I’m the guy who looks. When you tell me not to look down I can’t help myself. When you say, “Gross, look at this, I’m the first guy to check it out”. The same thing happens to me with online debates. For the most part, I’ve gotten bored with the same tired arguments…but there is still something that pulls me in.
As I’ve observed these varied arguments I’ve often wondered why do certain people believe as they do? And why do some people hold truths that ought to humble us in such a way that is arrogant and divisive? As I’ve thought through this I believe people come to embrace a certain doctrine or belief in three main ways.
First, by powerful tradition. We all have things in our life that we believe just because that is the way we have always done things. We don’t know why. We haven’t even really given it much thought. It just is. This is where everyone starts.
When you hold to a truth simply because of the power of tradition you respond to objections in a certain way. You aren’t simply arguing for a truth you are arguing for the validity of your grandmother. Thems fightin’ words.
Second, by powerful persuasion. This is why people buy vacuum cleaners they don’t really need. Some slick dude convinced us by powerful argument that hidden beneath our carpet are deadly viruses. We don’t really know much about bugs or carpet and so we buy into it.
When you are argued into something by powerful persuasion you will typically be quite the arguer for your new system. Usually, the loudest people are the ones who are the most insecure in their system of belief. They were persuaded into something and they’ve got to convince themselves that their new vacuum cleaner really is worth a year’s salary.
Lastly, by patient instruction. This is the way that John Newton outlines in his letter On Election and Perseverance:
We may become wise in notions, and so far masters of a system, or scheme of doctrine, as to be able to argue, object, and fight, in favour of our own hypothesis, by [power] of application, and natural abilities; but we rightly understand what we say, and whereof we affirm, no farther than we have a spiritual perception of it wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not, therefore, by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect a satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am persuaded that you are seeking in this way: if so, I am confident you shall not seek in vain. The Lord teaches effectually, though for the most part gradually.
When one embraces a truth by patient instruction their response in a debate is much different. When we hold doctrine humbly and practically we respond differently. Because we were taught ourselves by the gentle persuasion of the Lord Jesus, we too understand that the Lord Jesus is the best teacher and we lay our powers of persuasion and argument in His hands.
Newton outlines for us four steps to embracing doctrine humbly.
1) “Seek for that sense which is most agreeable to the general strain of the Scripture” instead of laying “too great a stress upon a few detached texts”.
2) Though only a “subordinate help” consider the way of experience. “Consider which sense is most agreeable to what passes within you and around you, and which best answers to the dealing of God with yourself”.
3) Accept the general sense even if there are still difficulties, as we are “poor weak creatures and the clearing up of every difficulty is not what we are immediately called to”.
4) Consider the tendencies of the different systems. “Whatever is from God, has a sure tendency to ascribe glory to him, to exclude boasting from the creature, to promote the love and practice of holiness, and increase our dependence upon his grace and faithfulness”. If you find something that does this embrace it.
How do we apply all this? If you are a teacher rely upon the patient instruction of the Lord as you yourself gently instruct from the Word of God. The Spirit will lead His sheep into the pasture that they need. Let us humbly present the truth as we see it in Jesus and remember that we are sheep ourselves.
For those who aren’t teachers, consider the truths that you hold. Do you hold them because of the gentle instruction of the Lord? Do you hold them humbly? Pray that the Lord would humble you in such a way that you’ll sit at his feet and quietly and humbly learn his Word.
Doctrine humbly received will be doctrine humbly and persuasively given.