How to Argue Like a Christian: Supplemental Thoughts

To the readers, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours –

Guys and gals,

Wouldn’t you agree with me that the tone here has gotten more heated than it ought to be? I mean, I understand the emotions we’re all feeling, but we do need to cool down a bit.

Let me suggest a few guidelines that may be helpful (and, yes, you should hold me to these as well) –

1. Fighting words. Certain comments, no matter how strongly felt, aren’t helpful. For example, “You’re not arguing with me — you’re arguing with the Bible” or “If you disagree with me, you must think the Bible isn’t inspired!” are neither helpful nor true. I’ve heard the comments from both sides,

Although we’ve had a few people pop in here now and again who really do reject the authority of the Bible, those presently discussing the Bible here all accept its authority. We just understand it differently.

Just so, cuss word (abbreviated or not), “liar,” and such do nothing to enhance the discussion, and seriously undercut the person using such language. It may even get you moderated.

2. Sarcasm. I’m a naturally sarcastic person. I can be quite hilarious. But I try hard to bite my tongue (fingers, really) because sarcasm, as effective as it can be, and I’m good at it, belittles the other person. It’s hard to persuade someone that you’ve just torn to shreds.

3. Sources. There’s no error in quoting uninspired sources. After all, it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due. Of course, if someone were to say such and such is true because Justin Martyr or Thomas Warren says so, well, that’d be a problem. But I don’t think I’ve seen such a claim made.

On the other hand, quoting Thomas Warren will not help you persuade a progressive. It’s not at all wrong, but it’s not effective. Just so, I’d rarely quote Rubel Shelly or Max Lucado in a conversation with a conservative. It won’t help.

4. Battling proof texts. It would help if we could go deeper than trading proof texts. I mean, Calvinists and their opponents have been trading proof texts for 500 years — and no one’s been persuaded. A new tactic is called for.

Here, those who are commenting already know the arguments the other side traditionally makes pretty well. I’m sure Robert and Hank are very familiar with the “instruments are used in the Old Testament and Revelation” argument. It’s dealt with in nearly all the anti-instrument books. They’ve heard it. What they may not have heard is the reason their reply is mistaken.

You see, to persuade someone who is thoroughly convicted after study, you have to go deeper than what he’s already studied. Therefore, simply citing the Nadab and Abihu text won’t get you far here, because it’s been covered and discussed many times — so much so that few really care to go down that road again. You’d have to have a remarkably original argument to make that a worthwhile avenue.

But if, for example, you want to discuss the interpretation of 1 Cor 4:6, that would be productive.

(1 Cor 4:6)  Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

There are, of course, other proof texts. While swapping proof texts is tedious, engaging a text and searching for the reason the two sides read it differently in light of context etc. — that could be not only interesting, but life changing.

Of course, that means it’s also not helpful to make a “what about?” kind of argument. If Ollie shows that 1 Cor 4:6 doesn’t mean what the 20th Century Churches of Christ argued, the correct response is: “Thank you for taking the time to teach me something. I was mistaken. But I think this other verse supports my position regardless of 1 Cor 4:6.” That’s fine.

5. Pride. What’s not fine is — Nick demonstrates an error and his dialogue partner is too prideful to admit anything and instead tosses in another verse to wrangle over. The discussion then becomes a contest to see if the conservatives ever runs out of verses and arguments — while not once admitting to any mistakes. And there are a LOT of verses and arguments. Take them one at  a time. And there are so many proof texts that conceding a mistake as to one hardly destroys the case.

And that cuts both ways. If I misuse a verse, I need to be willing to admit my mistake. It’s how Christians are supposed to act.

We — both sides — have a tendency to think that we lose credibility by never admitting a mistake, by never yielding an inch. And when we act this way, we appear like Baghdad Bob — announcing Saddam’s great victory while US tanks roll in behind us.

In Christian discourse, the most believable person is the one who is most like Jesus. And he was humble.

When we are charged with condescension or arrogance, our response shouldn’t be “How dare you!” but “What did I say to give you that impression? I’m so sorry that I wasn’t more careful in my writing.” Something like that. I mean, we should be deeply upset at the thought that someone has misread our confidence as arrogance and should be quick to remedy the perception.

I guarantee you that the lurkers who are trying to decide which side is right will be most impressed by the disputant who is first to apologize and the first to concede a point when he is shown to be error. Pride is not the mark of a Christian argument.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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7 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Supplemental Thoughts

  1. Pastor Mike says:

    Jay,
    Thank you for an expanded explanation of some of the fair rules of debate. I'm reminded of something from the prayer of St. Francis in which we read, "Lord, . . . let me not seek so much to be understood as to understand.

    I have a very hard time remembering that prayer as I am tempted to think something like, "Oh Lord, here we go again." As I read this and other blogs, I am somewhat gratified to see I'm not the only one. Still, I suspect our Lord is more grieved than anything else.
    In The Master's Service,
    Pastor Mike

  2. I have a study of a Model of Christian Communication at christian.dwaynephillips.net/seasoned
    I find examples of good Christian communication AND bad Christian communication throughout the Bible. The URL I give above contains a class outline, so reading it is a bit rough.

  3. Bob Harry says:

    Jay

    The emotions are strong but I do believe you are changing a few attitudes, however slowly. Yo have given all of us a lot to reconsider.

    Thank you for your patience.

    Bob

  4. Matthew says:

    Well said, good ground rules…

  5. Bob Harry says:

    To all

    Each of you have impacted my understanding of the Church more than you know. It is a sad day that we can't learn something good from those we disagree with.

    We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and our tie to each other should be strong. I just hope I don't offend too many of you. I also fight pride and vanity on a daily basis. I don't like to be wrong but you all have set me straight on some issues.

    God Bless

    Bob

  6. Hank says:

    Thanks Jay.

    Points very well made…and taken.

  7. I will try harder not to insist on my own way.

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