Twits, Scholars, And Thoughts On Theological Discussion: Thanks To Adonis Vidu

When I finished reading Adonis Vidu’s excellent new book on the divine missions to review it for the Heidelblog, I set a goal to interact with what I found most useful in the book. Rather that using the generic review tactic of summarize, commend, and criticize, or even to critique the book (especially for not doing things that Vidu never set out to achieve—an annoyance to every author), I wanted to use his work and square it with my own convictions. So I set out to ask some questions, suggest some answers, and address a few areas where I needed more specificity in my own understanding of the arguments. I was really honored that Adonis read the review, told me to publish it as is, and offered to reply. It is not often a professor of his caliber would make time to reflect upon thoughts from a significantly junior scholar as thoroughly as he has. What has struck me most about reviewing Vidu’s book and seeing his response is how pleasant the whole endeavor has been.

This post aims both to express my appreciation for how rewarding my interaction with Dr. Vidu has been, and to make a case for how theological discussion should be conducted. In the age of Twitter, we are used to witnessing snowflake rage-fests as supposed theologians melt down that someone did not agree entirely with their newest TikTok video or impulsive tweet (I have long wondered why posts on Twitter are not called twits—the label seems too readily fitting). Christians have started appealing to things posted on Facebook or YouTube as evidence of their views, decrying those who voice dissent in the comments section. Even amongst those who have a more reputable platform to voice their opinions, theological discussion easily devolves into doubled-down ground staking, too often of the angry variety.

The ability to broadcast our opinions to the world has led too many to think that they should do so, and that having read someone else’s online feed, they are equipped to speak as an expert. The maxim that “can does not equal should” was tailor made for online discourse. On the other hand, true academics are used to getting feedback on their work, since proper publications must go through the peer-review process, which should make us used to receiving and responding well to pushback on our ideas. This process introduces academics to the practice of having our ideas assessed and bettered as others analyze and critique them, ideally with appreciation and a view to help, which is opposed to a personal attack. Too often, at least in the public domain, Christians respond to critique by very obviously taking disagreement personally. Sometimes it is hard not to do so. Other times, folks forget that conversation is for our betterment and the world does not exist to celebrate our every idea. Christians should be markedly different than the culture that demands this celebration and furthermore recognize that our ideas are not infallible, making them ripe for refinement. The tantrum throwing and insistent behavior prevalent among many who consider themselves academics, theologians, and ministers makes them more like the world than they know. Even publication and review can further our sanctification, so we should be aware of what godliness means when we react to what others think of our work.

In the case of reflecting upon Adonis’ work and seeing his response, I am really delighted that this series of posts exemplifies a genuine discussion between two friends who are working over a set of ideas together in the public domain. I think foremost, both of us appreciate how the interaction has helped us think more deeply. Certainly, I do. After reading Vidu’s response, I will be revisiting my own thoughts to bring new clarification and specificity to the issues I raised in conjunction with Vidu’s far more in depth understanding of trinitarian theology, from which I gladly continue to learn as I look forward to his future writings. I think there are also areas where we likely have genuine disagreement. Although I do not want to take up those points now, that disagreement is worth noting because nonetheless I do not think either of us harbor hard feelings toward the other, feel unduly misunderstood, or especially feel misrepresented. I at least come away feeling benefitted, edified, and even thankful for what I have learned from Vidu’s book, his reply, and frankly from his humility, kindness, and generosity in the process of interacting with me. I do not sense a need to defend myself further and hope he feels the same, but do look forward to trying to incorporate what I have learned into future works. This seems like what it should be for Christian scholars to converse about their ideas.

So, what are some things that I have taken away from this online theological discussion that I think could benefit others? First, we need to assess our disposition as readers. There are a few occasions where we may need to read a book that we know beforehand is opposed to our convictions in a thorough way. In these instances, we will have to respond and perhaps speak or write in accord with our consciences, refuting the errors we find in these books. Far more often, however, I fear that some folks want to find errors in books they read and make much out of minor arguments (not meaning the argument’s content but its significance within the book’s wider purpose). I remember having a conversation with a seminary student once who said the format of a book review ought to be a brief summary, a few comments of appreciation, then “tear it apart.” I am not so convinced that we are obligated to be predisposed in our antagonism even when we are obligated to comment on works in a public way, as in a book review. To date, I have reviewed forty-five books for journals, magazines, or blogs and only about five have been predominantly negative. Some might consider me soft in my critical stance. I find it a helpful point of appeal when I can say, “I default to review a book positively but have little appreciative to say of this work.” If we are always negative, our criticisms carry little weight with others.

Second, following on the first, we likely need to read books with the disposition of a learner rather than an expert. Some of us are experts in something or other. Good for us. I am not sure that true scholars lean on that status to make them the unteachable assessors of other people’s work. Rather, true scholars are eager to see what others bring that might improve our own thinking. Although I am not sure of all his beliefs, I suspect that Vidu and I do not agree about every point of doctrine, possibly including some rather important ones. Nonetheless, we are both certainly committed to classical theism, so I want to learn all that I can from him as someone who has thought through much about trinitarian theology more deeply and thoroughly than I have. Regardless of those other issues, I can learn from him and take away new lessons about what he knows well and appropriate those ideas to apply them within my own system of doctrine—that is what I have tried to do in these review posts in fact. Despite what some presuppose, we do not have to reject everything that someone says just because we disagree about something.

Concerning this series of posts about Vidu’s most recent book, I have no mind to try to get the last word about the content of our interactions. He has made some substantive replies to issues I raised, but I am very satisfied with how these posts stand. I do hope this post accomplishes two things though. First, I hope readers will note my gratitude to Dr. Vidu for taking time to think and write about how I interacted with his work. He seems, to me, to set a good example of a Christian academic who is eager to learn, grow, and develop. I am not sure my ideas are significant enough to have helped him learn much more than he knew, but his readiness to take what I said seriously struck me as a kind facet of a man who models those needed qualities, prompting me to make sure I instantiate them as well. Second, I do hope that these posts might provide an example and encourage others about how to do theological discussion in the public forum. Neither of us resulted to name calling, not even in the baptized sense of when one unduly ascribes a theological deviation to another person’s views—some might note that this is simply what Christians call charity among those who hold to the ecumenical faith.  Neither of us are running to rally our YouTube friends to attack the other’s party, as if that accomplishes anything anyway. Both of us focused on what we can take away from what the other had to say, respecting each other, and strengthening our own views rather than making it about personal stakes and reputation. I come away from this back-and-forth highly encouraged. I hope Adonis does as well.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

Harrison Perkin’s Review of The Divine Missions:

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

Adonis Vidu’s Response:

Vidu On His Divine Missions: A Response To Perkins


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  1. Harrison,

    What a kind, gracious post! I look forward to meeting you in person when you come before our presbytery in a few weeks.

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