The Self-Indictment of Conflict

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Unknown-1Want to sell an idea or grow in popularity? Try creating conflict. Conflict sells. It’s unfortunate the blogosphere is known primarily as a conflict centered medium. During seminary a certain blog was popular primarily for railing against postmoderns. I’ve heard some preachers who spend the first forty-five minutes insulting and criticizing evangelicalism and the last ten minutes in the text. He’ll even say when in the text, “I wish we had time to explore this.” Well sir, you did, you chose to rail against evangelicals for forty-five minutes. Now, I’m not saying every popular blog is conflict centered, nor is every popular preacher conflict centered. But, I have noticed in my circles the propensity to create an enemy in a sermon, then defeat the enemy.

Conflict sells. Having blogged for a while, I can testify, unfortunately some of our most popular blogs are the more edgy or conflict centered posts. Whenever we choose to chime in on an evangelical discussion, the blog tends to have more views, shares, and links. When we offered critique, those blogs had more views. (I’m not going to link to them, you can find them if you want). Of course, there is now a level of irony too in this blog. I am aware of this, but follow with me for a minute. The point here is simple. We need to study to know God. But conflict sells.

Why does conflict sell? Because it is interesting. Every movie, book, play, video game, board game, and sport has conflict. NBC didn’t show every Olympic event live because they wanted to narrate a story with the event. Yankees verse Red Sox is popular because the level of conflict between the teams. Giants and Dodgers, Manning verse Brady, Brady verse the NFL, etc . . . the list can go on. Why? Conflict. Someone wins, someone loses. Even in board games, there are co-op games where you either win or lose as a team. But the tension is the conflict between your team and the game. Could you imagine a movie where the main character doesn’t have a trial, walks through life joyfully, and the movie just ends? Would it sell? No.

Why would it be different for theology? Conflict sells. Creating foes in theological discussions places people in the seats, draws attention to our ministry, and then when we “win the day” others can feel like they’re a part of the winning team. “Yes, you told Mark Driscoll off and really showed him, we win!”

Unknown-2But the fact conflict sells indicts ourselves when it comes to theology. It’s like we’re really only interested when it pertains to another’s demise, that is sad. Reading to merely enter a debate is pugnacious. Our conflict centered posts go viral. Yet mundane theological posts on theology generate what kind of response? (Now, I realize there is a solid group of people more interested in these kinds of posts than conflict and many of these people are not social media sharers. So don’t think this post intends to confront everyone. Many believers love truth and don’t need the conflict.) What should drive us? The truth. If conflict drives our study, are we really pursuing God? or our ego?

It’s a sad reality if we spend more time in entertainment than theology. It’s a sad indictment if it takes conflict to study theology. Nothing is more important than knowing our Lord. Pursue the truth in God’s Word. Only it will reveal our Lord to us. Only it will teach us about what we have in Him. Knowing God is the greatest privilege a believer has. It shouldn’t take conflict to encourage this. Many of us need to repent over pugnacious study. “Pugnacious study” is study or reading done because we want to engage in the conflict.

When I read through the Bible and compare the way the Lord teaches us then compare it with conflict centered teaching, there is a disparity. Paul doesn’t set up opponents then tear them down. He doesn’t navigate all the current political drama. Yes he warns about false teachers, and every time to a local church for their specific protection. He does not go on long diatribe expositions about their sinful teaching. Instead, he quickly mentions it and moves on to teaching truth. 2 Corinthians may contain the most comments about his opponents, but even then, this is the minority and it is surrounded by teaching the truth. Paul knew his audience, he taught them truth, and implored them to obey His Word. We should follow His technique. I’d rather be known for what I stand for, than what I rail against.

Study theology to know God. Why?

  1. He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3).
  2. And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Ps 1:2-3).
  3. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. (Ps 119:2)
  4. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches (Ps 119:14).
  5. For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (Heb 2:1).
  6. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19).
  7. Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Of course there are more verses that emphasize the need to study His Word. But these seven verses provide a breadth worth evaluating. Notice, none of them mention studying to win arguments. Study is good for my worship and service. None of them encourage study to advertise our precision and showcase our knowledge (we don’t need to Instagram our study either, keep it private). So why study?

 

First, I need food to survive. I need His Word to survive. Why am I willing to eat and snack, yet do I hunger for His Word like food? Second, no matter what kind of mood we’re in, study the Word because it cements our roots so that no matter what life looks like, we are like a strong tree unaffected by the weather. Third, want to be blessed? Pursue knowing Him. Seek after Him. Notice Psalm 119:2 doesn’t say, “investigate when it’s juicy and the conflict is ripe.” No, the idea here is always seek to know Him.

Fourth, We all have prized possessions. But I need to remind myself habitually the Word is my most prized possession. When you adore something, you protect it, love it, spend time with it, and long for it. Do we love His Word? Is there affection for it because it leads us to Him? Fifth, It is easy to drift away from His Word. My flesh will gradually ignore His Word, come up with my own reasons, and I’ll create my own, home-made wisdom. Pay attention to what His Word says. Study it so paying attention is not hard. Sixth, No matter what I experience, nothing has more truth in it than His Word. Peter’s exhortation comes in the context of his witnessing Jesus transfiguration. It’s probably the greatest experience a person can have and Peter says the Word of God is more sure. Finally, long for His Word. Cry for it, scream for it, and dive into it like your soul needs it. Go to church to hear it. Attend Bible studies to know it. Read books to gain insights into it. Study it and read those who study it. There is no theology book off limits to a believer. None of us knows everything,  but we can know what we know and that knowledge can grow.

 

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Jason Vaughn

About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow him on his personal blog at shepherdthesheep.com.
  • Dr. Dennis M. Swanson

    This sort of thing even goes to the “debating and discernment ministries.” It just appeals to the pride of individuals to be on the “winning team.” I’ve turned down dozens of opportunities to “debate,” not because (a favorite rejoinder of those who failed to get me to come) I “afraid” or couldn’t rebut their position, simply because I don’t think I can remember a debate with the exception of perhaps Lincoln and Douglas where anything useful was accomplished. The pattern in the last 50 years is always the same with these so called ministries. They go after cultists and false religionists (well, most Christians can get behind that) the person gets a following, builds a brand, maybe even creates a logo. I had an epiphany once with a well known one of these ministries many years ago. The internet was new and at the time I did web page work for a few people. I said it would be helpful if he could create a logo. He said he had the perfect thing and handed me a profile caricature and his signature. He rather proudly said, “I am the logo.” That experience was repeated a couple of times and I got out of that business. But the debaters progress and running out of obvious non-Christians and cultists to attack they begin to take on other Christians, those who don’t see things (usually of inconsequential merit) exactly the same way they do. These ministries, I think, are ultimately useless other than to “keep the base” stirred up. I notice that their writing style and formatting is not after, say the opinion page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but rather the lowest example of the tabloid press. Supposedly humorous pictures or caricatures, called out lines of text, which when compared to the whole context, clearly don’t mean what was sought to convey. It is nothing but a deceptive attention grabber. This “tabloid” Christian press/blog/debate approach has done far more harm than any possible good. Even the so-called expose of those in error is frankly tainted when the common track of highlighting the most extreme and wacky examples of some manifestation and holding it up as the “norm.” Of course this is defended by the subtle fallacy of claiming that if the more moderate wing doesn’t denounce the extreme then they themselves are really supporting it.

    And, of course, if anyone turns even the slightest eye towards some unseemly or questionable activity of the heroes on the “good side” those people are denounced as divisive, bitter, uninformed, hurting the cause, etc. What they are really concerned about is their own house of cards both in analogy and as exemplified in modern popular entertainment.