Grace Conversation ends

August 9, 2009

Mac Deaver and Phil Sanders have withdrawn from the conversation between progressives and conservatives at graceconversation.com. Earlier, Greg Tidwell withdrew from the conversation. With the withdrawal of all of those representing the conservative side of the question, the conversation has now come to an end.

The stated goal of the conversation was to discuss “the disagreements that separate the conservative and progressive branches of the churches of Christ.” The primary two topics that they set out to discuss include whether all doctrinal error leads to damnation (and if not, which do and which do not); and the proper effect of doctrinal error on the boundaries of fellowship.

I have followed this conversation with great interest. I appreciate the willingness and the efforts of all of the five participants to participate in the discussion to the extent that they did. Of course it is unfortunate that some of the men felt it necessary to stop the conversation, especially since the second topic was never addressed. However, I think things went far enough to draw a few conclusions.

1) There is great interest in this topic. A significant community of readers participated in lively discussions in the comments. The range of views in the comments went farther in both extremes than the actual five principle conversation participants. While the comment threads ranged far and wide, and emotions sometimes showed, the commentors added life to the conversation.

2) Neither side persuaded the other. To some that may seem to have been a foregone conclusion, but I hoped for more.

3) Both conservatives and progressives agreed that certain doctrinal errors lead to apostasy. They also agreed that not every instance of doctrinal error leads to apostasy. However, the conservatives were persistently unwilling to state exactly which scenarios lead to apostasy, nor exactly how they determine whom to fellowship and whom not to fellowship. Progressives kept asking the question in various ways but it seemed to be an unanswerable question.

It was interesting to observe how difficult communication was between these two groups. They use the same words but mean different things. They read the same passages but come to entirely different conclusions from them. I think there must be a fundamental set of basic assumptions on which the two groups have radical differences, which lead them to read the scriptures differently. It is unfortunate that this discussion did not discover and illuminate these basic assumptions. Instead, the conversation was on a different level, focusing on the different conclusions they hold due to those different foundational assumptions.

There is a danger in staking out your beliefs publicly. Once you have done that, it becomes much more difficult to change them. Maybe conversations like this have a better chance of success if the principle participants have not previously tied their reputation publicly to one side of the question.

I believe God will resolve this disagreement at some point. I don’t know whether it will be in short time or long, whether in this life or the next. But I am confident that God cares about this question, and he wants us to understand.

Jesus prayed that the church would be one so that the world will believe. The importance of the world believing cannot be overstated. What a tragedy that, as of today, we are not one, and therefore the world does not believe. I am sure that God cares more about that than he does about many of the points on which conservatives and progressives disagree. May God help us to stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels.


  1. Thanks for this insightful wrap-up Alan. Back in my fundamentalist Christian days I would have said that the church is unified because I did not view Catholics and some Protestant denominations as truly Christian. I found this statement from the grace blog to be reminiscent of my fundie days:"exaggerate grace to the point of sanctioning corrupt worship"Seriously doubt that unity with such folks will ever be possible as they seem to exalt other minor issues over the major issue of unity.Maybe unity only comes when humility rules the day?Happy Sunday!

  2. Some of the underlying assumptions I've detected in the so-called "conservative" position are:1. God is overwhelmingly just (perhaps having exhausted His mercy at the cross).2. The Bible is all law that must be obeyed.3. Every given act is intrinsically right or wrong.4. The Bible tells us which, if we use CENI to determine whether the act is authorized.5. The corollary to #3: There are no acts which are morally neutral.6. The only acceptable worship takes place among certain Christians on Sundays.7. Unacceptable worship, which violates any of the above assptions and laws is unforgiveable heresy which, if unrepented, subjects one to disfellowship in this world and damnation in the next.

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