My generation isn’t very good at arguing.
Don’t get me wrong-we do it all the time. We’re just not very good at it. Unfortunately, this lack of skill in disagreement has made its way into the church. Many Christians today have the unfortunate tendency to adopt the mindset and attitude of the world when disagreeing about politics or theology rather than having their minds renewed by Scripture.
Having been in my fair share of disagreements and made plenty of these mistakes myself, I’ve compiled a list of tips on how we as believers can disagree well.
Most of this list is simply an application of the “golden rule.” If both parties were to treat one another as they would want to be treated, they will have a fruitful conversation that won’t descend into name-calling and bitterness. It’s my prayer that these tips can be beneficial to you and lead to more fruitful conversations.
Avoid unfair straw-men of views that you disagree with.
A straw-man argument occurs when you misrepresent your opponent’s argument to make it look silly. Straw-men don’t contribute to a helpful conversation, but rather just lead to misunderstanding and frustration. Not to mention that it is dishonest, and as believers, we are called to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15). When you articulate a view that you disagree with, you should represent it so accurately that someone on the other side would totally agree with your summary of their view.
Avoid labels and buzzwords
Even when they are true, they typically aren’t helpful. Here’s an example. When in a conversation about theological matters with someone who isn’t as well versed in theology, I avoid using terms like “Calvinism.” I have no problem with that term, and I’m quite proud to consider myself a Calvinist, but that label has been so caricatured and misunderstood that many people will drown me out with ridicule and scorn before I can even explain what I mean.
The same applies to labeling your opponents position before they can articulate it. Don’t just jump to label someone “liberal” or “bigot” or whatever else without giving them a fair hearing. People’s views are almost always more nuanced than what you learned about it from a Facebook meme. Let them define what they believe for themselves rather than imposing your own label on it.
Don’t argue in comments sections on major Facebook pages.
Seriously. As an adult, there are better ways to spend your time than arguing with a stranger on a comments section. In my many years of using social media, I have never seen a single person change a deeply held political or theological view based on an argument with a stranger on a comments section. It’s a waste of time and it looks silly.
Read good, primary sources of the other side, not just biased sources written from your perspective on the issue.
Learn to be a good listener. You can’t understand another point of view if you never listen to what that point of view has to say. You won’t listen to what they have to say well if you only read it from sources in which the authors agree with you and are trying to prove the other side wrong.
Listen to understand, not just to respond.
If you find yourself just waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can jump in with your rebuttal, you need to learn to stop and listen. You won’t be able to respond well if you haven’t been paying attention to what they’re really saying. Also, the other person will feel disrespected by your lack of attentiveness and will be less receptive to what you have to say.
When you offer your critique, critique the view, not the person holding the view.
Seek to understand their position, listen to them carefully and patiently, and then respectfully critique their view. Don’t patronize them by trying to play psychologist and assume why they hold that view.
Focus on the argument itself and logically explain why you differ. If you can’t logically explain why you differ, then you need to have the humility to postpone the discussion rather than descending into emotionally-charged defense mechanisms.
A rude and abrasive tone doesn’t mean necessarily mean you’re “standing up for the truth.”
This one is aimed directly at my theological camp. We reformed guys like to think that our brashness means that we are being bold and Apostle-Paul-in-Galatians-ish. There is a time to be that way, but it isn’t all the time. You don’t have to do your best Paul Washer impression every time someone disagrees with you about tongues. You can disagree without being a jerk.
Never assume another person’s motives.
You’re not God, so you can’t read their heart. There could be a million complex reasons why they believe what they believe, so don’t try to point at one reason and blame it on that when you have no way of possibly knowing every reason why. They might not even know.
Be willing to be proven wrong.
Believing a falsehood is worse than losing an argument. As believers in Jesus, who is Himself the Truth (John 14:6), we should love the truth so much that we’d rather lose an argument if it can be proven that we’re wrong rather than win at any cost. We must value truth above our ego.
Don’t think of the person you’re disagreeing with as an enemy.
Because they’re not. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).” Christian, your enemy is not the Democratic Party.
Young Calvinist, your enemy is not your Arminian friend. An “Us vs. Them” mentality dehumanizes our opponents and compels us to treat them as enemies to be shouted down rather than neighbors to be loved.
We must be able to engage with others in the defense of the faith, but we can’t forget to do that with gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15). The way we do this matters. Christian, don’t adopt the tactics of the world in your conversations with others. Instead, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:6).”