Caleb’s Rules of Theological Debate

The title says it all. Here they are in no particular order with no particular rhyme or reason (all of tweetable length).

  1. No matter what the topic, there is a Christian way of thinking. When we forget this, or more commonly never learn it to begin with, we mess up politics, theology, and so many other things.
  2. Listen to your neighbor’s argument as you would have your neighbor listen to yours.
  3. In all debate and discussion, give your interlocutor the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Before attacking any argument or view, try sincerely to defend it to yourself.
  5. The mind of Christ is not divided. We must always be ready to learn from each other.
  6. Attack positions and arguments as needed, but not the people who use them.
  7. Except to ask a question, don’t respond to an argument you do not fully understand.
  8. If a statement can be interpreted non-heretically: innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Use the label “heresy” sparingly, and avoid it whenever possible.
  10. Even heretics can have great insights: don’t assume everything they say is bad.
  11. Even the best teachers are fallible: don’t assume everything they say is okay.
  12. Just because something’s not heretical doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.
  13. Just because someone believes something heretical doesn’t mean they are damned.
  14. Experience and education affect your perspective on evidence…
  15. …But experience and education do not magically alter the soundness of an argument.
  16. Just because you haven’t heard of a view doesn’t mean it’s crazy.
  17. Just because a view seems obvious doesn’t mean it’s right.
  18. Analogies, including in Scripture, can’t be stretched beyond their relevant intent.
  19. The apparent “plain meaning” of a Bible verse is not always the right one…
  20. …But the opposite of the “plain meaning” of Scripture is even less likely.
  21. Someone is not wrong just because they quote someone you dislike.
  22. Godliness and good theology don’t always correlate. Devotion outperforms doctrine.
  23. Every doctrinal position affects other doctrinal positions more than you think.
  24. Inconsistency is not heresy, and heresy is not inconsistency.
  25. Just something looks inconsistent to you doesn’t mean it actually is inconsistent.
  26. Many charges of inconsistency come from a small rational imagination.
  27. Generally, you can’t rule out theological positions on some a priori basis.
  28. Sarcasm is only worth using if it makes an important point in the argument.
  29. If I have all the arguments and all the truth, but do not have love, I have nothing.
  30. Charging your debate opponents with improper motives is bad form and bad love.
  31. Treat debate opponents like Jesus. He might be more on their side than you think.
  32. No doctrine should still make sense if you subtract Jesus.
  33. Avoid as much as possible saying “God couldn’t/wouldn’t do X.”
  34. Not everything that looks like a slippery slope is one.
  35. Never debate in such a way that you couldn’t go off together for ice cream later.
  36. If you form opinions about your interlocutor during a debate, keep them to yourself.
  37. Don’t change the subject with questions hanging.
Caleb’s Rules of Theological Debate

Reflections on Cinderella

Last Saturday night was date night for my lovely wife and me. Since our baby Nathan is old enough to stay with his grandmother for a few hours these days, we could go out for dinner and a movie for the first time in forever. What movie did we see? Cinderella. And I will admit to the face-palming of my masculinity that I was the probably the one most interested in seeing it.

As expected, the movie was lovely. Disney pulled off its Disney magic yet again, to the surprise of few, and created a fresh take on a classic which will certainly become the new canonical Cinderella story in the next generation’s consciousness. All this is quite fitting.

But Disney movies, fairy tales in particular, seem to always leave me with many thoughts which I simply must express. So as I did with Frozen before, I want to simply highlight a few themes and moments from Cinderella which I especially enjoyed or noticed. Hopefully you’ll all agree and enjoy.

“Have Courage and Be Kind”

I might as well start with the movie’s most explicit theme, namely the advice given to young Ella by her mother on her deathbed. She told her to promise to have courage and be kind. Ella takes this as her life motto and seems to truly stick to it. As to courage, she remains brave as her father continues his travels even after her mother’s passing. She hesitates not a moment to bless his wishes to find happiness with a new wife. And even when he finally passes away, she tries her best to keep living well among her stepfamily. As to kindness, she never stops for a moment. To her father, to her evil stepmother, to her obnoxious stepsisters, to the prince, and to her fairy godmother in beggar form she continues to show kindness even when in great personal despair.

Naturally, we have a lot to learn from this. For to have courage and be kind easily sums up Christian virtue. We are to endure all things, proclaim the name of Jesus, and even be willing to risk our lives for the Gospel of the Kingdom, so we must have courage. We are to love our neighbors and our enemies, bless those who curse us, give our worldly goods to those who have none, and by sharing the truth save others from eternal danger, so we must be kind. If we live by this advice given by Ella’s mother, what will we lack in doing good? Indeed, if most of us were even half as kind as Ella herself, we would be very different people and give our testimony of Christ much more credibility.

Who Am I?

There was also a quote that caught my ear near the end of the movie. As Ella descends from her attic to meet her prince, the narrator makes this point about her nerves: “This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take—to be seen as we truly are. Will we be enough as we really are?” And of course this is a real risk which we must reckon with in all our relationships. Will we abandon pretense, vanity, self-consciousness, and all other pride or fear so that we may truly love and be loved? Will we be actors or involve our real selves with others?

After this comment was made, Ella went down to see her prince, who was glad to have found her but wondered greatly who see was who appeared to him before dressed like a princess, vanished, and now stood before him a servant maid. What was her response to him? She says, “I have nothing. I am nothing, but who I am.” Finally she adds, “Will you take me as I am?” Naturally he agrees. What strikes me about this is how, for us who affirm the Gospel, it is radically our reality. We’ve come to Jesus having nothing and claiming nothing of ourselves. We must drop our disguises of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and ask Him the all-important prayer, “Will you take me as I am?” And praise be to God that He promises to never turn away or cast out those who come to the Son! He will take us as we are.

Falling Headfirst into Love

An obvious major point of Cinderella is the romance of Ella and the prince. It was a pretty enjoyable development, in my opinion. The magic of their meetings in the forest and at the ball struck me as identifiable having myself only just left my teens. The movie called to memory the feeling before of meeting someone new, a hint of attraction involved, and getting to know a lovely stranger. It can feel like real magic, and seeing this onscreen is just altogether pleasant.

Of course, in the real world such experiences rarely lead to permanent, meaningful relationships. They tend to last briefly, and only a few grow into a lifetime of love. But they are not to be entirely spurned or written off for that reason. The very idea of these times is what makes them possible, regardless of where they end up, and when they happen the memories are worth it. And in some rare cases, such as I suggest the case of Ella and the prince, these events are enough to warrant further relationship and even marriage simply because they reveal quickly how worthy and good the people are.

As a final note on falling in love, when memories like this are looked at in retrospect, nostalgia is almost inevitable, and a pang of sadness that those days have ended. I’m a married man with a 9 month old baby now; I’ve already met my wife, gotten to know her, and fallen in love. Seems like a shame it will never happen again, right? But the truth is, as watching Cinderella reminded me, that these days do not have to be over, nor should they. The difference is the challenge and effort. Falling in love to begin with isn’t hard if you are willing, but to continue to learn about your beloved, to know them more, and to find every day more delight and reasons to love—that is hard and takes conscious effort. This is what the ideal of fairy tale love compels us to seek by confronting us with magic. As long as we long for that magic which Ella and her prince so embody, we have inspiration to keep working on knowing and loving our spouses every day.

Why Get Married?

As the prince spoke to his dying father, the issue of the reason for marriage came to my mind. The king gave in; he told his son to marry for love and not advantage. This was good, because it made for the happy ending. But was he right? Is this fairy tale teaching of marriage for love the right reason to get married? After all, that’s not what most people have historically believed and done. And while Ella is right when she says, “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” were our ancestors actually wrong? They often married for many reasons besides love.

I do not believe it is wise to marry if because of love alone, at least in the sense of being in love. Contrary to popular belief, just because you love someone doesn’t actually mean you should marry them. Other things matter as well. Can you reasonably unite your two existing lives? Will you hurt other people in the process? Do you have goals and beliefs about your life and future which work together or which will conflict? And what about children? Surely reproduction is one of the most important reasons—though certainly not the only or necessarily the controlling reason—for marriage and sexuality. In all honesty, as well, when we hold to the traditional and Biblical teaching of sex as reserved for marriage, is there anything to gain from marriage besides sex and children which cannot be gained without marriage? All of these questions and considerations matter in the real world.

But I do not in saying all this dismiss love as a motivator. Instead of saying people should marry for love, with “for” meaning “because of,” I might suggest people should marry—at least in part—for love, with “for” meaning “in order to.” After all, when we are following the right path of waiting until marriage to become one in life, body, and habitation, how much can we really already love? Surely we do love, but not to perfection. There is much growth to remain, and is it not for the full potential of matured love and not the usually temporary and passionately-determined seeds of love that we should actually marry? This sounds correct to me.

The Cinderella Story

Finally, I want to address the actual plot of the movie. We all know the story. It is timelessly classic, and beloved.  Countless versions, spin-offs, and retellings have been made. So why is this story so enjoyable? Why does it receive so much attention? While I’m sure there are many reasons, I do offer one possible part. In the story of Cinderella we see redemption in Christ.

Trace out the plot and think of it. Though we were made by a good Father, before long we found ourselves the wretched servants of an unnatural parent, Satan. Even though as children of the Father we ought to have abundant life, we were miserable in dust and isolation. In one point very different from Ella, we ourselves were no less wicked than our stepfamily of evil. But all that changed. For the Son of the King found us, and in love He made us His bride, raising us from our pathetic existence in slavery to exalt us as royalty through Him. We are both Ella, the wronged servant, and her stepsisters, the ones wronging others, yet we were rescued by a worthy Prince, Jesus Himself, with a little supernatural help in the form of a fairy godmother the Holy Spirit. With this allegory so clear, it is no wonder that the story of Cinderella captures the hearts and minds of so many people. For all souls long for rescue by the Prince of Peace.

Blessed be the God who has done all this! Amen.

Reflections on Cinderella

How Serious Was Jesus About Turning the Other Cheek?

“Turn the other cheek.” Such a nice little cliché these days. Of course, these words come from the very mouth of God in Jesus Christ, so we should take them as having the utmost importance. Do we take them that way?

In modern American culture, we really act as though “turning the other cheek” were a joke. We would never laugh at or degrade the command, but our attitudes and advice betray us. What do I mean? For an example, let’s take a trip to Nickelodeon.

On Nickelodeon shows (think iCarly or Victorious), there is a recurring theme. The “good guys” (i.e. some of the main characters) are often wronged by the “bad guys” (random other characters, usually slightly less likable). So what do the main characters, who serve more or less as examples to the kids watching the shows, do in response? They get payback. Often with silly and elaborate plans, they avenge themselves and make fools of their enemies. And are they punished, reprimanded, or in any way shown as wrong for doing so? Never. Instead they are displayed as gloriously vindicated. Sweet revenge, on Nickelodeon, is a perfectly acceptable response to being wronged.

This is, of course, not limited to Nick. The same idea is present in mainstream TV for more grown up audiences, in their sitcoms and dramas. Even Disney has been picking up this revenge plot in recent years. And these shows are not setting the standard which the culture is prone to follow (unlike in certain other social issues like, to an extent, homosexuality), but instead reflect with at least some degree of accuracy the values of the people. Only a quick perusal of Facebook or a few minutes of eavesdropping (on people almost any age) is enough to see how ready and willing people are to stick up for their honor and hurt others. When people insult you, respond with a worse insult. If someone does you wrong, don’t let them get away unpunished. There is no thought to turning the other cheek.

You can even see this among Christians in ways just like the world, or sometimes in unique ways that are particularly detestable since they bear the name of our Lord Jesus. Consider the obnoxious, rude, and sinful bumper sticker with a cross which says, “If this offends you now, what until you see it at final judgment!” That attitude is nothing less than fleshly revenge against a world Jesus already told us would ridicule His people.

Of course, Jesus refuses to let us do any of this. Defending your own honor, getting revenge, or responding to people with insult are all clearly a violation of what Jesus said here:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:38-39

Remember that being slapped on the cheek isn’t really as much of a physical attack as an insult. Slapping someone in the face is a way to spite them. And what does Jesus say? When our reputation, honor, skills, or character are insulted or ridiculed, how should we respond? Turn the other cheek. Getting even, insult for insult and humiliation for humiliation, is explicitly forbidden. Instead, we are commanded to let them be. Do not retaliate. Don’t even bother sticking up for yourself. And why should we, anyway? There is no reason but pride. If an insult is true, we should simply listen and graciously acknowledge our fault. But if an insult is false, why bother responding? God will vindicate His people on His own time in His own way.

Despite the “amens” this might receive, Jesus’ command here is a completely countercultural idea. Our culture (along with most cultures throughout history) demands that we stick up for ourselves, defend our honor, and pay back those who wrong us. But Jesus calls us higher, to a better culture of love. In this culture, we do not get even, because vengeance is the Lord’s. Nothing we can do to a person compares to the judgment they receive from God for their sin, a judgment Jesus Himself took on the Cross. Indeed, responding to an insult with anything but kindness is an insult to God, which says to Him, “You didn’t do a good enough job judging their sin. Jesus didn’t suffer enough to cover an insult to me! In fact, I am more important than You are, since Jesus did not retaliate to those who insulted Him but remained silent.” That attitude is messed up.

So let’s review the calling: don’t bother defending yourself from people who insult you. Do not pay back anyone who wrongs you. Basically, don’t put any effort into showing that you are in the right, because if you are in the right, you have this word from God:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: “’Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay’, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19

Instead, pray this prayer:

Vindicate me, LORD my God, in keeping with Your righteousness, and do not my enemies rejoice over me.

Psalm 35:24

(Heads up: “How Serious Was Jesus About…” will be an ongoing series.)

How Serious Was Jesus About Turning the Other Cheek?