Michael Patton is correct. We listen for the point of disagreement. We, especially Christians, would do well to do the opposite. Here is his analysis:
So much of the time we lack perspective in our inquiry. Our minds have the privilege of being pessimistic and skeptical about so many things. We demonstrate the tendency to focus exclusively on what is wrong, while we are seemingly oblivious to the those things which are right. All one has to do is reference their own marriage to see the truth of this!
When it comes to objections to Christianity, there are striking similarities. We stress the problem of evil (if God exists, how do we explain all the evil?), yet fail to realize the “problem” of good (if God doesn’t exist, how do we explain all the good?). Atheists say theists must give an answer to the creation by God, while at the same time dismissing their own obligation to explain the existence of everything else! Skeptics talk endlessly about the discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but are silent about the myriads of agreements which far outweigh what appear to be disagreements, both in number and significance. The unfortunate consequence is that many people (including Christians) become discouraged and full of doubt due to the many disagreements that Christians experience among themselves. Catholic vs. Protestant. Baptist vs. Presbyterian. Calvinist vs. Arminian. Premillennialists vs. Amillennialists. Young Earth vs. Old Earth. The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians have disagreed among themselves concerning many issues from the interpretation of certain Scriptures to the role of tradition as an authoritative norm in our faith. However, I would encourage people to gain some perspective here. It is time to call on Christians, as well as non-Christians to focus not only on our respective disagreements, but also observe and gain strength from the many areas in which we agree.
In the Credo House, we have placed on one of our walls St. Vincent of Lerins’ dictum (in Latin): “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” This early creed about Christian orthodoxy emphasizes the idea that the most important doctrines of the Christian faith have broad and nearly universal consensus. While there is disunity in the Christian church, essential orthodoxy is defined by those things which have been believed by the entirety of the Christian church. Please remember that minor exceptions do not make the rule here. I am talking about those individuals and groups who legitimately find their roots in any of the three great Christian traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodoxy.
This is to say that while there may be problems as a result of disagreements among Christians, these difficulties are miniscule when compared to the problems caused by agreements just for the sake of appearing to be in consensus among Christians.
Here is a sampling of the primary tenants where we find consensus:
All Christians, always and everywhere, have believed . . .
- that there is a God
- that God created all there is
- that God created all there is out of nothing
- that God is sovereign
- that God is powerful beyond imagination
- that God loves people
- that God is righteous
- that God is gracious
- that God is trinity
- that there is equality in the Godhead
- that God created man in his image
- that man sinned and fell from grace
- that man is sinful by nature
- that man, without God’s grace, is without hope
- that Christ is God’s son
- that Christ became man
- that Christ lived a sinless life
- that Christ was put to death on a cross
- that the cross has atoning value for sin
- that Christ rose bodily from the grave
- that man must trust in Christ to be saved
- that Christ is coming again for judgement
- that believers will spend eternity with God in glory
- that unbelievers will spend eternity without God in shame
While this list covers much and is incredibly significant, I could have gone on for a thousand pages. You try. Sit down and begin to write down all the things about which you know Christians agree. From verse to verse throughout the Scriptures, one can demonstrate how Christians are united in their understanding and interpretation of the tenets of our faith. For example, there is a well-know disagreement between some Calvinists and all Arminians about the definition of the word “world” in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that who ever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Some Calvinists will say that the word “world” does not mean every person without exception, but every type of person without distinction (I, as a Calvinist, do not agree). Arminians, on the other hand, believe that it refers to every person without exception. This example illustrates a fine and interesting disagreement, but not one that should overshadow the far surpassing amount of agreement that all Christians have about this verse. All Christians believe that . . .
- it was Yahweh who is in view here (i.e. not another God)
- God’s love was the motivating factor
- God’s only has one unique Son
- belief is necessary to gain the reward
- belief is necessary to avoid the penalty
- there are many people loved by God
- God “gave” his Son in the sense that he sacrificed him
- everlasting life is life with God
Once again, I could go on and on about the consensus that Christians have concerning this one verse. Because of the clarity of the Christian message (what Protestants have called perspicuity), these agreements are far-reaching, significant, and foundational for the Christian faith. It is not unlike having a puzzle with millions of pieces. Once the puzzle is done, a thousand pieces are found to be missing or without placement. The missing pieces in no way hinder one from seeing and understanding the picture itself.
That said, it is not my goal to undermine the importance of working through disagreements. Nor am I contending that all Christians should lay down arms and cease to sharpen each other through their differences. Conversely, what I am saying is very evangelistic and apologetic in nature. If there is a problem for Christians with regard to Christian disunity, far greater problems exist for non-Christians as a direct consequence and the compelling evidence of Christian unity.