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Monday, January 13, 2014

Should Christians Never Argue?

Photo courtesy Cobalt123
As Christians we seek to spread the truth of the Gospel to a lost and dying world. However, as our culture continues to lose its Christian underpinnings, many people are finding that communicating that Gospel isn't quite as easy as it used to be. Previously, most people on the west would have more or less a shared set of beliefs about how the world works, a common worldview based on Judeo-Christian principles. Today, though, that isn't necessarily true. Moral relativism and materialistic views have replaced much of the previous beliefs that grounds one's understanding of who we are and how we should behave. 

So, Christians need to understand that now part of sharing the gospel entails changing beliefs. As I've written before, there are two basic ways I can think of to change a person's beliefs: either provide new information to that person or show how the beliefs one currently holds are contradictory. It requires input of some kind so that people will begin to think a little bit differently, to reassess or reevaluate what they actually hold to be true.

Engaging Others to Change Beliefs

There are at least four ways all people have engaged one another, but not all of them are effective in helping a person change their beliefs. The first one is pretty easy, it's simply discussion. Discussions by themselves can be about anything, what the weather is like, what you did over the weekend, or even what your favorite food is. Discussions are usually non-confrontational and they allow you to connect with the other person. They are friendly and casual. However, they don't necessarily push towards any kind of conclusion.

Sometimes, simple conversations can reveal conflicts or strong opinions on a belief, and people can find themselves in a disagreement. Sometimes we disagree with one other, but just having a disagreement doesn't necessarily provide knowledge. "He thinks tapioca pudding is the greatest dessert on earth and I think it's fish eggs and glue. We have a disagreement.” Simply disagreeing with someone shows that your beliefs on some matter diverge, but disagreements themselves don't seek to come to a conclusion. No one gains in knowledge simply because they recognize that they disagree with one another.

Many times disagreements devolve into fights. Unfortunately, this is the way many disagreements end up when someone seeks to change another's beliefs. People take offense that their beliefs are challenged and they strike back at the other person. Fights usually generate much more heat than light. People attack one another personally, and emotions rule over reason. Little if any real knowledge is exchanged, and what has is usually tainted by the person's hurt feelings and desire to protect him or herself.

Simply Agree to Disagree?

Because disagreements have devolved into fights, a lot of people in our culture think that whenever a disagreement arises, everyone should just leave it there. Agree to disagree on everything, the thinking goes. But, as I said, no real knowledge is gained simply by recognizing a disagreement. Therefore, Christians need to employ another technique in our interaction with others, and that is argumentation.

I use the word "argument” in a very specific way. I use it in its classical sense not in the common usage as a kind of fight or loud disagreement. An argument is simply supplying reasons or evidence for a view, belief, or contention. A prosecuting attorney will present an argument to the jury in order to make them believe that the defendant is guilty of whatever crime he is accused of. When the Christian builds an argument for something like the existence of God, he or she argues by providing statement that serve as evidence for the proposition "God exists.” There are reasons to believe in the proposition.

As Christians, we are commanded to provide arguments for our faith in the Bible. The Apostle Peter writes to the church and instructs them, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). So, biblically, we are not to simply stop at disagreement, nor are we to let ourselves lapse into fights. We are to argue and provide reasons. However, most Christians have never been instructed on argumentation; they simply don't know how to argue effectively. We will cover that in an upcoming post. But it is important for anyone who seeks to share the gospel, that is anyone who is seeking to change a belief, to learn to argue appropriately and effectively.


  1. Question, what if you are dealing with today's overly emotional, angry, mean and hateful "new" atheists, who not only vehemently disagree, but are not even interested in what you have to say but just wants to tell you over and over that you are wrong and attack you personally? And this not only applies to atheists but in my area specifically among fellow believers over anything to do with doctrine, even the most simple things like how long should a person's hair be. If we encounter folks who just want to shout and at you and even worse want to "throw down" with you, what should you do in those specific scenarios? My only guess is, that's it, the conversation is over. That and avoid those types of people because if that's the only kind of response you get from them why even bother? It's like casting pearls before pigs.

  2. Derek,

    Thanks for your comments. I've not yet gotten to that specific scenario. I agree that bullying is counter-productive and you shouldn't have to stand for it. However, the tactic I spell out here may help a bit:

    If they are simply berating, though, you have no obligation to listen or try to engage.

  3. I've wondered about the basic aptitude set for those who do well in argumentation (i.e. smooth-talking, gifted in persuading others, think easily on their feet), how do we engage in argumentation with someone whose personality just lends itself to it? We've seen people who could skillfully "handle" someone simply by force or ease of personality. They know how to quickly cover their tail. So how do we make a case they are wrong that can pin them down and also win others who may be watching?


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