When I was a boy, I occasionally wrestled my brother Darrell, who was five years younger. I wasn’t large or strong by any means. But for awhile, five years made a difference. In our wrestling matches, eventually I would end up on top and he would be on the bottom. Before I would let him get up, he had to say, “Uncle.” Sometimes I had to sit on him for a long time before he said the magic word. Other times Mom found us first.
When the match was over and he was finally free, Darrell would say something like, “I might have said ‘Uncle’ on the outside, but not on the inside.” In other words, he wasn’t really conquered. So we would go through the routine all over again with the same result. The truth is, our wrestling matches never settled anything.
Unfortunately, everything changed when he grew to be five inches taller and many pounds heavier than me. Then I had to rely on my speed, of which I had little. I decided to give up wrestling. Sort of.
As I grew older, my interest in things spiritual opened the door to wrestling matches of a different kind – theology. When I was in junior high, I used to debate a classmate whose father was a pastor in a different denomination. Our debates were intense and we were both stubborn. Decades later, I finally said “Uncle” and conceded that he was right: Predestination trumps man’s free will. We can say “Yes” to God only because he called us first. Human depravity is bigger than I realized in junior high school.
In seminary, wrestling matches became more complex and the opponents were more formidable. I don’t remember settling anything particularly important through them. For one thing, nobody ever had to say, “Uncle.” I don’t ever remember hearing people say things like that, although my theology clearly was greatly changed and developed at Dallas Theological Seminary.
When I became a pastor, I was the one who was five inches taller and many pounds heavier. Sometimes I could force people to say, “Uncle.” But I couldn’t change them on the inside. Theological wrestling matches rarely settle anything important. I’ve almost never seen somebody flip sides because of them. Why?
Because of human depravity. Human nature wants to “win” more than it wants truth. Not only do we want to win, we want everyone else to concede that we’ve won.
Not going to happen.
Years ago in a different place, I wrestled one of my closest friends, an elder in the church, about the validity of a purpose driven ministry. After a long and arduous confrontation, we parted company. He left the church. This was my introduction to the online discernment ministry movement. I was appalled by what I found. People are wrangling about words which aren’t going to make a difference in the world. I’ve been part of it. I’ve felt the rush of adrenaline as I’ve formulated arguments to win a point and hear those golden words, “You’re right. ‘Uncle.'”
This morning I received a reply to my Christmas newsletter from a fellow DTS graduate who carries on an online discernment ministry. I clicked on his website (one of the better ones for discernment ministries) and immediately was drawn into reading about blood moons and other trifles. What caught my eye was the back and forth exchange with one particular critic who is trolling the site.
It’s a waste of time. Trolls are trolls. Let ’em be.
To be sure, we do need discernment. The Scriptures command church leaders to correct those who are in error. We’re also commanded not to wrangle about words. But it’s easy to get sucked into wrangling about words. We’re wrestling in mud. Nobody wins.
I’ve got better things to do, like ponder the birth of Christ.