The Lost Art of Irenics
In our day many weaponize and monetize polemics. It’s time for a renaissance in Christian irenics. There’s a certain barb in the blogosphere today. It seems difficult if not impossible to find meaningful, careful, and charitable disagreements online. So much of what is done in the name of Christian ministry in the virtual space is aimed at polemics, the method of theological discourse defined by “a strong written or verbal attack on someone or something.”
The point of my post could be summarized with a tweet from Pastor Burk Parsons from this previous weekend:
Being charitable and gracious and speaking the truth in love to those you disagree with isn’t liberalism, it’s Christianity.
— Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) November 22, 2020
In a recent conversation regarding hot topics facing evangelicals, one leader mentioned the priority of polemics. I find the opposite. We have too much polemics today. We need more irenics, the form of discourse emphasizing points of agreement between Christians. What we need in our external facing witness is not more in house fighting over semantics, but a beautiful picture of our unity in Christ.
The truth is, focusing on points of unity doesn’t garner as many subscriptions, clicks, or views. Controversy is always more popular. It’s far easier to build a platform broadly and quickly by focusing on attacks. That will sell. This might even be something of an insight into the constituency that is most likely to engage in particular mediums. Could it be those who are more concerned about Christian unity are less likely to be overly active in certain segments of the social media world?
I don’t have any hard data. I just have a hunch. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of snark in the evangelical social media world. It doesn’t match my experience in the church. In other words, YouTube doesn’t line up with real life. The level of vitriol volleyed in the virtual world would find far greater opposition in a real world faith community. That’s a good thing.
So, what’s our way forward? I don’t know that we need to try to compete and outdo some of the more popular level polemical “discernment bloggers.” We can’t change others. We can commit to our own tone and method.
Christians have a two thousand year tradition of historical creeds that summarize our shared faith commitments. We can begin there. We can begin by focusing on what binds us together not what separates us. So much of the hot takes online could be diffused by simply assuming and hoping the best of others.
As with anything else, we should always ask ourselves the hard question of our motivation. Are we trying to build a platform or the kingdom? Are we operating out of the flesh or the Spirit? While there are indeed times when polemics becomes necessary, I feel it is often overemphasized and abused. What we need, in my humble opinion, is a revival of Christian irenics.