Today, as always, Christians find themselves in head to head disputes over issues they cannot compromise. No matter what creative thinking either side might apply, there are things they cannot and will not do. On certain doctrinal and social issues, there is no alternative perspective to the orthodox one. No amount of creative thinking and cumbayah singing can erase disagreement and attempts to relativize it look obsequious and sycophantic. When it comes to points of heresy and sin, Christians cannot honestly treat opposing perspectives as a sort of viable alternative to their own views. In view of the fact that telling opponents that they are wrong is an affront to their dignity—even telling someone they made a mistake slightly impugns their abilities—Christians must keep their own limitations in view as they continue to adhere to their own views.
Nothing after a point of disagreement survives intact. Even though whole sections and structures might pass over into the new point of view constructed when the winners of a debate clean up after the fight, the losers’ dialectical institutions and infrastructure crack and collapse when they concede the debate. People disagree at different levels and have to respond differently depending upon the practical results of their continued disagreement. Sometimes the winners can let the losers go and do nothing, but at other times the winners suppress the losers by force of arms and exterminate ideological holdouts.
Classic examples of debaters locked in mortal combat include:
- Pro-Abortion vs. Anti-Abortion
- Heterosexual Marriage Only vs. Gay Marriage is Okay Too
- Protestants vs. Roman Catholics
- Protestants vs. Anyone Who Looks Remotely Roman Catholic
- Republicans vs. Democrats
- Communists vs. Capitalists
- Theists vs. Atheists
One side or the other believes that their viewpoint is the real deal bona fide truth and that the other side is mistaken or worse. They believe that their positions are obviously true and that following the true course of reason will lead everyone to believe what they believe. They do not want to have to prove what they say—their arguments should be self-evident and discoverable by any halfway intelligent person. Good arguments against their positions show them not to be wrong but merely arguing badly. Until the disputes are resolved through conclusive debate or creeping irrelevance, the only thing that anyone can do is to get on with life until they can make another push to convince the other side.
I have my own viewpoints that I believe strongly enough to retain even if I am defeated in ten debates. I wish that I was king of the world so that I could put my views into practice without mistaken and misguided opponents bunging up everything that I wanted to do. Of course I also have to wish against myself—if my excellent liberal arts education does nothing else, it should keep me from using my intelligence to systematically hurt people. Even people with realistic views of human nature want more power to apply their views to the world, or at least to see them applied. If defeated, their ideas will go to ground, mutate, and come back in another form.
As far as Christians are concerned, debates about points that will admit no compromise generate excruciating conditions for ordinary Christians to live through. When the other side has power, believers are less free to sin against them—and this is just as well. When the other side has no power, believers risk their faith’s integrity for the convenience of mounting an Inquisition. Those nasty old heresies put down by ecumenical council after ecumenical council come back with new life and new strength, and many people simply give up on the Christianity that seemed to have won Europe all those centuries ago. Heresy and sin are supposed to be invalid for Christian consideration, but Christians find themselves branded narrow-minded barbarians for opposing them. The other side brands our own views unfit for serious consideration, and it does not help that even arguments charitably delivered squarely strike our opponents’ pride.
Pride and self-respect are the solar plexus of the soul. Even if my opponents best me in a debate and I completely adopt their point of view, I refuse to offer myself up as their simpering lackey and groveling love slave. Any argument against my beliefs knocks the wind out of me and threatens my ability to continue functioning normally. While we spend too much on kid gloves for handling self-esteem these days, our opponents’ self-respect is a variable to include when planning any sort of pamphleteering campaign or public debate. On the one hand, Christians absolutely have to beat their opponents at the game of pamphlets and polemics, smashing their pride. On the other hand, Christians absolutely have to know the signs of the times and keep their eyes on the broader goals of the kingdom of God, leaving their opponents’ dignity intact. Because the Christian life is a political struggle in the spiritual realm, Christians must not lose the “spiritual politics” that they claim as the reason for their efforts in this world.
It ultimately matters who wins this world’s battles and wars of ideas. Whether Jesus is Lord of one person’s life is a question of that person’s spiritual politics, and the same question extends to groups of people proclaiming Christ as Lord. Because God is mostly concerned with the spiritual political question of whether people want to submit to him, his people can lose battle after battle and suffer martyrdom upon martyrdom and still effectively advance the kingdom of God. The ultimate weapon that Christ deployed in his time on earth was his death and resurrection, and he relied upon God the Father to raise him after he emptied himself and put him as head over all things. It matters what side wins battles and wars on this earth, but Christians have to be ready to take losses if those losses advance the “spiritual politics” of God’s agenda.
Even if the “bad guys” win the battles and then the war of ideas, Christians must continue with the first and second greatest commandments and the Great Commission, maintaining their own spiritual politics while winning others over. Christians understandably fear for the integrity of the “spiritual politics” of Jesus being Lord when they lose control of visible institutions, but their zeal for visible power and control can force them to remove Jesus as Lord. Christians have to continue disagreeing without compromising when they find heresy and sin, but they have to adhere to God’s “spiritual political agenda” by loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength while loving their neighbors as themselves. Because Christians have a larger agenda than any momentary conflict that they find themselves in, they must continue on with the spiritual politics of the kingdom of God. No matter how foolish or deranged Christians are thought to be, we must not give up. No matter how much more creativity and ingenuity we are forced to apply, we have to get up and try again.