How to Argue Like a Christian: Introduction

Well, it’s time to get back to my normal, left-brained, analytical self. It’s been interesting delving into the creative, artistic, musical side of life, but at last it’s time to talk logic and reasoning. (But not for too long). There won’t be any YouTube songs in this series.

Two years ago, one the first things I posted on this blog was a series by the same name. Of course, two years ago I had no readers. And so I’m going to recycle some of that material, adding some new stuff and re-editing some of the old stuff.

This will be a series of lessons on how to argue. Not “argue” in the sense of being angry or hateful, of course, but rather, “argue” in the sense of a mathematical proof or an attorney’s closing argument — “argue” in the sense of trying to persuade a fellow Christian of your doctrinal opinions.

We in the Churches of Christ have very nearly forgotten how to argue among ourselves as gentlemen and gentle-women. We are, after all, commanded to be gentle and not to quarrel –

(2 Tim. 2:24-25) And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth … .

And yet our internal disputes are often incredibly heated and even hateful. In fact, it’s not entirely unfair to say that our disputes are very often resentful. I’ve not seen very many kind articles. Indeed, we are typically quite unkind to each other.

Some defend their vitriol by pointing out how severely Jesus condemned the Pharisees and how harsh Paul was to those he opposed in Galatians. But we are not Paul, much less Jesus. We aren’t inspired. We don’t know the hearts of our opponents. And, in fact, as we aren’t inspired, we are all bad to make mistakes. Therefore, Paul quite plainly teaches us to disagree kindly and gently. I really see no choice in the matter.

Now, I struggle to be nice to people who just drive me nuts. I mean, I’ve been lied to, lied about, called names, and slandered — all because I have a different opinion of what the Bible says. It’s hard not to reply in kind, and I won’t pretend to have never messed up. But I am trying.

And being kind doesn’t mean not pointing out the flaws in your opponents arguments. That’s how you argue. But you can point out those flaws without being hateful or condescending (but it can really be hard).

Sometime we rationalize that the importance of the subject justifies our harshness. But we can hardly stand for the truth of Jesus while violating his plain commands. If the holy scriptures tell us to be kind and gentle with those we seek to persuade, well, that’s how it has to be. We don’t get to make up the rules.

Besides, Paul’s instructions are wise. Just look at the culture that comtemptuous speech has created among us! We can’t even get along with each other.

Even when we are arguing with the right attitude, we are sometimes guilty of mistakes in our logic that bring into doubt all we claim. We can’t persuade the world (or each other) of the truth of our claims through sloppy, lazy arguments, as though no one will notice. Nor can we rely on loose logic because of our correct conclusions. To effectively persuade and to be taken seriously in the community of thoughtful people, we have to discipline ourselves to reason carefully and truly, even when a looser, more casual approach to truth might be more persuasive to some.

This is because the truth is just too important to be treated otherwise. Our goal is not to win — and certainly not to win at any cost. Our goal is to be true to our calling as Christians. Our goal is to be righteous, holy, and Christlike — and this means that our “lips [may] speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10 KJV). Jesus often failed to persuade, and yet he never compromised the truth.

Worse yet, when we adopt faulty reasoning to prove a point, we open ourselves up to heresy down the road. Once a given argument is sold as being sound, then we have to accept the soundness of the argument when applied to other issues, and a flawed argument will inevitably lead to error at some point. Therefore, we have to carefully avoid the temptation to gain the cheap victory through flawed inference. The dangers of being wrong are far too great to speak otherwise.

If we tell our classes and congregations that such-and-such line of reasoning is true, it needs to be absolutely true — both the conclusion and the reasoning — because we are telling the people who rely on us that the conclusion and the reasoning are both true. The ends don’t justify the means; the conclusions don’t justify the reasoning.

In short, we all — progressive and conservative — need to do better. We need to give one another permission to call us to account when we fail to live by God’s standards.

(Col 4:6)  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

For our conversation to be “full of grace,” we must be generous to our opponent — giving him more than he deserves. For it to be “seasoned with salt,” it has to taste good. And it’s “salt” not “pepper.” We have to stop cheering on those who trade in invective and venom, calling them to account even though they just might turn their invective against us.

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13 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Introduction

  1. Todd Deaver says:

    Some sorely-needed admonitions, Jay. I appreciate the way you exemplify them by arguing humbly and graciously.

  2. Terry says:

    Jay,
    We have disagreed on a few issues (female elders, the importance of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and emergent theology–I have been more conservative than you on those issues), but I appreciate that you have been kind when we have disagreed.

  3. mark says:

    One of the challenges though of our arguing is the convoluted idealism with presuppositions, hidden agendas, unfounded conclusions and bias. For instance the words change agent does not exist in the scripture nor the idea. Another saying is bothers in error as if to be error means the other brothers are not.
    But this is never an idea in the Bible.

    Too our hermeneutics are counter intuitive thus when we add common sense as a hermeneutic we tend to undermined are persuasion. In fact can exegesis be logical and opinion at the same time? This is the great difficulty with our culture we believe everyone should read and draw their own conclusions but demand we cross-reference those conclusion with experts! So as we have taught our congregation to do is not argue and sit in the pew accept experts. So who really argues the clergy and the leaders of the church .

  4. cordobatim says:

    I wasn't a reader two years ago, so I'm definitely looking forward to this. It's a much-needed topic.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Ah, the "seasoned with salt" passage. I have a series of lessons (13 lessons in fact so as to fit into the biblically inspired "quarter" paradigm ;) on this verse. The series is based on the concept of congruent communication. (a very long but a true story)

    Anyways, I am an engineer by training, and (even worse for this discussion) a software engineer by training and trade. Us software engineers think logically – how else would we get a machine that only knows the difference between a light bulb turned on and a light bulb turned off to collapse the world economy via bad economic models and ill-advised loans?

    Anyways, it is rather annoying to us logical thinkers that emotional types get annoyed when we present them with logical arguments. With so much annoyance around, it is no wonder that the emotional types don't simply see the beauty of our arguments and merely agree before we even start.

    Some of the above is tongue-in-cheek. And never try to mix humor when presenting logical arguments on biblical topics as it only confuses the emotional types.

  6. But seriously folks…

    I believe this is one of the most important things Christians can study and practice. We often say things that are short, simple, and loving only to see another person turn red, turn away, and stomp out of the room.

    The words we use matter much.

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    May I suggest that a better word is dialogue rather than argue? In today's culture argue has too much negative stigma. Dialogue implies a logical exchange of discourse with respect honor and trust while hoping that the outcome will lead both parties to a better deeper understanding not just someone who is right and someone who is wrong. We are not each others opponent. If anyone here is old enough to remember the “debate” period in our brotherhood, (You can read many of them they were transcribed and published) then you must know that this was one of the things that set the stage for the ultra legalistic church environment that we are overcoming to this day. A dialogue recognizes that someone who is in disagreement is educated and sincere and has reasons for why they believe what they believe. If a deeper understanding of who God is and what he is like is not the focus then we are not seeking the truth but the emotional security of being right.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Terry,

    I've written over 1,000 posts. Each one includes several opinions. If the average is only two — which is surely low — then we've agreed 1997 out of 2000 times, much better than 99% of the time! I figure that makes you a genius. :grin:

  9. Jay Guin says:

    mark,

    People argue with me all the time. But it's a good, healthy kind of arguing — a common pursuit of the truth through iron sharpening iron.

    In those churches where the elders are above disagreement, well, they have some very dull elders, because there's no one sharpening them.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    I only started this thing about two years ago. I wrote some of my best stuff for an audience of me, my mother, and Alan Rouse, who's been reading and commenting a long time ago.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    Yes, "dialogue" is better than "argue." But I'm starting where we are. You know … crawl and then walk.

    In my world — math major, practicing attorney — "argue" is not a negative term at all. Nonetheless, you're right.

  12. nick gill says:

    LOL practicing attorney opens itself up for far more negative terms — 'argue' just can't match up to that! ;)

  13. The comments from this post and others in the "arguing" series often mention cases where someone or some congregation "disfellowshipped" (I always liked the term "dis-membered" :-) some other congregation.

    The New Testament discusses the topic of removing a person from a church (congregation), e.g. Matthew 18 and other places.

    I, however, don't know where the New Testament tells me that I can remove another church or congregation from my fellowship. Since I am a member of one congregation at a time, how can I remove from membership another congregation?

    Can someone point me to passages that give me this authority?

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