Take almost any controversial issue these days, and there are three levels of questions being asked.
Question One: Does the Bible Trump My Opinions? The Authority Question
The first question is whether Scripture is authoritative or not. Will we allow Scripture to contradict us? This is the Stepford Wives test, as Tim Keller puts it:
Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.
Until we settle this question, it’s no use moving on to the second question. Once we agree on the Bible’s authority, though, we’re ready for question two.
Question Two: What Does the Bible Teach? The Interpretation Question
Once we’ve established that Scripture has authority, we still have to determine what Scripture says. While our interpretations are fallible, it’s still important to interpret Scripture as skillfully as we know how, and to allow Scripture to continually refine and shape our convictions.
Question Three: How Do We Apply the Bible’s Teachings? The Application Question
Applying the truth of Scripture also takes wisdom. It’s not enough to know what Scripture teaches; we also need to know how to apply the truth of Scripture in the context of messy lives and messy churches.
One issue; three questions. I’ve found this really helpful when thinking about addressing difficult topics with others. It’s important to know which of these questions people are really asking.