Within communication, dialogue has become a lost art.  When coming across an opinion that a person finds disagreeable, the frequent courses taken are to argue or to walk away.  According to Carin Robinson: “Political tolerance – citizens’ willingness to respect the rights and liberties of others whose opinions and practices differ from their own – has long been viewed as the bedrock of democratic society.”  Even in the public sector, where tolerance is held as a necessary component, the application of tolerance is frequently only for some people to acquiesce to a moderate opinion rather than seeking for common ground so that a dialogue can ensue.  Worldviews are commonly held as sacrosanct because individuals have been forming them over the course of their lifetime.  More than any other aspect of identity, the worldview of a person strikes to the heart of who a person truly is.  As a result, when being exposed to ideologies that run counter to their worldview, it is natural for many to feel that who they are as an individual is under attack.  While there is a danger to being negatively influenced by opposing ideologies, there are also positive outcomes that allow an individual to effectually engage with those who have different worldviews.

 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:23-24)

Paul’s guidance is hard to follow because quarrels seem to have their own gravitational pull and draw us in.  There are some who get especially excited about arguing.  To these people, what they call a conversation is actually a contest in which they will present every oratory device at their disposal so that they can win the argument.  To them, finding a common ground is unacceptable because that would essentially be a draw, and nobody likes a tie.  This is especially true when it comes to politics where the two poles of extremism are the only voices which are heard and authentic communication dies when two people are screaming at each other from their opposing pedestals.

As a Christian, there are standards which I must strive to live up to, such as not allowing my life or anything I say to get in the way of maintaining the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).  On social media sites such as Facebook, I see precious little evidence of Christians being “peacemakers” in matters in which Paul would label “ignorant controversies.”  These matters have nothing to do with the tenants of the faith, but are matters which are opinion-based.  While Christians should not have a “head in the sand mentality,” we should not let anything that we say or do get in the way of the gospel message.  As followers of Christ, we are not of this world, but He did send us into it (John 17:14-19).  Let us never forget as we go about our daily lives that we should never get bogged down in questionable matters where the Lord might be wanting to use us to bring peace to a situation.

As scary as it might sound, coming into contact with an ideology with which one disagrees is important to the development of critical thinking.  In Across the Spectrum, Boyd and Eddy state that the goal of introducing people to opinions in which they disagree is to: “broaden their minds by helping them to empathetically understand a variety of perspectives while training them to think critically for themselves.”  Being able to “empathetically understand” is important for an individual to keep from becoming an ideologue whose opinion is beyond contestation.  We must all have the courage to challenge our own presuppositions.  In a way, these things which we assume to be true can be like a frog in boiling water that does not have the awareness to jump out when the water gets too hot for them.  Please understand, I am not speaking of things related to Scripture, but of the “questionable things” that Paul was referring to.

This is clearly seen in matters of race.  For those who were raised in the South and in a culture where, in some social circles, racism has been given safe harbor, it is easy to not see events clearly.  Growing up in the South, I heard many “jokes” where African Americans were the target and the n- word was employed.  These jokes were undoubtedly passed down from generation-to-generation like a family heirloom going back to before the Civil War.  I wrote a paper for school once about modern racism and discovered how like most manifestations of evil, it has not gone away, it has just found safe places to hide.  As the open hostility towards the newly freed slaves in the post-Civil War South morphed into the passive aggressiveness of the Jim Crow laws, it is easy to see how the environment that my fellow white Americans created in the South could also breed the counter-culture that exists in many black communities.  While it is true that no one alive has owned a slave or been a slave, as the lynching/torture of Emmet Till demonstrated in 1955 – violent racism was alive and well almost a century removed from the Civil War.  Sadly, racism will probably persist as long as the Lord tarries, but it should never be given safe harbor in the heart of a Christian.  We should all be vigorous in rooting out all such illegitimate presuppositions and follow Peter’s lead, who realized through his encounter with Cornelius and the dream that the Lord sent him that the Lord is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

It is important for the maturation of each person’s critical reasoning that they introduce themselves to opinions in which they might disagree.  Knowing “why … people assume differing opinions on different topics” is crucial if a person is going to be able to transcend arguing and be able to dialogue about a particular subject with someone who holds an opposing view.

I recently attended an RZIM conference where one of the speakers was/is a gay Christian.  Reaching the homosexual community makes many Christians queasy and uneasy, like they would be going into an area infested with the black plague in the medieval times.  At the conference, something that Ravi Zacharias said he was thinking about recently on one of his long plane rides was the difference between sin and evil.  What he said is poignant to this particular discussion.  Essentially, what Ravi said is that while we are all guilty of sin, an evil person knows that something is wrong and does not care and perpetually continues to do it.  While it is easy to paint the homosexual community with a broad brush, I think the larger Christian community does not bother to empathetically understand their struggle (nor make open their own struggles). Maybe we should all follow the example of Paul who wrote about his own struggles against the flesh (Romans 7), struggles which are common to each of us.   It is easy for us to label all homosexuals in the “evil” category and someone who knows what they are doing is wrong and does not care.  But, if all Christians at least bothered to listen to a man such as David Bennett (the gay Christian at the conference), they would learn of a man’s journey from the time that he came to know Christ as his savior, to three years later when he felt the Lord calling him to live a life of celibacy.  Since then, the companionship that most of us find in our spouse, he has found with the Lord.  (There are larger issues to be addressed in this area that deal with the state of all Christians as we deal with sin, that become even clearer when overlaying them with the Scriptures that support Ravi’s explanation of sin vs. evil.  However, they are outside the scope of this discussion and I will possibly write on them at a later time.)

Another benefit of listening to a contrary opinion is that the experience allows a person to better understand their own worldview.  A couple years ago, I was in Boston and some friends and I were talking to a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) and John 1 came up.  The JW bible translates John 1:1 as: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.”  When getting back to the hotel I did a google search and discovered that classical Greek does not include articles such as “a” and “the.”  By inserting an “a” and changing God to “god”, the JW translators were able to insert their own wrongful presuppositions about what they believe the nature of Christ to be.  By understanding the error of their translation, I knew more about the original language in which the NT is written.  Paul Hiebert comments that: “We become conscious of our worldviews when they are challenged by outside events they cannot explain. Immigrants, refugees, bi-cultural children, and others caught between conflicting worldviews are also made conscious of their own deep assumptions.”  Such events, which are out of a person’s control, will make a person consider how they should be considered within their worldview.  It is when the challenge comes from another person that can be harder to handle.  Hiebert states: “To question worldviews is to challenge the very foundations of life, and people resist such challenges with deep emotional reactions. There are few human fears greater than a loss of a sense of order and meaning.” Most Christians will find it easy to talk to another Christian about their common faith, but it is when they interact with a non-believer that they can become even more in tune with their own faith.  By listening to a sceptic’s reasons for not believing, their faith becomes more grounded.  In his response to Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, Manuel Sumares commented: “This response of mine hopes to suggest why I – or anyone else – can be a Christian without in no wise ignoring the intellectual and moral virtues that, in truth, sustain human life.”  By understanding what someone else believes, we begin to fully understand our own belief system.  While the Word remains the ultimate source for truth in my worldview, dialoguing with counter-worldviews has not made my faith weaker, but stronger.

Reading and viewing texts with an opposing ideology does not come without its risks. For example, if a Christian wanted to know why atheists believe the way they do, they run the risk of having their faith weakened when reading books such as: Why I am not a Christian.  While conveyed opinions are not harmful by themselves, it is how they are processed in a person’s mind which can adversely affect their worldview.  According to Roderick Hindery, “Disputes since Marx about the meaning of ideology boil down to disagreements in assessing it’s positive and negative elements and also to individual resistance in admitting that ideological elements might infiltrate even one’s own religion or politics.”   As Hindery asserts in his article, anyone can be misled, especially when introduced to the writings of Russell where readers can be influenced by “structures and patterns of thought that seem to take on a life of their own.”

While having one’s own worldview challenged is not comfortable, there are some benefits for an individual if they will hazard the chance.  By opening their mind to listen to another point of view, they will develop their own critical reasoning skills.  This will also permit them to dialogue with others in society because it will help them to understand why those who have a different worldview believe what they do.  Additionally, the experience will allot them the opportunity to learn more about themselves through the polite discourse with another person or by questioning what they are reading.  When a worldview is challenged, there is the risk that they will begin to be swayed to another point of view.  Such is the state of human existence.  Everyone is not going to think alike about everything and when these differences come to light, the possibility of friction presents itself.  Nevertheless, so too does the possibility of understanding and empathy which allows a person to transcend talking points to authentic communication.