Navigating Theological and Ecclesiological Friction in the Church: Olli-Pekka Vainio’s Insights on Virtuous Disagreement

Note: This a revision of a shorter (unpublished) edition of this paper that was orally presented at the conference: Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology (LEST) XIII, Dissenting Church: Exploring the Theological Power of Conflict and Disagreement, October 22, 2021.

[1] Theological disagreement in the church is often seen as something to avoid at all costs in order to prevent division and disharmony. But what if theological disagreement, and subsequent “friction,” both within and among various faith traditions, can provide constructive resources for dialogue and ecumenically focused Christian formation? Finnish theologian Olli-Pekka Vainio acknowledges that post-Enlightenment responses to disagreement cannot simply resort to rational consensus.[1] In his book, Disagreeing Virtuously: Religious Conflict in Interdisciplinary Perspective (Eerdmans, 2017), Vainio argues for a trans-cultural appropriation of four “virtues of disagreement” for maximum human flourishing: open-mindedness, humility, courage, and tolerance. I will consider Vainio’s virtues of disagreement, with particular attention to the virtue of humility. This will be followed by a recommending theological postures of hospitality and humility as primary integrative virtues that tie Vainio’s virtues of disagreement together.

[2] Vainio’s introduction, “We are All Heretics Now,” refers to Peter Berger’s book, The Heretical Imperative. Due to the fragmented, pluralist world in which we live, whatever our perspectives, we will be seen as heretics to those outside of our context. So the question arises: How to navigate the unavoidability of disagreement?[2] He readily acknowledges that post-Enlightenment responses to this issue cannot simply resort to rational consensus.[3] Disagreement is here to stay, and most disagreements (especially of the religious sort) will most likely never be “solved,” but Vainio proposes that these virtues can help us navigate ecclesial and/or theological disagreement well.[4]

Vainio’s “Virtues of Disagreement”


[3] Being open-minded is not simply affirming that one may be incorrect in one’s judgments or opinions; it is a serious, intentional effort to “inhabit” a different “mode of thinking,” acknowledging both “strengths and weaknesses” of one’s own view and that of another without making impulsive decisions on a particular position. Of course, this requires discernment. We cannot simply be open to anything and everything that comes our way or it could turn into “skepticism or shoddiness.”[5] This raises the question then as to when open-mindedness ought to be practiced. Vainio submits that it is virtuous to practice open-mindedness when “we have a good reason to believe” that it will guide us “toward truth.” [6] Yet, discerning between good and bad reasons to believe is also a challenge. The “epistemic worry,” is that we cannot simply allow “dangerous ideas a free pass,” but at the same time it may be the “dangerous ideas” that are in fact correct.[7] Discerning when and when not to practice open-mindedness in terms of tolerance, and in view of intellectual humility, will be discussed further below.

[4] Duncan Pritchard submits that open-mindedness is a result of intellectual humility, but it is not necessarily the case that intellectual humility results from open-mindedness. That is, one may be open-minded but not intellectually humble. Pritchard claims that if one has already open-mindedly considered a position different from one’s own, one may decline from considering it again, which does not conflict, in principal, with open-mindedness. Intellectual humility, however, would manifest a willingness to consider a previously considered position again, out of intellectual respect to the other. As Pritchard puts it: “open-mindedness needn’t be rooted in the motivational state of intellectually respecting others (and the truth more generally) as intellectual humility is, and hence one could exhibit the former without thereby exhibiting the latter.”[8]

[5] Pritchard may be right (that open-mindedness stems from humility, but not necessarily the other way around) to a nuanced degree, but it seems strange to separate the attitudinal motivation (i.e. “virtuous motivational state”) of open-mindedness from its actual practice, as I understand Pritchard suggesting is possible.[9] But I am wondering if open-mindedness as a cognitive virtue can be clearly separated from its understanding as a character trait? The two seem to be consistently interconnected. With Pritchard’s example, it is difficult to imagine one having intellectual stubbornness in refusing to reconsider a previously considered opposing claim and genuinely claim this as open-mindedness. Open-mindedness, I submit, must also recognize that one may have been mistaken in past judgments, even among those judgments made that were motivated with open-minded intentions.


[6] Humility is commonly described as the quality of understanding and manifesting oneself not as over-confident, nor as under-confident, but as one actually is. If one veers too far either direction, without this balance, then true humility is not achieved. Although humility was not in the classical virtue lists of Plato and Aristotle, Augustine believed that Christian humility should replace the pre-Christian “virtue” of magnanimity.[10] Even today, humility is still not a regularly practiced, nor a significantly esteemed virtue in the academic world – or otherwise. Humility is seen as a weakness, stemming from shame, whereas pride, on the other hand, is valued.[11]

[7] Yet, Vainio notes that it is common today to promote “epistemic humility.” Many take this to imply that humility requires one to have doubt about one’s position, but Vainio disagrees. Vainio does not believe that it is required to invoke doubt for the sake of either open-mindedness or epistemic humility. Humility is better seen as the ability to describe one’s beliefs in terms of its strengths and weaknesses, describe the strengths and weaknesses of another’s belief, and at the same time constructively relate one’s beliefs with another’s beliefs.[12] At the same time, doubt in “a more refined form” can be invoked “every now and then” but it must be a more “conscious” effort focusing primarily on doubting the manner in which we come to various beliefs and how we maintain our convictions.[13] Regardless, evaluating humility (one’s own or another’s) is not easy. If one believes oneself to have acquired some level of humility, it would be inappropriate to declare this as such for obvious reasons (i.e. “I’m proud to be humble”).

[8] Ian Church gives a more nuanced definition of “intellectual humility” as “the virtue of reliably tracking what one could non-culpably take to be the positive epistemic status of one’s own beliefs.”[14] One may be deceived in the evidence for one’s beliefs even if one has examined all the evidence properly and manifested the character of humility in the process. In such a case, one may be firmly committed to a belief, even justified in that belief, while remaining intellectually humble. For instance, it would seem to be virtuous to maintain an inflexible belief in the case of simple mathematical equations, such as 3+3=6. Maintaining such inflexibility would not, in itself, be intellectually arrogant in the face of opposition. Is it possible for one to strongly guard one’s religious beliefs and remain exempt from intellectual arrogance? Does maintaining strong religious or theological belief imply “dogmatic inflexibility”? For Church, it depends. The difficult question is whether religious beliefs have the same firm epistemic footing as the mathematical equation noted above. Church recognizes that it is theoretically possible to “be virtuously dogmatic” about a religious belief, but it is not easy to understand who “is actually in such a position,” especially considering the deeply personal nature of such beliefs. This being the case, as Church points out, it also makes religious beliefs quite susceptible to intellectual arrogance.[15]

[9]In order to guard against such intellectual arrogance, in my view, open-mindedness and humility flow from each other, especially with respect to theological or ecclesiological disagreement. Being open-minded to another perspective requires an open-minded, self-deferral, with a willingness to adapt and change one’s own perspective. This does not require, however, a lack of commitment to one’s own view or perspective as we have noted above. Vainio intimates this by denying the need to invoke doubt with respect to humility without negating the place of doubt altogether (as doubt can be invoked with respect to how and why we have particular beliefs, as noted above). He does not elaborate, but it seems that he is referring to spurious motives we may have for holding certain beliefs (even unwittingly) or coming to beliefs in an unjustifiable manner. Certainly being aware of our own ignorance or duplicity is an important step toward humility, although ignorance or duplicity themselves do not indicate the truth or falsity of our beliefs.[16]

[10] This sort of doubt is akin to what Merold Westphal calls, an “atheism of suspicion,” which is suspicion about the “self-serving motives” and “self-deception” of our faith.[17] B. Keith Putt refers to the “redemptive dynamic of doubt” in the work of Westphal: “The benefit of the doubt vis-à-vis suspicion may be a gift of the Holy Spirit, whereby genuine sanctification takes place in the lives of individuals and communities as they are led from epistemological humility to noetic repentance to doing truth truthfully.”[18] Putt suggests that Westphal’s appropriation of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of finitude and hermeneutics of suspicion helps guard epistemological humility.[19] This is expressed in Ricoeur’s words of pastoral injunction: “To take up my cross is to renounce the representation of God as the locus of absolute knowledge, the guarantee of all my knowledge.”[20] This does not negate holding faith commitments, but they are held with the humble acknowledgement that “human beings can encounter meaning and truth only as human beings, never as gods.”[21] In this regard, it is helpful to highlight that doubt may be construed as a positive aspect of faith that guards against hubris, while still maintaining particular faith commitments.

[11] Authentic open-mindedness and humility also results in theological hospitality, which is crucial to “virtuous disagreement.”[22] Theological hospitality invites differences of theological perspectives with a warm receptivity and eagerness for dialogue. Commitment to dialogue does not require agreement or abandonment of one’s own perspectives and convictions. Hospitality is always extended from a particular location, whether physical or intellectual; requiring a combination of openness, vulnerability, and discernment.[23] If I am hospitable, it requires some defined context, rootedness, or embeddedness within my own theological perspective and/or religious tradition from which I can extend hospitality. Hospitality is about extending myself towards others, inviting them into my situated location, acknowledging one’s own territory, without being territorial. If I have no location or commitment, hospitality simply becomes shallow tolerance.[24] Humility is then not about debasing oneself or one’s beliefs, but about seeing oneself as a human being with flawed, incomplete perspectives, who is open to learn from other flawed human beings with whom one extends hospitality.


[12] As open-mindedness and humility guard one from over-certainty, for Vainio, intellectual courage helps maintain one’s own perspective in the face of opposition. But intellectual courage must be supplemented by moral integrity. If one is academically arrogant, intellectual courage may be displayed, but not virtuously.[25] For Aquinas, courage must be practiced within the broader context of the classic theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. The love of neighbor and God give the necessary humble prudence to apply intellectual courage.[26] What this actually looks like in practice, however, may not be readily apparent. For instance, if new evidence comes forward that is different than one’s own perspective, one may rightfully be suspicious, but it is still important to consider the evidence carefully. Speaking truthfully is also part of what it means to be intellectually courageous, even though it may be emotionally painful.[27]

[13] Just as being open-minded is linked to humility, I also submit that intellectual courage must be intentionally connected to humility. If one proposes ideas that are different from the status quo for the sake of what one believes to be true, or at least possibly true, it may create discomfort. Courage is not simply about remaining committed to one’s beliefs, but also about remembering, with humility, one’s own limitations and considering different perspectives to which one has been exposed through conversation, research, and careful thought.[28] It takes intellectual courage to abandon or modify one’s own position and adhere to another. But the careful reflection necessary for modifying one’s position is typically not done in isolation; it stems from prompting of others in dialogue, published research, or teaching, and in turn prompts the imagination (personal and public) for the possibility of change.

[14] Molly Farneth suggests that Hegel’s notion of Entäußerung, is a helpful virtue in this regard, as it is related to personal sacrifice in a relational context.[29] This is not an emptying of the self that is personally demeaning, but it is about refusing the lie of ultimate self-reliance. Neither does a humility of human vulnerability result in persona “abnegation” that allows dominance by the other, but provides an “epistemic authority” emerging “from relationships of reciprocal recognition,” where people are treating each other as authoritative equals.[30] This perspective opens up, rather than closes, ears to the other as one works through conflict.


[15] The use of the word “tolerance” in common speech is not virtuous, according to Vainio, as it simply means the lack of intentional interference with those whom I do not approve, or, a term used to compare oneself to those less tolerant. Virtuous tolerance is not simply blanket, undiscerning agreement, but allows for critical dialogue and respectful “public conversation.” In so doing, it is important to recognize the other with whom there is disagreement, as an “epistemic peer,” capable of rational conversation. This requires a number of “intellectual virtues”  that include “discretion, humility, wisdom,” and “interpretive sensitivity,” among others. These intellectual virtues can also help us navigate between what one should or should not ultimately tolerate.[31]

[16] Prichard also offers helpful insights with regard to “epistemic peerhood” that are applicable to the virtue of tolerance. The epistemic peer, is a “disputant” who has nearly the same evidence as the one with whom she disagrees, hence she is equally justified to hold her own belief. Both parties claim to “have knowledge.” However, Prichard submits that this perspective of epistemic peerhood is not necessarily reciprocal; it is only demanded of the one looking toward the other in efforts to respectfully acknowledge epistemic peerhood. That is, it is possible that one’s disputant thinks of herself as “one’s epistemic superior in this regard.” Prichard thinks that this non-reciprocal approach of epistemic peerhood “stands the best chance of generating the putative tension between conciliatory views and the requirements of intellectual character.”[32]

[17] I appreciate Prichard’s other-centered, Levinasion non-reciprocity in this respect, but I still wonder practically and experientially how one may disregard such expectations (i.e. likewise manifesting, acknowledging epistemic peerhood) of the one with whom I disagree. If expectations on both sides are without some degree of mutual expectations (in terms of intellectual virtues practiced, not in terms of outcomes or conciliation on positions), then it seems that tolerance may morph into undiscerning, begrudging agreement.

[18] Elsewhere, Vainio (with co-author, Aku Visala) considered why some reject the notion of tolerance in favor of “recognition.” Tolerance can be rendered as “inherently insulting, oppressive or otherwise harmful,” so the use of “recognition” is put forward as a more positive concept for engaging differences among people. Rather than tolerating a minority group, for instance, we “recognize” them.[33] Vainio and Visala do not think that recognition can replace tolerance, nor vice-versa, as each theory contains particular nuanced differences. We must distinguish between a person, and that “person’s thoughts, words, and actions.” For instance, we may recognize or respect an individual, but only tolerate that individual’s thoughts and behaviors. Vainio and Visala do not suggest that this way of understanding solves all difficulties, but it may help provide clarity as to the nature of the disagreements.[34] The non-reciprocal insights of Prichard for epistemic peerhood, along with the notion of tolerance as intentional recognition brought out by Vainio and Visala provide helpful frameworks for manifesting humble intellectual character when faced with disagreement.

[19] With this character of recognition and tolerance, what kind of parameters are then needed to navigate differences? Vainio invokes philosopher Linda Zagzebski, who highlights three principles needed for shared understanding and positive communication among peoples with different perspectives. First, rather than approaching conflict with another from a position of condescension, those in opposition must appreciating the importance of resolving disputes. This implies a bi-lateral understanding of both parties’ common need for resolution.[35] Second, as mentioned above, one must see cultures other than one’s own, as being “as rational as themselves.”[36] This principal seems similar to Ricoeur’s fourth stage of renunciation for tolerance as “an asceticism of power,” that is not an approval or disapproval of another, but holds an assumption that the other has reasons in “relation to good” that exceed my finite comprehension; it is a “conflictual consensus.”[37] Third, Zagzebski submits that if one is truly “conscientious,” this should be apparent to communities outside of one’s own.[38] Of course, it is one thing to look to these Zagzebski’s guidelines, but it is another to find opportunities to implement them. Sometimes, resolution to disagreement may not be found, but at least these principles may help maximize contentiousness and provide entry points to find common ground.[39]

[20] The recognition/ toleration nuances are indeed important to navigate, and Vainio’s virtues of disagreement are instructive in how to navigate these nuances. If tolerance is reduced to simply meaning “put up with” or “endure,” it is difficult to see how, as a concept, it may be applied virtuously to disagreement or conflict resolution. Tolerance, in this sense, seems to be more of a resolute outcome of seeking conciliation without results (perhaps after applying the virtues of disagreement without reciprocity), rather than instrumental in conciliation. Recognition, however, depending on how it is specifically applied and nuanced, may be instrumental in the process of seeking common understanding in the course of disagreement. As Vainio intimates above, recognition must not be confused with lack of engagement or ignorance (intentional or unintentional) of a disagreeing perspective. At the same time, as noted above, affirming another person (or group) as an epistemic peer need not result in the positive affirmation of that peer’s beliefs. Vainio carefully points out that seeking understanding with another is not about giving up one’s own perspectives, but rather about partaking in “civilized norms of conversation.” In fact, if one does not have firm convictions about issues, then constructive conversations for change will not take place.[40]

[21] Slavoj Žižek’s insights are helpful when he says that “revolutionary solidarity” is not about tolerating differences among civilizations, but it is a commitment to the same struggle against the intolerances of the other: “In other words, in the emancipatory struggle, it is not the cultures in their identity which join hands, it is the repressed, the exploited and suffering, the ‘parts of no-part’ of every culture which come together in a shared struggle.”[41]

Summary of Findings and Critical Appropriation: Humility and Hospitality

[22] I have intentionally conflated Vainio’s virtues of disagreement, suggesting that they significantly overlap and interweave. Vainio lists humility as one of four virtues of disagreement, and places most emphasis on elucidating the virtue of tolerance. Without disagreeing with Vainio’s virtues, I suggest that the virtue of humility is the core virtue of disagreement to which the others are nuanced practices. That is, open-mindedness, courage, and tolerance stem from humility in order for them to truly function well as virtues of disagreement. Open-mindedness stems from personal and epistemic humility, realizing that one’s own perspectives and situated beliefs are partial, and may require correction. Courage requires humility to remain steadfast within one’s particular convictions prior to one’s personal comfort. Courage also requires humility to be willing to correct one’s own or one’s community perspectives if reasonable to do so.[42]

[23] Tolerance, in the versions advocated by Vainio, is also inextricably linked to humility. An opposing viewpoint to one’s own may be humbly tolerated, even if seen as repugnant, by humbly refusing to respond with derision. Also, one must recognize that disagreement often stems from persons that are as equally reflective as I, as epistemic peers. As suggested, acknowledging the other as other, in spite of differences, requires intentional humility and hospitality without self-debasement or compromising one’s convictions. We may be hospitable to those with whom we disagree, but the gracious extension of welcome from within one’s location (physical or intellectual) recognizes the other as one to whom we would seek to converse and engage.

[24] A notable work highlighting the intellectual virtue of humility is that of Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood, Intellectual Virtues.[43] Roberts and Wood’s research submits that when intellectual humility is joined with other epistemic virtues, it will be more epistemically productive for humanity, than when humility is absent.[44] They provide the historical example of Galileo in this regard. Although a brilliant scientist, Galileo’s arrogance was detrimental to his overall productivity. By over-confidence in his own arguments, he disregarded scientists with whom he disagreed, although their work would have made improvements to Galileo’s own. This is seen, for instance in Galileo’s “simplified version of the Copernican system in which all the planets move in perfect circles. Although he preached open-mindedness, he never lent an ear to Kepler’s arguments about elliptical paths.”[45] His sense of intellectual dominance also resulted in treating “others with contempt and a disposition to underestimate those others’ ability to detect the contempt, thus making the social conditions of his scientific work more problematic than they needed to be.”[46] For example, in 1611, Galileo had a good relationship with Maffeo Barberini, who was later elected Pope Urban VIII in 1623). In 1632, Galileo’s publication of Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, he gave a condescending parody of the Pope’s geocentric argument through the character of “Simplicius,” from his “assumption that his critics in the Vatican would not be smart enough to notice.”[47] Unfortunately, they indeed noticed, which did not lend favorably to Galileo’s trial in 1633. If Galileo had practiced intellectual humility, it is difficult to know to what extent this virtue may have advanced and distributed his work further than it did, both socially and scientifically.[48]

[25] Perhaps Galileo’s failure to apply intellectual virtue, in spite of his many intellectual successes, may be summed up as a failure to posture himself with intellectual or theological hospitality and mutuality when strong disagreements were present. Roberts and Wood call this the virtue of “intellectual friendliness.” This is a disposition to like other people, to find them attractive and enjoy interaction with them despite an awareness of fundamental disagreement. Intellectual friendliness is an immunity or resistance to the mentality of “us versus them” that arises when people see themselves as not agreeing on important questions. It supplements intellectual courage, inasmuch as, after one has courageously jeopardized one’s forum, friendliness, in either the speaker or the hearer, is as good a bet as any that one will keep the forum.[49]

[26] Maintaining a spirit of hospitality and friendliness requires intentional humility and a forthright intention to listen to the other as a person, and not simply as a de-humanized contrary “issue” to which one disagrees. This attitudinal disposition does not eliminate disagreement, but it provides a congenial, favorable context by which to foster disagreement for both social, intellectual, and theological understanding among differing perspectives.

[27] This notion is also supported by James Calvin Davis in his book, Forebearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church, when he argues that theological humility is “a form of Christian confession.” Theological humility confesses God’s greatness and equally confesses our lack of understanding of God, and hence our epistemological weakness as a human being before God and others.[50] Davis insists that we have various “myopic restrictions” that include informational, temporal, interpretational, and interpersonal limits. Our understandings are always limited and contextual when it comes to understanding God and other people.[51] This awareness requires a theological posturing of intentional vulnerability in writing, reading, speech, and action that must color our academic and ecclesiological engagements.[52]


[28] Extending intellectual hospitality through humility allows human flourishing in terms of human collaboration and cooperation, even if theological differences involve deeply held beliefs. Humble posturing and intellectual hospitality must not stifle, but encourage lively, constructive debate. Humble, constructive conversational “civility” is not about feigned pleasantries and ignoring differences, but about mutually respectful and mutual engagement with critical issues.[53] As Roberts and Wood insist:

Better scientists will have social virtues such as generosity and gratitude to facilitate sharing of intellectual goods, humility and openness as they seek and receive information and insights from one another, and gentleness and charity combined with independence of mind as they interpret one another’s work in the course of disagreement and debate.[54]

[29] Disagreement is here to stay and even thankfully so. And, when we theologically engage disagreement in vulnerability and humble posturing, it will nurture dialogue across the vast cultural, sociological, and ecclesiological landscape that often divides us. But avoiding what Davis calls “ideological entrenchment” and becoming open-minded for correction, only comes with deliberate practice and patience.[55] J. Aaron Simmons says it so well, when commenting on Kierkegaard’s notion of humility: “Christian truth is, thus, not a matter of external manifestation, but of internal transformation whereby humility is the ground of greatness, and fallibility is the condition of perfectibility.”[56]



[1]. This rejection of neutrality in issues of conflict resolution is also recently supported by Christine Schliesser, S. Ayse Kadayifi-Orellana, and Pauline Kollontai, On the Significance of Religion in Conflict and Conflict Resolution (London and New York: Routledge, 2021). The authors carefully point out, however, that rejecting the possibility of objectivity does not imply the absence of internal criticism. In fact, “immanent criticism is very much part of the particular perspective.” The authors recognize that they are operating within their particular faith traditions, but also “engage in active self-criticism of this very tradition.” In this, they combing both descriptive and normative frameworks (14–15).

[2]. Olli-Pekka Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously: Religious Conflict in Interdisciplinary Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), Introduction, Kindle edition.

[3]. This rejection of neutrality in issues of conflict resolution is also recently supported by Schliesser, Kadayifi-Orellana, and Kollontai, On the Significance of Religion in Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 13. The authors carefully point out, however, that rejecting the possibility of objectivity does not imply the absence of internal criticism. In fact, “immanent criticism is very much part of the particular perspective” (14). The authors recognize that they are operating within their particular faith traditions, but also “engage in active self-criticism of this very tradition.” In this, they say that they combine both descriptive and normative frameworks (14).

[4]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Introduction.”

[5]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.2 Virtues of Disagreement, “Open Mindedness.” Here Vainio refers to C.S. Lewis’s, The Abolition of Man where Lewis addresses a similar issue.

[6]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Open Mindedness.” Vainio draws upon Jason Baehr, The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues and Virtue Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 161.

[7] Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Open Mindedness.”

[8]. Duncan Pritchard, “Intellectual Humility and the Epistemology of Disagreement,” Synthese 198, Suppl 7 (2021): S1717, n13.

[9]. Pritchard, “Intellectual Humility,” S1717, n13.

[10]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.2 Virtues of Disagreement, “Humility,” also n.57. Vainio refers to Jennifer Herdt, Putting on Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 45-71. For a recent thorough study on Augustine’s perspective of humility in contrast to Aristotle’s notion of magnanimity see Joseph J. McInerney, The Greatness of Humility: St. Augustine on Moral Excellence (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016). McInerney’s study, however, does not make a facile contrast. He astutely points out that for Aristotle, magnanimity cannot simply be reduced to selfishness or moral laxity. Magnanimity was the pinnacle of the ethically virtuous person, and the characteristic that unified all intentionally developed virtues. Magnanimity, like Augustine’s understanding of humility, allowed one to views oneself honestly (19–22). For Augustine, however, humility(acknowledging one’s weakness and embracing God’s grace), instead of magnanimity, is the root exemplary virtue, stemming from the example of Christ (51, 121, 124). Cf. also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2.2., Question 161.1 Objection 3.

[11].  Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Humility.” Vainio again refers to Peterson and Seligman, Character Strengths, 463, 469–70.

[12]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Humility.” Vainio says this will result in “either proper accommodation of the two ways of believing or a well-argued negative response to the alien view.”

[13]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Humility.” Also n60.

[14]. Ian M. Church, “Is Intellectual Humility Compatible with Religious Dogmatism? Journal of Psychology and Theology 46 no. 4 (2018): 228.

[15]. Church, “Is Intellectual Humility Compatible,” 228-32.

[16]. More could be said along these lines on the justification of religious beliefs, truth statements, etc., but this is beyond the scope of this essay.

[17]. Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), 16, 15, 17. Westphal refers to Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud in this regard, pace Riceour.

[18]. B. Keith Putt, “The Benefit of the Doubt: Merold Westphal’s Prophetic Philosophy of Religion,” in Gazing Through a Prism Darkly: Reflections on Merold Westphal’s Hermeneutical Epistemology, ed. B. Keith Putt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 2, 13.

[19]. Putt, “The Benefit of the Doubt,” 6.

[20]. Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 288. For reflections on Ricoeur and tolerance, see Jaco Dreyer, “Difficult Tolerance: A Ricoeurian Account and Some Practical Theological Reflections,” Stellenbosch Theological Journal 4, no. 2 (2018).

[21]. Putt, “The Benefit of the Doubt,” 1–2.

[22]. Rob Barrett, “Foreword,” in Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously.

[23]. This is pointed out in Matthew Kaemingk, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018), 183, 305. Also see, on conditional hospitality, Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), especially 30–31, 75, 178.

[24]. We will reflect more on the notion of tolerance below.

[25]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.2 Virtues of Disagreement, “Courage.” On this point, Vainio refers to Baehr, Inquiring Mind, 163–64, 177–79.

[26]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Courage,” Vainio refers to Daniel McInerny, Difficult Good: A Thomistic Approach to Moral Conflict and Human Happiness (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 160-61; and McInerny, “Fortitude and the Conflict of Frameworks,” in Virtues and Their Vices, ed. Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 75–81, 85–86.

[27]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Courage.”

[28]. Academic or intellectual courage can also include the courage to explore areas that may be considered “taboo” or may be considered “transgressions” within a particular framework or community of belief.

[29]. Molly Farneth, “ ‘The Power to Empty Oneself’,” Political Theology 18, no. 2 (2017): 158, 169. She notes that this is often rendered as “self-emptying” as in the self-sacrifice of Christ. Luther used this word to describe the kenosis of Philippians 2:5–7.

[30]. Farneth, “‘The Power to Empty Oneself’,” 169.

[31]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.3 Tolerance as a Virtue, “Discourses of Tolerance, and “Supplementing Tolerance.” Vainio looks to Alasdair MacIntyre for these insights in “Toleration and Goods in Conflict,” in Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, vol. 2,  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 223. Applying “virtuous tolerance” to the context of disagreement, Vainio highlights four distinguishable “attitudes” from Alasdair MacIntyre. First, a different perspective may be a way of supporting or helping us to recast our own. Second, another’s perspective may persuade us to take a different perspective altogether. Third, we may see strengths in another perspective and believe it requires a thoughtful response, even if we do not appropriate this different view ourselves. Fourth, we reject the differing perspective, and do not seek further dialogue.[31] It is difficult to see how this last point may be rendered as virtuous tolerance, although in the course of ongoing dialogue, if the previous three “attitudes” become impossible to implement, this may be the result. Vainio’s virtuous tolerance may be difficult to apply. But with this nuancing of MacIntyre, it acknowledges the complexity of differences (taking pluralism “seriously”), and it recognizes the importance of critical dialogue with the other. See also Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.3 Tolerance as a Virtue, “The Viability of Tolerance.”

[32]. Pritchard, “Intellectual Humility,” S1714.

[33]. Olli-Pekka Vainio and Aku Visala, “Tolerance or Recognition? What Can We Expect?,” Open Theology 2 (2016): 553.

[34]. Vainio and Visala, “Tolerance or Recognition?,” 562-5.

[35]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.4 Religious Disagreement and Virtue.

[36]. I see the point, but I am unconvinced that seeing others from some perspective of a common rationality in this regard is the best way toward conflict resolution. Perhaps it is not simply about seeing the other as capable of rational dialogue, but also of having compassion, emotion, and intellect, realizing that “rational dialogue” may look differently in different cultures and backgrounds. Nicolas Adams rebuts a “secular universalism” that seeks neutral ground, i.e. a priori criteria, as a basis for discussion in ecumenical or inter-faith disagreement. See Nicolas Adams, “Long-Term Disagreement: Philosophical Models in Scriptural Reasoning and Receptive Ecumenism.,” Modern Theology 29, no. 4 (2013): 160.

[37]. Paul Ricoeur, “The Erosion of Tolerance and the Resistance of the Intolerable,” Diogenes 44, no. 176 (1996): 190–91, 194. See also 195. Ricoeur begins this article defining tolerance as “the fruit of an asceticism the exercise of power” (189).

[38]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.4 Religious Disagreement and Virtue, “Communities.” Vainio looks to Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski, Divine Motivation Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 368–72; and Zagzebski, Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, and Autonomy in Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 222–28.

[39]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, “Communities.”

[40]. Vainio, Disagreeing Virtuously, 4.4 Religious Disagreement and Virtue, “Ideologies.” Of course this does not answer the question as to the nature of “civility” – that Vainio calls, a “relatively opaque virtue.” If someone disagrees with a particular position, one may deem it as “uncivil” simply because it rubs one the wrong way. If civility becomes arbitrary, then it is no longer a virtue.

[41]. Slovoj Žižek, “Tolerance as an Ideological Category,” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 4 (2008): 674.

[42]. “Reasonable” in this context is not reduced to rational argumentation or empirical data, although it may include this. Rather, it means that if there are good reasons pointing toward truth and love, all things considered, there must be a humble willingness to face correction.

[43]. Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood, Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (Oxford, U,K.: Clarendon Press-Oxford, 2007).

[44]. Roberts and Wood, Intellectual Virtues, 251.

[45]. Roberts and Wood, 254. The authors refer to William R. Shea and Mariano Artigas, Galileo in Rome (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 73–4, 78, 26.

[46]. Roberts and Wood, 254.

[47]. Roberts and Wood, 254. Again, they refer to Shea and Artigas, Galileo in Rome, 141–42.

[48]. Roberts and Wood, 254–55.

[49]. Roberts and Wood, 140.

[50]. James Calvin Davis, Forebearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), 29. Cf. also, 32–33.

[51]. Davis, Forebearance, 35–40.

[52]. Davis, Forebearance, 43.

[53]. Davis, Forebearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church, 185.

[54]. Roberts and Wood, Intellectual Virtues, 144.

[55]. Davis, Forebearance, 183–84.

[56]. J. Aaron Simmons, “Militant Liturgies: Practicing Christianity with Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and Weil,” Religions 12, no. 340 (2021): 3. (online version).



Ronald T. Michener

Ronald T. Michener is professor and chair of the Department of Systematic Theology at Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Heverlee-Leuven, Belgium.