“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (NIV)
When listening to a good sermon, I begin to follow rabbits that spring from the topic, which is probably sign of a good sermon: it makes you think. This week was no different as I listened to Father Jerry’s excellent sermon at St. B’s on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. Fortunately, most of the rabbits didn’t stray far from the topic.
One thing that stuck with me was about how we often handle arguments about hot issues. Fr. Jerry shared a few examples of modern theological debate, where a peripheral issue moved to the center of their theology as the debate became more intense. At their worst, these arguments become contests that only result in arrogance and division.
I can recall arguing about Calvinism and Arminianism in seminary, as we tried to determine how pre-determined our salvation is. I wasn’t entirely settled on the issue, but I chose to take the Arminian side because I knew I wasn’t a Calvinist. The interesting thing about this debate was that I wasn’t fully convinced of my own argument, but it gradually became about being right and smarter than the other guy.
After weeks of looking for talking points and having spontaneous debates, we looked at each other and said, “Why are we doing this?” We knew that the issue had become larger than the more important parts of our theology. At that point, we may as well be playing Halo against one another on the Xbox.
Based on the 1 Corinthians passage, I think Paul’s word to these situations would be that we should not be as concerned about being the one who is right, for we will find that God isn’t as impressed with our well-structured arguments as we are. God makes the wisdom of arguments look ridiculous with the foolishness of the cross, where Jesus trumped all theological debate by dying.
This is not to say there is no value in discussing contrary points in theology and philosophy; these exercises are healthy. We should make our points and make them well. We should be thorough in our study, our premises, and our conclusions. But the moment we believe that winning the argument is the most important goal, then we stop listening and stop learning. Let’s cover our debates with humility, lest we forget the place we share beneath the cross.
How can we “wash each other’s feet” when debating difficult issues? Is that possible? How would it change the way we view those moments? Your comments are welcome.