Theological conflict is unavoidable.
Scripture warns us about the presence of heretics (2 Peter 2:1-3; Jude 4; 1 Cor. 11:19), the danger they present (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Timothy 2:18; Titus 1:11), and tells us about the firm stand that elders and congregations must make against them (Romans 16:17-18; Titus 1:9, 11; 3:9-11; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2).
Being a pacifist is not an option. At the same time the church does not need gung ho fighters who will shoot first and ask questions later.
It is always important that apologists and polemicists not only take great pains to understand the positions that they intend to respond to, but that they also give careful consideration to the strength of those positions.
It is all to easy to be hasty and sketchy, and to be dismissive. But no one who sets out to rebuke error and defend orthodoxy should allow their rhetoric to to run ahead of them. Opposing arguments should be carefully studied, analysed, and weighed.
Unless it is obviously the case we should be very cautious about treating an opposing view in an overtly cavalier fashion, piling in with rhetorical punches, making out as if only stupid people could ever believe it.
As with so much in the Christian life great wisdom is needed.
The other danger that lies close at hand is to give a position too much credence, and its holder too much deference, when his teaching should really receive a good belly laugh and he should be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and thrown out of the church. The question is, do you answer a fool according to his folly? Will it be Proverbs 26:4 or Proverbs 26:5?
It is critically important to ask what theological, moral, hermeneutical, epistemological, and pastoral reasonings underpin a commitment to the position that you are seeking to refute.
Put yourself in your opponents shoes. Why does their view seem plausible to them and better than yours? What attracts them to it? What problems does it seek to solve?
If you have not done this, in addition to your theological homework, then you've not begun to engage with error in a responsible way.
There are of course logical consequences to the errors of your opponent. You may see them better than he can, but be careful not to attribute convictions to him that he has not stated in his own position. You can point them out but don't assume that they are being argued for.
There are important questions to pose in seeking to understand an opposing viewpoint. The following are a sample of the theological, exegetical, hermeneutical and pastoral questions that I would want to ask:
- Has this person properly understood the truth that they are rejecting, or does this rejection stem from a distorted perspective of this truth?
- What theological and pastorals problems is this position being offered as a solution to?
- What assumptions are being made about the being and attributes of God and how do these relate to the issues at hand?
- What is their view of authority in general and of the nature and authority of Scripture in particular?
- Where do they position themselves in relation to the Word of God written?
- What interpretative methods are being used in handling the Bible?
- Is there a reliable understanding of context (unit of thought, chapter, book, location in redemptive history etc.), and of the harmony of Scripture?
- In the interpretation of Scripture how is the issueof genre handled?
- Does this person show signs of a teachable spirit when criticisms of their position are being offered? How do they view correction?
- How does this teaching impact upon other doctrines? How does it affect our understanding of the gospel?
- How does this teaching affect one's relationship to God, assurance, and the living of the Christian life?
- How does this person treat other believers, ministers and churches? How does he speak about them? How will the promotion of this belief impinge upon gospel and confessional unity?
- Has anyone held this position previously in church history? If so why did they do so and what effects did it have?