Mechanics, Engineers, and the Atonement... Finding the Right Place to Fight

The process you use to develop your theories, opinions, or truth statements are as important if not more important than the final conclusions that you draw. While this might seem obvious at first glance, the importance of this idea, especially as we approach issues of faith cannot be understated. For the most part we all process the same or at least similar ‘facts’, yet our process determines what weight we give to various ‘facts’ we are presented with. In most cases when a debate comes up on issues of theology (or really anything with even a modicum of subjectivity) we spend all of our time debating our conclusions based on the facts presented without ever engaging the validity of our processes used to arrive at our conclusions.

Let’s take a common debate between automotive engineers and mechanics.

No engineer is designing an automobile with the intention of making it difficult to work on, really, there is no conspiracy here. We really do want your car to be repairable, it’s just that in our thought process ‘reparability’ is only a minor factor. Yet, the mechanic is convinced that it is an absolute truth that ease and cost of repair should be a primary design consideration. In truth it is nearly impossible to say who is right or wrong on that alone. However if we decide to debate the thought process itself behind the design we can make headway in seeing whether one side’s process of thinking is superior to the other.

It comes down to values, and yet no cogent debate can occur about anything unless both parties have at least one shared value. As an engineer my core value is efficiency and cost reduction. Ultimately we find that the mechanic actually has this in common with the engineer. He wants the repair to be efficient and low cost. At the very least there is a starting point from which to debate and something fruitful can proceed. Before finding that shared value, mechanics are merely gear heads who don’t understand the finer points of machine design, and conversely engineers are just asses who have no consideration for the next guy who is going to work on their car after their design inevitably begins to fail. I am not a mechanic, and can only argue the engineering side. I would simply say just save the money I have gained you in efficiency and number of trips to Autozone, and use that extra money to shell out $500 to get your spark plugs changed. But, you might respond, it is ridiculous to spend that much for something that simple. To which I would say no more ridiculous than spending that at the pump, or changing them yourselves 3 times as often.  To which the mechanic might say, but being able to do something yourself is a value in and of itself.  Ah… and now we have found the difference, the point of debate as it were. I think overall money savings is more important, the mechanic places higher value on self-sufficiency. Now we have the ground work for a really interesting philosophical debate that we might have never found if we never started with our shared value of cost and efficiency.

The jump to theology is not hard to make here. Let’s take Calvinist, Wesleyan, and Lutheran doctrine with regard to the atonement. Calvinism would limit the atonement to the elect by grace alone, Wesleyans would make it available to all via decision which was enabled by prevenient grace, and Lutherans would say the atonement is already applied to everyone and is ascertained by faith. How do we get to a meaningful place from which to debate these things? We find that Calvinism is primarily concerned with the Glory of God, Wesleyans are concerned with Holiness, Lutherans are concerned with unwavering good news to all. These core values are very different and have an immense effect on our view of the nature and scope of the atonement.  Of course Wesleyans and Lutherans are still concerned with the Glory of God, and Lutherans and Calvinists are still concerned with Holiness, and Wesleyans and Calvinists are still concerned with Good News, BUT which of these things should have primacy?  That is where the debate must occur. Unfortunately the debates among these groups tends be around what is the role of good works, or what is predestination, or how can one know they are saved, or can salvation be lost… or a myriad of other topics. Yet with each group operating from a different platform regarding what is ‘most important’ each of those debates simply end with everyone thinking the other person doesn’t get it.  The only fruitful debate is a debate around what should be primary, from there other things can be debated, but until agreement on the primary occurs discussion around the secondary topics is largely pointless.

Is God’s glory the primary concern, is Holiness the primary concern, is Good News to all the primary concern. Again, we all agree that these things are interrelated, but that is where the debate must begin.

Should cars be easy to fix by anyone mechanically inclined? Or should cars rarely need fixed?  Of course the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, but debate must occur at the primary level of what is most important.
Next time you debate anything with anyone, I encourage both parties to attempt to trace their line of thinking all the way back to your point of divergence. If you don’t start there, then whether you know it or not, you are just debating past each other. However if you get to your point of divergence, you might at least come to understand, and *gasp*, even respect that the conclusions of your friend make sense in light of their fundamental differences.  You might even find that from the point of divergence onward you both are using the exact same process to draw your conclusions. Of course this is not to minimize our differences, these things are immensely important, but at the very least we should debate the differences in at the point of divergence not at the logical downstream conclusions.

Make sense?

No comments: