The Free and Disciplined Exchange of Ideas
The Free and Disciplined Exchange of Ideas
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6
As we continue to examine Capstone’s community covenant as the expression of our mutual commitment to each other, we come to one of the most refreshing aspects of a classical Christian education. Perhaps now more than ever, the free and disciplined exchange of ideas is like fresh, cold water in a dry and weary land—or maybe even a land on fire. The hyperbole we employ when speaking about those with whom we disagree and our perception of our ideological opponents as absurd caricatures rather than image-bearers of God may give us a certain kind of motivational energy and may puff us up as we convince ourselves of our intellectual and moral superiority. Such energy always depletes the good in us and fills us with a sinful disposition toward others while blinding us to our own folly. Our nation’s abysmal state of public discourse leaves us in a dark, dry place.
At Capstone, we have committed ourselves to love of neighbor to the glory of God. This requires us to humble ourselves to the commands of our brothers James and Paul from Scripture. Parents, teachers, and staff must model this inclination to seek to hear and understand others before we seek to be heard or understood. We must practice patience and self-control when the other’s words provoke anger within. When we speak to our children about our enemies or those with whom we have disagreements, we must model speaking the truth in love and grace. Such love and grace is ours to give because Christ has freed God’s children from the need to be right, to win, and to be affirmed and has empowered us to assume the best about the intentions of others and to believe for their redemption if they are indeed engaged in evil behaviors or ideologies. We can exchange ideas freely because we trust in a God who promises us that in Him we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
When Paul speaks of knowing how to answer everyone, it is not in the context of providing a defense of our faith, but rather of seeking to be winsome, sincerely honoring the image of God in the outsider and caring for him or her by treating them with dignity and respect while using rhetorical strategies designed to persuade for their good and to the glory of God. If our hearts first and foremost long for God to be honored and our neighbor to experience abundant life, we will give ourselves wholeheartedly to pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in our lives and the lives of our neighbors in a humble and gracious manner that cultivates hearts and minds to receive the gifts God has entrusted to us for the good of the world. We will be disciplined in our discourse because our tongues will be governed by hearts that seek the good of the other.
As recovering sinners ourselves, we do not stand in a position of judgment but rather discernment. We are not qualified to judge, but we are qualified by the indwelling Spirit to discern and to speak what that discernment teaches us. This second aspect of a disciplined exchange of ideas is not so much about the disciplined spirit of the conversation but rather the disciplined logic within the conversation. At Capstone, we seek to train our learners to think and then speak within the objective and reliable bounds of reason and virtue, which can be trusted because God has created a reasonable world and revealed the laws of logic and virtue both in general (nature) and specific revelation (Scripture).
And so we have all signed our commitment in our community covenant to promoting, modeling, and cultivating within the school community and within our family a free and disciplined exchange of ideas. We can expect faculty to model the art of this kind of dialogue with their students. We support the school’s desire for students to discuss the ideas they encounter in their courses without a spirit of faction or partisanship and expect teachers will model this ideal. At Capstone, we are also committed to encouraging students to give a good account of their own perspectives, ask good questions of each other and of their teachers, and engage in rational discourse together about challenging topics.
May God equip and refine us for the purpose of a free and disciplined exchange of ideas for the love of neighbor to the glory of God.