My daughter told me that she recently preached on the subject of disagreeing well.
I suspect that for many today it is a lost art, or maybe an art that was never learned in the first place. Jewish rabbis at the time of Jesus would have been well instructed in the matter. That doesn’t mean that they would have always come to right conclusions nor that they would not have had some very heated arguments, but in the main, they would have taken time to investigate and understand positions that differed from their own. Rabbis held in high esteem tended to be able to argue against themselves from the positions of those who disagreed with them.
Unfortunately, it is quite rare today to find people who know how to listen to, hear and understand a position that is different from their own. Indeed it is increasingly common to counter any disagreement with an aggressive attack on the character of the one who voiced it, rather than presenting a well thought through case as to why it might be wrong. The descent into existentialism in the world encourages and facilitates such responses, but they should not be part of interactions between Christians.
Though sometimes avoiding the extreme of character assassination in response to a disagreement, Christians seem to have achieved tolerance by the simple method of declining to engage in any ordered discussion where disagreements might exist. Though having a different result to some of the conflicts in the world, this position has the same roots in the world’s embrace of existentialism. Whereas some come to the conclusion that everyone (else) is wrong, others have tried to insist that we can all be right and that it is therefore bad form to point out areas of disagreement.
One of the booklets I have written is “Why Evangelical Anglicans Should Not Baptise Babies” It has been written out of the conviction that the baptismal practice of Evangelical Anglicans is wrong, not out of any animosity toward those who engage in such a practice. I worked in a church in partnership with an evangelical Anglican minister for ten years and I have very warm memories of that, but I still believe, that on this point, he was in error. Regarding the booklet, my greatest disappointment has not been that a well read, well informed Anglican has refuted the points I raise, but that I have met a fairly solid refusal to engage in discussion about the matter. I recently had the opportunity of a brief conversation with a Church of England Bishop and I asked him if it would be possible for him, or someone recommended by him, to have a look at the booklet and give me some feedback. He declined to do so himself and suggested that others would be too busy to do so either.
I also had an email exchange with the editor of a series of small books primarily aimed at Church of England clergy. He remarked that he thought my book ‘Interesting’, but seemed reluctant to say anything further than that.
I am aware that I am as fallible as the next person and that it is possible that I may have misunderstood the Church of England position on the matter, but my work is a serious, conscientiously researched piece of writing which raises some genuine concerns. I would love to have someone disagree well with me. Agreement would of course be better, but good disagreement is healthy and would be nearly as welcome.
So if any one of you is a theologically informed Anglican, who can spare the time to respond to what I have written, I would really appreciate that. The booklet can be read online for free, or ordered from me in hard copy via the Books section of this website.