradiction when I recognize that my mind is struggling to grapple with things beyond the scope of my own understanding.

    My final point is drawn from a question I asked in my first response. “Is this statement true?” That is the question we want to answer when we read the scriptures, and not reject something that is clearly stated because in our own thinking it contradicts something we read in another place in scripture. I believe the bible is written in such a way as to lead us into all truth, and yet because of our sin nature and lack of spirit dependance, we can tackle the scriptures with a reliance upon our academic abilities and find ourselves becoming judges of the text, rather than servants of the text.

    May our Lord grant us the wisdom we need to hear and believe His word.

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    1. Yes, I will grant that it is possible that, given our limitations, something that is taught in the scriptures may appear to be logically contradictory.

      With respect to the particular issue that has come up in this discussion (Christology), however, I am not personally willing to grant that there is some incomprehensible mystery taught in the scriptures. There is just nowhere in the scriptures where the apostles or anyone they taught took this line about the identity of Jesus.

      Furthermore, when we actually examine the specific claims about Jesus on a trinitarian account (“he is God”, “he is the second person of the trinity”, “he has a human and a divine nature”) you don’t find any of those things explicitly taught in scripture. What you find from trinitarian apologists is a bunch of debatable proof-texts strewn together.

      The straw that broke the camel’s back for me on this particular issue is the proclamation of the gospel in the book of Acts. Here we have a spirit-inspired account of the formative years of the church. I invite you to read through Acts and consider if the apostles thought it essential to the gospel to tell people that “Jesus is God”, “Jesus has divine and human natures”, or “Jesus is the second person of the trinity”. I submit to you that of these things truly are essential to the Gospel, then either the apostles miserably failed to teach them or Luke miserably failed to record them teaching it.

      “May our Lord grant us the wisdom we need to hear and believe his word” – Amen!

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    2. Hello again, Daniel. You write:

      I believe as a student of God’s word, that I do not seek to dismiss what might appear a contradiction, but rather search out as best I can within my own limitations to understand the revelation. However when I conclude from my reading and meditations that Jesus was a real human being, and try to reconcile this with statements about Him that could only be true of the eternal creator then I have to find an answer that might go beyond my comprehension and accept by faith the revelation as given.

      I think what many people call a “contradiction” in a biblical context is actually an inconsistency. Micaiah said that Ahab would fall at Ramoth-Gilead, but Elijah said that the dogs would lick his blood at Jezreel. Both account appear to be inconsistent, and if memory serves me, Josephus tells us that that’s one of the reasons Ahab proceeded with his plans to fight the Syrians. We know, of course, that both prophecies are consistent and that the inconsistency was only apparent.

      The same cannot be said of a contradiction. Something cannot be and not be in the same respect. I do not claim that the doctrine of the Trinity (DT), or I should say doctrines of the Trinity, is merely inconsistent; I claim that essential planks of the same are directly contradictory. For example, many trinitarians offer various types of composite unity arguments in defense of the DT. God is the whole whereas the persons are the parts. However, if God is the whole, then the persons cannot be fully God by definition. At best, each person is fractionally God which of course contradicts the assertion that each person is fully God. Moreover, all composites are dependent on their parts for their actuation and conservation. They are thus ontologically posterior to their components which makes the components the first order of their being. This of course contradicts the assertion that God is independent of all things and is the first order of being. If God owes His existence to something other than what He is, then He is not God by definition. Hence, the contradiction: God is God and God is not God.

      I hasten to add at this point that I’m not undermining the credibility of the Scriptures. I am simply saying that the DT is disqualified on its own terms from serving as a template for biblical interpretation. I most certainly affirm monotheism and the full deity of Jesus. As Oneness Pentecostals, we don’t have to adopt the DT in order to preach strict monotheism and Christ’s divinity. You may certainly have a truckload of objections to Oneness (or modalism), but it at least has the advantage of avoiding the obvious logical contractions associated with the DT.

      Finally, with respect to Oneness or modalism, I speak only for myself and not any other contributor to this thread.

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      1. Scalia,

        I would be very interested to talk with you about this because, frankly, I can no longer affirm the “full deity of Jesus” for exactly the reason we are discussing: it seems to me to result in logical contradictions. But, perhaps email would be a better medium for such a discussion? If you check out the Contact page on this blog you can send me a message and I’ll be able to respond directly to you.

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      2. I’ll have to think about that, Tre. You’ve shifted your views in major ways multiple times in a relatively brief period. I’m really not trying to be unkind, but that’s extremely odd, to say the least.

        If you begin to have doubts about Belief X, the thing to do is make a thorough investigation and seek out as many sources as possible both for and against said belief. Only after prayerfully sifting through all of the data and after all your questions have been thoroughly answered should you announce a change of mind. Your lurching from Oneness, to the Trinity, back to Oneness and now to Unitarianism is clear evidence that you didn’t take the requisite time to absorb all relevant data before making a move—especially given what I consider shockingly poor reasons to abandon Oneness (insufficient data from the Book of Acts).

        I’m not at all interested in debating that here. I’ve tried to engage others in similar situations, with nothing fruitful in return. That’s why I’ll have to mull it over.

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      3. Just send me an email whenever you feel up to helping me see the light you’ve got over there:)

        Also, in case you didn’t see it, I’m suggesting a private discussion not a debate through WordPress comments:)

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