Discourse: An Irony
JackHammers probably wouldnâ€™t make the best fly swatters. Yet, in the current climate of discourse, some wield their sledgehammer with glee whenever they see a fly buzzing around their opponentâ€™s head. Certainly, a sledgehammer will kill the fly. But the collateral damage concerns us.
If discourse is a lost art, and I believe that it is, then it is up to believers to recover it. Having recently concluded yet another long and exhausting political season, we should know that the politicians wonâ€™t be straightening things out any time soon. Nor should we expect them to straighten things if we donâ€™t.
One could address many problems in the current climate of discourse, particularly in the blog world. We struggle to meet and defeat our opponentâ€™s arguments, we fail to precisely present our own position, we strain at gnats and swallow elephants. Our aggravations and frustrations increase with our increasing inability to make a point. These issues need to be addressed, and probably by someone more qualified than myself.
As a casual observer of some of the debates at Sharper Iron, I have found myself disappointed at times and disgusted at other times. It is not my intention to address the problems I see with Sharper Iron. They have their rules, and they will enforce them as they see fit, as is their right. When it comes to the rules for posting, and particularly their rules demanding graciousness, they can be consistently inconsistent if they choose.
My intention here is not to address the number of times they jaded us for harshness. If they let one side call us lemmings and then kick us out for protesting, that is their right. We donâ€™t get a level playing field. If they donâ€™t like our tone or our rhetoric, then they get to ban us.
But I want to address our tone. Forget about theirs. When I stand before God, Iâ€™ll not give an account for their tone. Iâ€™ll give an account for mine.
And yes, tone does matter. It matters what you say, and it matters how you say it. In this debate, which I think was a â€œsub-debateâ€ in all the debates until Sharper Iron cleaned house, there was an interesting irony. On the one side there were the â€œtone policeâ€â€¦those who were legalists when it came to tone. On the other side we had the licentious, which saw no limits when it came to tone. The irony was that the legalists when it came to rhetoric tended to be the most licentious when it came to everything else, while the more â€œlegalisticâ€ became the more licentious in these debates. Now, believers donâ€™t answer to bloggers. They answer to the Lord God. And there is a Scriptural balance, for which we all must strive.
The â€œtone policeâ€ set a very high and often legalistic standard. Often, the standard is, â€œif I was offended, then that was out of bounds.â€ I admit: I am the best judge of what offends me. But the fact that it offended me does not indicate that my opponent was in the wrong. Perhaps he should have offended me. Perhaps I needed to get whacked. The legalist sets the standard by his own feelings. He is easily offended, and whenever he is offended, â€œwhy that just isnâ€™t Christian.â€ The legalist wants nothing that sounds harsh. He wants arguments to be padded by â€œgraciousâ€ statements at both ends. He demands that all rebukes be sandwiched by niceties and sentimentalist ooze. None of these personal attacks, like â€œyou whitewashed sepulchres, full of dead menâ€™s bones.â€ He cannot tolerate straw men statements like â€œyou clean the outside of the cup, and leave the inside filthy.â€ The legalist, I am convinced, would ban Christ from his blog. He writes with acid pen about those who write with acid pen. He scorns and scoffs at anyone who scorns and scoffs, and in the most pietistic terms condemns all scorning and scoffing except his own and those of his friends. Ad hominem attacks are reserved for those who (in his â€œhumbleâ€ opinion) use ad hominem attacks. He cannot tolerate intolerance.
In other words, he holds a self-contradictory stance.
Set in contrast against the legalistic â€œtone policeâ€ are those who use rhetoric with no regard for anyone else. They set the standard at the same place as the legalist, but with a different result. For the legalistâ€™s standard is his own feelings, while the brutish manâ€™s standard is his own opinion. The legalist attacks any who â€œsoundâ€ harsh (to himself). The licentious attacks any who disagree with their opinion. Of course, they always have Bible to back it up. And they have Bible to back up their tone as well. After all, Christ was pretty harsh at times. And so, they use Christâ€™s tone as a license, a blank check to say whatever they want. This man is offensive. He likes to offend. He offends for the sake of offending. He loves to stir up strife. He would attack Christ himself if Christ disagreed with him. He has venom for all, and to spare. He is heavy on the salt, and light on the grace. He would rather raise his voice than reinforce his argument. The law of kindness will not bind him. He hates his enemies, and loves his opinion.
In other words, he holds a self-centered stance.
As always, the Word must be the standard. There is a Scriptural balance, and we would do well to find it. How do we balance the polemics of Christ (get thee behind me, Satan; or Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?) with the clear commands of Scripture (in honor preferring one another; or let each esteem other better than himself; or love your enemies; or Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt). There is a balance, and for Godâ€™s sake, we must find it.
First, we must understand the difference between being offended and being offensive. It is possible to offend without being offensive. The fact that you were offended does not mean that I sinned. The truth will offend. But I must allow the truth to do the offending, and not my use of the truth. There are times when it is necessary, even Scriptural to set out to give offense. But that does not mean I get to be offensive. Even here, there is a balance. It is possible to offend graciously. In other words, if I tell the truth, and speak it in love, then let the chips fall where they may. But I must not set out to be offensive. The Word does not need my help. Certainly, I can use it as a mallet. But the Bible says,
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
Note that the Word is the hammer. Not the user of the Word, or the wielder of the hammer. If Godâ€™s Word says it, then I donâ€™t need to add my attitude. My attitude adds nothing to the argument. My word must be acceptable in Godâ€™s sight. Even when crying out against sin.
Christ sets the example in this. And here we find what is perhaps our greatest struggle. How can I be a peacemaker, when I am at war? The answer is to win the war. The answer is to destroy the opposition. But not in the way that we think. Evangelism is an act of war, and it is an example of peacemaking. The evangelist seeks to make peace by converting his opponent. He would overthrow the lies with The Truth
Here in Utah, we cannot evangelize with a chip on our shoulder. If you lived here, you might struggle with that. When false doctrine is flaunted in your face, when false teachers pawn lies as the truth, it is easy to make it personal. I must be careful that it is the Word, and not my attitude that does the offending. In other words, I cannot allow my flesh to get involved.
We need wisdom in discourse. The wisdom that is from above (James 3:13-18 …YOU need to read this!) We need temperance. We need joy and love. We need peace. We need longsuffering. We need gentleness and meekness. Then, we can be graciously firm, kindly bold, lovingly sarcastic. Then, and only then, can we mock with Christ-like spirit, and smack optimistically.
In other words, then our discourse will be Christ-centered.