How to Argue Like a Christian: Listening

I follow a number of Church of Christ internet forums. I don’t have the time to participate as I once did, but I do enjoy seeing what people find interesting or controversial – and I pitch in now and then.

If you read through some of these discussions, you soon realize that perhaps the biggest mistake we make (and I’m guilty, too) is not listening to the other side. We are bad to either assume we know what they really think or else we read for the purpose of refuting their argument, rather than learning from their argument.

I’m sure we’ve all participated in verbal exchanges where the other person spent his listening time coming up with arguments rather than actually listening. It’s rude. It makes people angry. It wastes a lot of time. And we do the same thing in our written conversations.

Now communication is difficult. Even highly skilled writers can be easily misunderstood. Over the internet, agreement can sound like sarcasm, whimsy like stupidity. Therefore, it’s imperative that before we take offense or write that 1,500-word, flaming post, we take the time to be sure we’ve understood.

I think at least 1 in 5 posts should be along the lines of: “Are you saying X? or Y?” or ‘Let me repeat what I think I hear you saying so you can tell me whether I’ve understood.” These kinds of messages are essential. They tell the other person that you care enough to be sure you’ve heard correctly – meaning you respect both the person and the discussion.

I think this one thing would shorten most discussions by half or more. Some would be entirely eliminated. I mean, I’ve seen discussions go on literally for 5 days, finally ending when the two sides realize that they actually agree — and always have.

Tragically, the same problem of not listening infuses our internal discussions. For example, when Freed Hardeman University held a discussion (a polite debate) between progressive and conservative members of the Churches of Christ on whether instrumental music is a salvation issue, the university announced — before the discussion even began — that the position of the Bible department is that instrumental music is in fact a salvation issue.

Now, had I been the progressive speaker, I’d have been seriously tempted to walk off the stage and never come back. I mean, they announced their position before the guy even said a word — plainly telling the audience that there was nothing he could possibly say to change their minds, which tells the audience they have nothing to learn from this man. It was, at the least, rude. But, worse yet, it was indicative of why our divisions never heal — we refuse to listen to each other.

That’s right. We’re too cussedly proud to even consider the possibility that we might be persuaded. And such arrogance is sinful. (And, I should add, sometimes politics and keeping the donors happy affects our willingness to see the truth.)

I honestly don’t know how to overcome this pride that so infects our fellowship. But I know this much: until we do, God will not bless our work, and unity will remain unattainable.

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5 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Listening

  1. Sam Loveall says:

    Jay, I have been in SOOOOOOOO many forum discussion like that. In fact, I'm in one right now. And friendship doesn't make it any less irritating. A very good friend, in one discussion, has already decided what he's going to say at every step of the way, and he is answering arguments that I'm not even close to making! Why don't people listen to what's being said?

  2. Ric says:

    AMEN! How can we possibly please God the Father if we don't at least love and respect each other enough to listen BEFORE we attack? After how does verbally attacking one another fit Jesus one command found in John 15: 12 12

    "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (NASB)
    "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." (NIV)
    "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (KJV)
    This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. … Put your life on the line for your friends. (Message)
    (Don't you just love BibleGateway.com)

    This is one of the few passages where virtually every translation comes out the same way. Jesus has left us no room on this one. We are above all else to love each other as he loved us!! This includes, according to the text, the willingness to die for each other. This includes even our worst enemies, after all Judas was included in the group Jesus was speaking directly to at the time he gave this command. If loving as he loved includes the willingness to die for one another, then shouldn't it also include at a minimum the duty to actually listen and try to understand each other?

    How do we miss this? Of all the denominations/religious fellowships/churches/or whatever other title we put on ourselves, how do we, espousing to be restoring the church to its original form, miss such a direct over-arching command from Jesus Himself?

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    If anyone hasn’t realized listening is work. I focuses on seeking the truth not the emotional; security of being “right”. It is scary to really listen, because there is the possibility that the idea you hold may be wrong, inaccurate, based on flawed logic or foundationally shallow. Listening requires respect. If a person already has their mind made up the chances that they will listen and respond with actual dialogue are very slim. As to the issue of the “Pride and arrogance that are so much a part of our brotherhood”. This is a sad part of our heritage that will only change as the institutional loyalist die off and emerging generations re-think themselves. There is no overnight cure or weekend course. It took about 200 years to get where we are. Even if we started to teach grace and open dialogue in all of the churches of Christ today it would take years to undo what has been done for the last 200.

  4. Robert Baty says:

    > "pride and arrogance" – Joe
    > "politics and money" – Jay
    > "institutional loyalists" – Joe

    OK, such things do seem to explain why the 70-549 story has yet to be told by those who could tell it so well.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  5. I once had the privilege of attending a week-long writing seminar. In it we spent one full day on providing feedback to other writers.

    Condense the whole day into a few lines:

    Reader: I don't understand the words such-and-such.
    Do you mean this-and-that?

    Writer: answers yes or no

    If the answer was "no" Reader: Do you mean some-other-this-and-that?

    This exchange continues until the Writer answers "yes" three times in a row.

    This isn't easy in an Internet blog or email exchange, but I think it is worth the effort.

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