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This is a discussion started by this questions:

Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit still active today?

Let's start by saying what I hope we all know: that Christians are very much divided on this issue, and no single viewpoint is going to be a complete answer.

As of now there is one answer attempting to give an overview of the various positions, one giving an answer from a specific doctrinal view (fine) and one that presents the answerers own views as the correct ones. Some people are arguing that the partisan answer is the best answer. My problem with this, as I wrote, is that if we go down that road then this site stops being a site where people answer questions about Christianity, and it starts being a site where we answer questions about the opinions of the people who happen to be visiting. That's a very fast route to being irrelevant.

Some people are saying "It's somewhat unreasonable to ask answerers to illuminate all positions." Others are asking "why should we give answers we disagree with?", or claiming it's too difficult to summarize all positions. This is simply not true. My wife taught at a Bible college for many years, and any student who couldn't articulate all the major viewpoints on any theological subject they were writing about would have got a failing grade. Are we claiming that most people on this site don't have the knowledge and ability of a first year Bible college student?

I believe that we need to emphasize the need for complete answers to questions on this site. The survival of the site depends on us being able to put aside our prejudices to write, and vote for, comprehensive answers.

EDIT: In case anyone is wondering, I am not arguing for a ban on partisan answers, but to confirm that the goal of the site should be the comprehensive answer.

  • Different subject matter, but this is a great example of a single canonical answer gathering information from a group of subject specific answers. – wax eagle Jul 6 '12 at 13:17
  • I do not see anybody arguing that the partisan answer is the best answer. Where has this been done? – San Jacinto Jul 6 '12 at 14:54
  • @SanJacinto I think he is just referring to how the votes have played out (but I may be mistaken) – wax eagle Jul 6 '12 at 15:00
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    I personally tend to find answers that mention several traditions to usually be pretty worthless, unless the question specifically asks for an enumeration of traditions. If I ask a question, I do not want a list of viewpoints that give very little depth. I want each person to answer the best the can in the tradition with which they are most comfortable and put some depth to the answer. – San Jacinto Jul 6 '12 at 15:05
  • @SanJacinto An interesting pair of comments: "I do not see anybody arguing that the partisan answer is the best answer." and "I personally tend to find answers that mention several traditions to usually be pretty worthless" – DJClayworth Jul 6 '12 at 15:08
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    @SanJacinto What you propose sounds very like a discussion forum. StackExchange sites are not meant to be discussion forums. – DJClayworth Jul 6 '12 at 15:10
  • @DJClayworth If you want to make that leap, ok. I'm done arguing about it. You know my viewpoint. – San Jacinto Jul 6 '12 at 15:55
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Unless the author of the post defines their positions, it is better if we can develop a single comprehensive answer

Let me unpack that a little bit. As a site, we would strongly prefer that the people who answer questions state that doctrinal perspective from which they would like to receive an answer. The reason behind this is the same reason that on Stackoverflow you would state the language that you are coding in, or on Super User, which version of your OS you were running. The fact of the matter is that without this statement, we can't tell you anything that is necessarily relevant to your situation, beliefs or doctrinal positions. Good questions should state their desired position up front.

However, sometimes a question comes along that doesn't show that kind of effort, or requires a more survey type answer from all the various Christian positions that exist. These questions leave open an interesting opportunity to use the SE engine for something special; developing authoritative reference answers. Here is my proposal for dealing with these questions:

  • Anyone is welcome to answer, and can do so by stating what positions they are going to cover, and then, answering the question as completely as possible from each of theological perspectives that they chose.

  • Someone willing to put the time and effort into developing a comprehensive answer form the answers already written can and should do so.

  • Preferably people will vote up (or the OP will accept) the comprehensive answer, rather than the individual perspective answers. (Obviously this is unenforceable, but is strongly encouraged).

Remember, a statement of doctrinal perspective is still strongly recommended for questions. However, this will allow us to correctly and appropriately handle questions that require multiple perspectives.

  • To clarify, you're suggesting that if the OP doesn't specify what doctrinal perspective they want answers from, we should each answer from our own perspective, then copy and paste the answers into a community wiki answer? – Brian Koser Jul 7 '12 at 18:14
  • I absolutely agree with this. My point in asking the question is to confirm that our goal should be a comprehensive answer, and that partisan answers should be a way to get to this. – DJClayworth Jul 7 '12 at 19:43
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    @BrianKoser less copy paste, more someone come along and synthesize the perspectives into a comprehensive answers. There is no reason to require this be community wiki, although that might somtimes be the best case scenario for this. – wax eagle Jul 7 '12 at 20:30
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Virtually any question about the interpretation of Scripture or Christian doctrine is going to have numerous possible answers, depending on the tradition / perspective of the person answering. There are two ways to deal with this in the question itself, and the style of the answer depends (to some degree) on which angle the OP takes in asking the question.

Form A: Specify desired tradition / perspective

The question can be asked in the form, "From a [Roman Catholic] perspective, what is the significance of communion?"

The only correct way to answer a question of this form is to answer from the perspective specified by the OP.

Form B: Ask the question generically

We see these questions a lot. For example, "Can I believe in evolution and still be a Christian?".

Clearly the answer will depend on the perspective of the person answering.

  • The labeled answer: In some cases it makes sense to say "From a [Roman Catholic] perspective, [yes]."

  • The unlabeled answer: In other cases, attempting to describe your perspective with a label is less effective than simply describing your perspective by answering. (Some perspectives do not have a label. In many other cases, the label would appear as complete gibberish given its extremely infrequent usage.)

  • The generic answer: Sometimes people will attempt to answer a generic question with a generic (or survey) answer. For example, to the question about evolution and Christianity, one may answer by saying: "Some would say 'yes'. Some would say 'no'. Some would say 'maybe'."

The Vote

It is important to remember that the vote is there to indicate whether or not the answer is helpful - not that it is correct, not that you like it, not that you agree, etc. For many questions, it is helpful to understand multiple perspectives. As a result, the voter is encouraged to up-vote all answers which would be helpful to future seekers.

In fact, folks will sometimes answer by describing a perspective they disagree with in order to provide another helpful perspective for the seeker to consider! (For example, see the quote and comments in this answer.)

Helpfulness depends entirely on the question:

  • For answers to questions of "Form A", the only helpful answers would be those which accurately represent the designated perspective

  • For "labeled answers" to questions of "Form B", the only helpful answers would be those which accurately represent the label

  • For "unlabeled answers" to questions of "Form B", a helpful answer would be one which the voter finds helpful in understanding the topic more fully

  • For "generic answers" to questions of "Form B", a helpful answer would be one which does a good job representing each of the perspectives listed.

Postscript

There is a real challenge in providing a survey answer in response to a generic question. Consider the following scenario.

Question: How should Genesis 1 be understood?

  • Answer 1: It should be understood literally; God really did make everything in 6 (24 hour) days, (proceeds to make a strong case for this view)

  • Answer 2: It should be understood literally; God made everything in 6 long periods of time, (proceeds to make a strong case for this view)

  • Answer 3: Genesis 1 is intended to show that God made everything, but it is not a science book, so it should not be read as such, (proceeds to make a strong case for this view)

  • Answer 4: Genesis is more of a story with a lesson than a history book, (proceeds to make a strong case for this view)

  • Answer 5: Some people say [...], some people say [...], some people say [...], some people say [...], some people say [...], (proceeds to provide a brief summary of each view)

In this case I would not expect Answer 5 to be very "helpful". For one thing, it is already apparent to everyone that there are different perspectives. Once that is established, Answer 5 is not very "helpful" at all - no "strong case" is made for anything, and the reader does not really walk away having learned anything new.

At times a survey answer is the most helpful answer, but it is difficult to compete with more comprehensive answers which often come directly from the people who believe and understand their perspective, and can make a strong case for it.

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    The Postscript really causes me trouble. Having only answers from three different viewpoints shows a complete inability for contributors here to understand other points of view. It shows contributors, and by implication Christians, as shallow and argumentative. "Making a strong case" is good for having an argument, and much less useful for actual understanding. There is absolutely no reason why the information in answers 1-4 should not be combined into a single answer of type 5. – DJClayworth Jul 9 '12 at 13:31
  • @DJClayworth Having only "survey" answers shows a complete inability for Christians to know or teach truth. I don't understand the "shallow" remark... it seems like having only "survey" answers shows Christians to be more shallow (lacking depth of understanding about the truth) more than well-defined, in-depth answers. Also, if separate answers show Christians as "shallow and argumentative", pasting cliffnotes of each of those views into the same answer wouldn't change that... – Jas 3.1 Jul 14 '12 at 19:24
  • I'm not advocating for a shallow, cliffnotes answer. I'm advocating a well-defined, deep, thorough answer that covers all viewpoints. – DJClayworth Jul 15 '12 at 19:49
  • @DJClayworth Then to be consistent, you should delete this answer, and this answer, and this answer, and this answer, and this answer... Clearly you attempt to provide the "correct" answer when you feel you have it. Why the double-standard? I don't feel your survey answer covered each view with any "helpful" level of depth. Q.E.D. – Jas 3.1 Jul 15 '12 at 21:31
  • @DJClayworth At the end of the day, both you and I sometimes post direct answers which make a claim to truth, and we both sometimes post survey answers. We each do our best to gauge what would be most "helpful" to the readers, and then we find out in the vote if we were right about that. At the end of the day the readers need to decide which answers were most "helpful" to them, though. I really don't understand why you're attacking me on this if we both essentially are doing the same things for the same purposes. – Jas 3.1 Jul 15 '12 at 21:39
  • #1 was a response to a lot of REALLY partisan answers. I'm not expecting it to be accepted, or even really voted up. But in that case I believed it important to counteract the impression that all Christians think in one way. In some of the others better answers were posted after mine. I have no problem with that. One was asking for interpretations of specific scriptures (not 'what Christians thought'), and I quoted a well-know commentary. With some of the others I'd be really interested to know which Christians you think hold alternative views. – DJClayworth Jul 16 '12 at 1:48
  • I'm also not saying that partisan answers are always bad. They can be a good step towards reaching a comprehensive answer. But the comprehensive answer should be our goal. – DJClayworth Jul 16 '12 at 1:49
  • @DJClayworth We're not connecting on the "theoretical" for some reason, so let me try a more "practical" approach. In the post in question, your "comprehensive", "deep" answer barely skimmed the surface of the position I was defending. You included zero links, zero references to authoritative sources, zero quotes from Scripture... there was one brief passage cited, and your analysis was that it was "clearly" talking about X, where X is the position of one of the partisan answers! If the end goal is "deep", "comprehensive" answers, start by up-voting mine, which will help someone write one. – Jas 3.1 Jul 16 '12 at 2:22
  • @DJClayworth The problem with your meta question is that you ask whether we want "complete" or "partisan" answers, but that's not what we have in that post. What we have is a "strong partisan explanation" and a "cursory survey with no references, sources, or quotes from Scripture, seasoned with biased conclusions". If your answer presented the view I was arguing as well or better than mine, you might have the beginnings of a good argument. – Jas 3.1 Jul 16 '12 at 2:45

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