GeoScriptures — Ephesians 4:15 — Speaking the truth in love

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” — Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls on Christians to do two things at once. The first of these is that we are to speak the truth. The second is that we do so in love. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good at multitasking.

The second part of this Biblical imperative is the greater challenge for most of us. The greatest commandment of Scripture in regards to human relationships is that we love one another. It is easy to get caught up in the issues we care deeply about—whether in the areas of doctrine, science, politics, or social issues—and to start looking at the other person as our adversary or enemy who needs to be set straight.

The challenge before me, and us, is to learn how to “speak the truth in love.” How do we “speak the truth in love” on topics such as creationism or the environment, when we think the other side takes a position that is, at times, both wrong and harmful?

My first suggestion is humility. We are not God; we do not know it all. For instance, all of us certainly could misunderstand the Bible. YECs would say, “Yeah, you certainly don’t understand the Bible,” and I am sure that there are things that I don’t get completely right in regards to Genesis. I do sincerely believe that the Bible is ambiguous on topics such as the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also believe that there are things YECs read into the text that are not there, and that they are guilty at times of a hyper-literal over-reading of the text in ways that were not intended, and I would like to see more humility on their part as well.

We also need to be humble in regards to our science. We, as individuals and as a scientific community, do not know everything we think we know. This goes for both old-Earthers and young-Earthers.

Second, sometimes it is best to be silent. This is hard for me, but it is better to say nothing at all than to speak the truth in an unloving way. I don’t need to win every debate, and need to be aware that I could easily club a brother or sister to death with my arguments from either the Bible or science. Victory is not the highest goal.

Third, I think we need to seek to find common ground. I have tremendous areas of agreement with my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in terms of my view of both Scripture and the world, and I need to seek to build on that. I ask that they would seek to do the same.

Fourth, I think it is better to use neutral terms and phrases, such as “Creationist X is incorrect because…” than “What Creationist X says is complete and utter nonsense.” I may think that what Creationist X says is nonsense, but in order to love to them as a brother in Christ, I need to be careful.

Fifth, it is important to keep primary issues primary, and secondary issues secondary. Of course, this is a bit of a challenge when we cannot agree on what is secondary and what is primary. I will say that it is more important to me that I maintain unity with a brother or sister in Christ than it is that I win a “debate.”

Sixth, name-calling is off limits. Those who disagree with me are not nincompoops or extremists, and I am not a compromiser or a so-called Christian.

I have no doubt that you can scroll through my 1000+ posts on The GeoChristian and find instances where I have not lived up to these standards. In a way, this is an exploratory blog post. What is fair (and loving) in a formal or semi-formal debate could be different than what is loving in a dialog with a lay Christian without a science background who has only read young-Earth literature.

I have a couple questions:

  • How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?
  • What are other ways in which we can succeed or fail at “speaking the truth in love” as we discuss Earth issues we feel passionate about?

Grace and Peace

P.S. I intend to start a new series called “GeoScriptures,” in which I will examine verses or passages that relate in one way or another to the Biblical doctrine of Creation. This verse on truth and love seems like a good place to start, as it is easy for all of us to miss this high standard as we discuss issues on which there might be disagreement.

11 thoughts on “GeoScriptures — Ephesians 4:15 — Speaking the truth in love

  1. I’d like to hear more about #2 and #5. For #2, not so much about saying nothing to avoid being unloving but knowing when to leave a debate unresolved because the discussion is going around in circles or there seems to be a disconnect between what you are saying and how the other person is responding.

    For #5, it is “easy” to maintain humility and seek unity above all in secondary matters. However, if I am wrong on a primary matter or if we must agree to disagree, then that throws a big monkey wrench into my belief system. How can we productively discuss a matter that I think is secondary but you think is primary without me causing an upheaval in your faith?


  2. WebMonk

    For your second point, I think it’s a part of a larger issue for some people illustrated by this. Duty Calls. I have my temptations toward that behavior, but I’ve been working on it for the last decade or so, and I think I’ve made progress.

    It’s hardest to leave in the middle of a debate/argument, and so I tend to avoid them entirely. (not always, but a lot more than I did in the past) Frequently I use(d) the reasoning that someone will benefit from the things I’m saying, so I should continue conversing. When I’ve gone back much later to those conversations, it has been the EXTREMELY rare instance where I think I was actually helping anyone.

    I agree – most of the time, even if they’re saying really, really dumb and wrong, it is rarely appropriate for the “debates” people tend to have on the Internet. I might be 100% right, and I might even be saying it nicely and in love (that happens less frequently than I would like), but the situation doesn’t fit any sort of response that matches the terms “explain”, “correct”, or “educate”. (need discernment to differentiate between what is a discussion of facts and what is using fact-correction to argue)

    I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus so frequently took a “sideways” approach when the religious leaders confronted Him – He knew that directly replying to their challenges, even though done with perfect correctness and kindness, would wind up with an “impossible” argument erupting.

    So, instead of explaining to everyone the full theological reasoning why they should not be stoning a woman, he instead agreed with them and told them that those without sin should throw the rocks. He came at the issue “sideways” and answered it, but not by a direct explanation which I am almost certain would have led to a shouting match or something regardless of Jesus’ accuracy and kindness.

    In our situations today on the Internet, I think blog posts are more conducive toward discussion, teaching, and explaining than comments. I’m not sure what the magic number is, but I firmly believe even with the best blog posts, that once the comments reach X there is zero chance of anything useful being accomplished and an increasing chance of harm being done.

    X is not very large. Maybe forty or fifty? Comments are different type of communication style than the original post, and they degrade quickly. (IMO) Internet Monk being an example – I don’t think I’ve ever seen good stuff happen in the comments once they get beyond fifty or so. By the time they reach the hundreds, the arguments … well, yeah. Not pretty.


  3. WebMonk, I like your distinction between “discussion of facts” and “using fact-correction to argue.” I had not thought of it that way. When we can’t even agree on the facts, when each side looks to a different authority for their facts and will not accept their opponent’s authorities, there can be no meaningful discussion. Unfortunately, I think you’ve described the political arena to a T as well as the YEC/non-YEC (whether Christian or not) arena. How depressing.


  4. WebMonk

    Ah, Geo.

    You encourage me toward charity toward people that I think are absolute bleeping morons. I tell myself that I will do better, and try to, blah, blah, blah.

    And then I get tempted to backslide by something like this.

    How then do we account for the origin and properties of numbers or the laws of mathematics that describe them? Let’s consider first the naturalistic, or evolutionary, view. … From what did numbers evolve? What were numbers before they were numbers? When did the physical universe begin obeying mathematical laws? …. From what simpler number did the number 7 evolve? Was 7 once 3? Did 3 have to transition through 4, 5, and 6 before it became 7? When did the negative numbers evolve? Or ……

    Mathematical laws and the numbers they govern are invariant—they do not change with time and, therefore, cannot have evolved from anything! …

    The secularist is truly stuck when it comes to mathematics.

    Curses on you Geo! I want to say so many things, but you had to go and encourage me toward kindness and keeping my mouth shut when I can’t constructively contribute no matter how mind-numbingly stupid and moronic something may be! Aaarrrgh!!!!!!

    (and yes, I know this is a passive-aggressive, backhanded attack counter to the higher goals expressed – this is partly hypocritical and partly done as an example of what not to do :-D )


  5. Difficult questions indeed – To have a productive (and loving) conversation I think its important to first agree on a common goal, and second to agree on the process through which we get there. In an internet conversation with so many participants this is a difficult task… but I think the first step is to articulate something that everyone can get behind. Not sure what kind of YECs are involved with the discussion, but I’ve noticed that many have not taken the time to understand other perspectives.


  6. geochristian

    Thinking about “speaking the truth in love” is a work in progress for me.

    I don’t know what the balance is on my second suggestion (silence). Sometimes it is best to be silent, but sometimes we need to point out error. Sometimes it is very unloving to be silent, and then we are disregarding the command to speak the truth in love.

    In regards to primary and secondary issues, Carol is right. What is a secondary issue to me (the age of the Earth) is a primary issue to others. I don’t think it is important whether one pours, sprinkles, or immerses when baptizing; for others it isn’t a real baptism if the person is not immersed. I like to keep the list of essentials rather short, like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Others like longer lists. Sometimes, much longer.

    I like the cartoon WebMonk pointed to here. Take a look at it if you didn’t already. That’s me sitting at the computer.

    WebMonk, I share your pain. Sometimes I read something that is really bad, my initial response is less than gracious. I think, however, that “moron” crosses the “raca” line. I’m not pointing a finger; I am admitting that I have crossed that line.

    But what is the appropriate response?

    The best I can do sometimes is to maintain a Vulcan-like scientific detachment. But certainly our emotions have a place in our discussions as well, and we don’t have to behave like Mr. Spock to get along.

    Is sarcasm and irony acceptable, such as when I recently stated that “The fossil record must have been deposited by the flood (just like the Bible says in Genesis chapter 6½ verse 22.7b, and in 3 Thessalonians 14:55)?”

    Can I use the words “nonsense” or “silliness” when describing the position of someone I disagree with?


  7. geochristian

    One way I police myself on the internet is that I never comment anonymously. I am always Kevin N or GeoChristian. This protects me, and others, from any temptation I might have to really blast someone.

    I’m not saying everyone has to follow this rule. But I do suggest that if you use a pseudonym, that you use it consistently, and don’t have a backup pseudonym you reserve for nasty comments.


  8. WebMonk

    I think the nearness of my words conjoined concepts I didn’t intend to join. I don’t think Lisle is a moron.

    He’s a highly educated person who is intent on warping everything he sees to fit a particular structure – the “evolution of numbers” being a prime example. I didn’t intend for my statement about people I think are morons to apply to him, though the way I wrote it certainly made it sound that way. (what he says in this instance is ridiculous, bizarre, nonsensical, dishonest,…., but that’s slightly different – even smart guys can say really stupid stuff)

    However, I fully admit that while I didn’t intend to call Dr. Lisle a moron here, I certainly have called people names like that in the past, and unfortunately will probably do so in the future.


  9. Klasie Kraalogies

    This is a difficult one. I admit having implied that someone is crazy/foolish. I might not have said that directly. But often it happens that you call out a really stupid argument, and then the person essentially says “Well, since you think I’m stupid…” In that case it is sometimes, not always, but sometimes difficult to disagree with that self-assessment :) .

    I do find though that what really gets me is stupid/wrong arguments presented in arrogance. Then I certainly turn into the XKCD cartoon.


  10. “How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?”

    Create an abbreviation for it. For instance SIL (Spoken In Love) and add it to the end of select sentences. The modern age has you covered ;)


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