However, what is sad is when these doctrinal debates do became decisive. By this, I mean it's sad when groups slip into an “us versus them” mindset and start treating their opposing brothers and sisters gracelessly. For example, when one party starts to proclaim “anyone who does not agree with us about [insert specific non-essential-to-salvation doctrinal point here] is not saved, and is espousing heresy!” Or when one side of the debate claims, “well, they treated us poorly first, so whatever we feel like saying to/about them is justified since what they said/did is worse.”
Sometimes, people get into judging motives: “The only reason those people would disagree with this doctrine is because of [insert ungodly motive here].” What nonsense, though. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with any doctrine – it's possible that the other side has a part of the truth that you don't have, or else you are completely correct but they don't understand your position yet, or if they have an evil motive (doubtful) I'm sure that there are many different ungodly motives they could have for rejecting correct doctrine. To say that there is only one reason is ridiculous, in addition to being judgmental. These sorts of claims and statements are what bring divisiveness into the picture.
The worst type of argument against an opposing position is an argument which does not seek to put forward facts or reasoning, but sets out to put forward a tone.
This includes statements and writings where it's not about the argument, but about the atmosphere created. An argument might be something like this: “Your position states X, but X is shown to be false by A, B, and C.” A snide comment which is creating atmosphere of mockery toward the opposing position might sound more like this: "a person would have to be really stupid to believe X."
As an Arminian, I'm going to comment on some quotes from the Arminian/Calvinist theology debate. These were published by a prominent Calvinist against Arminianism, and I will not include his name here simply because my main point is not that he needs to change. My main point is that ALL Calvinists, and Arminians too, should avoid this type of assumption-based rhetoric which is entirely unhelpful to the debate in that it creates a negative atmosphere about the opposing position rather than creating specific claims or arguments about the relevant facts. [Note: It is important to keep in mind that I am not saying or implying that all Calvinists use this type of condescending language. Most Calvinists are godly, humble Christians. Arminians are also guilty at times of speaking in ungodly ways to their opponents.]
The quotes are very divisive, I believe, full of put-downs, mockery, and judgment of motives. Humility charges us to keep in mind that we may be missing part of the truth, or that our opponent's may not have evil motives, but when humility is lost from a person's heart, practical love and peaceful speech also seem to disappear as well. In my comments below, I disagree with much of what he writes through use of sarcasm, because that's how I respond to insults in books that I find humorous and illogical. :-) [If I were interacting directly with such a person, rather than simply reading a book, I would use a more direct approach and avoid sarcasm.]
"The apostle describes God as working 'all things after the counsel of his well.' This is a truth that human religion cannot abide. Surely the Scriptures do not mean all things! (Emphasis his) Surely this means that God created all things but now sort of lets them run on their own, does it not?"
Notice the obvious snide humor there, intended to mock the Arminian.
"Those who are in rebellion against Him fight and chafe against this divine truth."
Wow -- it's amazing how well this Calvinist understands my rebellious motives! I thought I had him fooled with my veneer of actually submitting to God in my life and seeking the truth wholeheartedly!
"Much can be determined concerning our true subjection to God by asking if, in fact, we love God as He has revealed Himself to be, the divine ruler of all things (and by this he means Calvinism's interpretation of diving ruling) or whether we seek to 'edit' Him down to a more 'manageable' and 'manlike' deity."
Here he does not even directly call Arminians out. No, he just subtly suggests that we are *seeking* to edit God, to be a more *manageable* and *manlike* deity. Now of course he couldn't make the argument directly, or it could be contradicted, but he merely suggests it in a way that leads no doubt that us Arminians are worshiping a manmade image, which we have intentionally created for ourselves. He strikes at the motives. He does not create an argument for the Calvinist understanding of what "diving ruling" is, but just creates an atmosphere -- a tone of derision toward those who would reject The Truth (which is, of course, implied to be his interpretation and understanding of God's revelation).
Again, he does not put forward an argument against Arminianism here. He just creates a tone.
"Aside from the fact that there is not a shred of biblical basis for such a concept..."
Really? Really now?
"Sadly, we must conclude that the only reason this teaching is promoted is to give the proponents a way 'out' of having to the deal with the reality of..."
Yes. That is the ONLY reason anyone teaches that. We just need to make up a lot of things to avoid these clearly obvious truths and realities, and Lord knows we're good at coming up with escapes and ways to get *around* the clear meaning of verses! But why would we do such a thing?
"Despite the constant misrepresentations of the opponent's of God's sovereignty...."
We don't just mis-represent Calvinist beliefs, apparently. No. We misrepresent because we oppose God's sovereignty. We are rebelling against the Most High here. And again, this man gives no logical or Biblical reason that those who disagree are opposing God as LORD and KING over the universe, but rather puts down everyone who disagrees with His definition of Sovereignty, by painting them as opponents of God.
But back to us skewing verses...
"The manifold attempts to get around this passage are far beyond our scope at this point..."
Notice that they are not alternate or even wrong interpretations. They are intentional attempts to Get Around a passage.
"Opponents of free grace have tried every conceivable means of getting around the plain teaching of this passage..."
It must be so frustrating for him to deal with us proclaimed-believers who in actuality oppose God's grace... I wonder that God's gives him the patience! And what can one do, really?
"But as long as people continue to look to their traditions rather than the exegesis of the text, they will not see this divine truth. There is really no way to make people see the truth when they are looking the other direction."
And why do they look in the other direction? Love of God perhaps? They might be just dumb ol' people who love Him and don't understand these mysteries, right? Nope.
"So why insist that faith is a capacity available to all, including the natural man? The answer is simple: Because without that assertion, God must be sovereign in salvation and man utterly dependent on Him."
Ahh yes! There we are again! Trying in futility to throw God off of His rightful throne. I tell ya... I learn so much about myself from reading this guy. :) He has such insight -- such clarity -- into my deeper motivations here.
"As long as we remain faithful to the sure teaching of Scripture that 'salvation is of the Lord,' we will not be able to profess this synergistic, 'God is dependent upon the creature' kind of theology that is so rampant in today's church."
Notice the wording: "Rampant." Strong negative connotations right there. Not to mention it's a complete and total strawman. Salvation IS of the Lord. HE saves according to HIS good pleasure. But here I am, again, just not remaining faithful to the sure teaching of the Scripture – which are the obvious meanings that I'm just trying to get around in my attempts to edit God down because I oppose His sovereignty. Am I ready for more mockery? But of course.
"Are we to imagine God wringing His hands, wondering what He was going to do now, since the very missionary He was going to use to bring the message to a major portion of the world just refused to 'cooperate'?"
Yes. That's *exactly* what all us Arminians are imagining, and if that image doesn't convert you to Arminianism, I don't know what will! lol
As they say, though, it's not worth it to take snarky put-downs very seriously. Love your opponents, bless them, learn from them, and ultimately treat them graciously as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ (even if they annoy you).
With issues above a certain level of complexity, it doesn't take bad motives for disagreement or misunderstandings to result.