This post is part of series we are calling “Ethics for Online Theological Discourse.” Here are the preceding posts: Intro;  the dangers of the screen-to-screen mode of communication.
So Andy was kind of enough to invite me to blog with him. I’m grateful. I tend to be an all-over-the-place thinker, so the subjects of my posts will tend to be that way…
In light of our series on an “Ethic of Online Theological Discourse”, I found Philip Jacob Spener’s thoughts to be a particularly appropriate interjection. Regardless of how you perceive the consequences of Pietism for historical theology (I have my concerns too), I believe he has it right here. In this section of Pia Desideria (Spener, Philip Jacob. 2002. Pia Desideria. Ed. Theodore G. Tappert. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers), he discusses how to engage in debate with “unbelievers and heretics”. I’ll add the nuance of “people we believe to be heretics”. It should be noted that he doesn’t say that we shouldn’t challenge error. But, there’s a wrong way of being right.
“We must beware how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies…” (97)
“We must give them a good example and take the greatest pains not to offend them in any way, for this would give them a bad impression of our true teaching and hence would make their conversion more difficult.” (98)
“All of this should be done in such a way that those with whom we deal can see for themselves that everything is done out of heartfelt love toward them, without carnal and unseemly feelings, and that if we ever indulge in excessive vehemence this occurs out of pure zeal for the glory of God.” (emphasis mine; I think a lot of unhelpful rhetoric/talk masquerades as zeal for the “glory of God”) 98
“I therefore hold that not all disputation is useful and good.” (100)
Spener calls that we “do not stake everything on argumentation.” (99)
Wise words. I’m ready for Andy’s next post.