"We are called upon by the Lord to contend earnestly for the faith. (Jude 3) That does not necessarily involve being contentious; but it involves avoiding compromise, standing forth for what we believe, standing forth for the truth of God-without welching at any particular moment. Thus, we are bound to meet, at various points and various levels, people with whom we disagree. We disagree in some areas of Christian doctrine. We disagree as to some details of church administration. We disagree as to the way in which certain tasks of the church should be pursued. And, in fact, if we are careful to observe the principles that I would like to expound for you, I would suggest that they may be valuable also in disagreements that are not in the religious filed. They also would apply to disagreements in politics or difficulties with people in your job or friction within the family or contentions between husband and wife or between parents and children. Who does not encounter from time to time people who are not in complete agreement; therefore it is good to seek to discover certain basic principles whereby we may relate to those who differ from us.
It seems strange that one should desire to speak at all about Polemic Theology since we are now in an age when folks are more interested in ecumenism and irenics than in polemics. Furthermore, Polemic Theology appears to have been often rather ineffective. Christians have not managed in many cases to win over their opponents. They have shown themselves to be ornery; they have bypassed some fairly important prescriptions of Scripture; and in the end, they have not convinced very many people. Sometimes they have not even managed to convince themselves! Under those circumstances, one perhaps might desire to bypass a subject like this altogether.
In order to approach this subject, there are three major questions that we must ask; and I would like to emphasize very strongly that, in my judgement, we need to ask them precisely in the right order: (1) What do I owe the person who differs from me? (2) What can I learn from the person who differs from me? (3) How can I cope with the person who differs from me?
Many people overlook the first two questions and jump right away to: "How can I cope with this? How can I bash this person right down into the ground in order to annihilate objections and differences?" Obviously, if we jump to the third question from the start, it is not very likely that we will be very successful in winning over dissenters. So I suggest, first of all, that we need to face squarely the matter of our duties. We have obligations to people who differ from us. This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth that has a priority over agreement with any particular person; if someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to minimize the importance of the difference; and therefore, we do not owe consent, and we do not owe indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being-we owe them to love them. And we owe them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealt with or treated. (Matthew 7:12)
And how then do we desire to be treated? Well, the first thing that we notice here is that we want people to know what we are saying or meaning. There is, therefore, an obligation if we are going to voice differences to make a serious effort to know the person with whom we differ. That person may have published books or articles. Then we have an obligation to be acquainted with those writings. It is not appropriate for us to voice sharp differences if we have neglected to read what is available. The person who differs from us should have evidence that we read carefully what has been written and that we have attempted to understand its meaning. In the case of an oral exchange where we don't have the writing, we owe the person who differs from us to listen carefully to what he or she says. Rather than preparing ourselves to pounce on that person the moment he or she stops talking, we should concentrate on apprehending precisely what the other person holds".