The Down Side of Controversy

Some people live for controversy. I’m not one of them. However, I’ve come to realize that controversy has many positive aspects. Foundational doctrines of orthodox Christianity have been fashioned through the fires of opposition and disagreement. We can see the truth more clearly when someone says something that flies in the face of the biblical evidence. The nuances, perimeters, and shape of our faith become more obvious to us when placed against the backdrop of falsehood. Most of all, God’s truth has had opposition from the Garden of Eden. Controversy often arises simply from a desire to make clear what God has actually said.

However, not all controversy is healthy. I was reading Seeing with New Eyes, by David Powlison, today and ran across these wise words:

Controversy, even for good causes, tends to create tunnel vision and to breed ungodly attitudes. We make one mountain into the whole mountain range, or one molehill into a mountain. What we see, or think we see, consumes our minds. We lose sight of the mountain range, the context in which both mountain and molehill can be seen and weighted for what they are. We may be exactly right about our particular issue, but narrowed truth becomes unbalanced truth. It loses the ability to listen and be corrected. Narrowed truth becomes half-truth, and broadly false. Narrowed truth loses love and the redemptive modus operandi. As it does so, it become reactive error. It becomes increasingly distorted. It becomes a vehicle for interpersonal conflict and self-righteousness. (p. 32)

I usually think of truth in “narrow” terms. After all, didn’t Jesus say we must strive to enter through the narrow door, and that the gate is narrow that leads to life? Yes, but Powlison is saying here that our understanding of truth may be “too” narrow. In other words, we might think that our small slice of truth is the whole truth. “Narrowed truth becomes half-truth.”

This is really helpful to keep in mind when I think the congregational worship in my church needs to be more celebratory or subdued, more current or historically based, more planned or spontaneous. I quickly run to defend my position, when I should be asking more questions about why someone sees something differently than I do, what I can learn from it, and how what others think can complement what I’m saying.

For instance, much of contemporary worship resulted from a reaction to meetings that unbelievers had a hard time understanding or relating to. Not for a moment would I say that intelligibility, comfort, and acceptance should be our main concerns for non-Christians in our meetings. However, those who are raising that issue may be saying something I need to hear about the unnecessary separation unbelievers have experienced which is not a result of the Gospel, but rather my commitment to my own traditions.

There are many more examples I could give, but I’m sure you can figure out where this might apply to your situation. Let’s work harder to understand than to make our point, and only engage in controversy when our attitude honors the One whose truth we claim to defend.

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3 Responses to The Down Side of Controversy

  1. Paul Martin September 28, 2006 at 10:35 AM #

    Thnaks for posting this, Bob. It may sound rather trite, but I do think the more we “set our eyes on Jesus,” the less in importance these surface differences appear.
    It is harder to stray into “narrowed truth” when you are focused on the cross!

  2. Dianemarie September 28, 2006 at 10:44 AM #

    I know you were talking about controversy in higher things such as doctrine and worship style — but I just have to say how blessed and convicted I was to hear this word as it relates to a family issue we are having that has been going on for 3+ years. It came to a head last night — and as I was reading this I was convicted that the main thing has been our point instead of the bigger picture.
    Just want to pass that along,

  3. AmyJane September 29, 2006 at 2:53 AM #

    I’m one of those with a love-hate relationship with debate. I tried to articulate it, and finally came down to a metaphor I liked: debating (in a “safe” context) shows me where I have holes in my roof. I’m not likely to move, but I do want to be sure I’m not prepared for any real storm that could come along.

    The only difficulty with that is what you mentioned. Basically, how hard it is for the interaction to stay safe.

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