Now, the second-most common problem I observe in Christian discussion groups is the failure of one side to finish the conversation.
For me, the common pattern is: a conservative Christian announces that progressives have no well-defined theology of when someone falls away — accusing us of universalism or some such. I respond with a well-defined theology of when someone falls away. The conservative disappears from the site.
Here’s how Christians ought to argue. When you’ve been corrected, admit it. It’s called humility. If you make a mistake, admit it. If the other side teaches you something, thank them for it.
But we are a proud people. We think that admitting a mistake makes us looks less Christian. Wrong. Refusing to admit a mistake makes us look worldly, vain, and proud. The Biblical term would be “stiff necked.”
It’s a difficult discipline to adopt, but as a married man, I’ve been forced to learn how to apologize. It’s becoming nearly second nature.
Christian advocates apologize when they are wrong. They apologize when they’ve written so poorly the other side misunderstands them. They are the first reach across the aisle and offer love and compassion. And they readily apologize even when the other side is wrong, too. They turn the other cheek. They go the extra mile.
Now here’s the astonishing thing. When we argue like a Christian, rather than like the world, we are more convincing. Jerks who won’t finish conversations because they were wrong or who refuse to admit a mistake are just not very persuasive. Pride doesn’t change hearts.
You see, we are long past the age when people will believe us because we’re preachers or educated or own a website or a periodical. No, nowadays, to be persuasive, we have to persuade our reader as to what the Bible says — and that we believe it intensely enough to actually obey it. Refusing to admit a mistake or that we don’t know everything only hurts the cause.
In fact, in a grace-based system, which is predicated on the assumption that we all sin and cannot earn our salvation, attempting to be persuasive by claiming a perfect understanding is absurd. Grace gives us license to be imperfect, that is, to stop pretending that we’re who we’re not.
And by being who we really are – imperfect, weak, and prone to mistakes – and being comfortable in our skins, willing to admit our weaknesses, we convincingly argue for the grace Jesus died to give us.
And by being willing to admit our mistakes, we transform lecture into dialogue. In fact, perhaps the most persuasive words in the English language are “I’m sorry” and “thank you.”