In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
I realize the context of that verse is a bit different, but I think we can draw a meaningful application here.
As a personal policy, I do not regularly have “in-house” debates with other believers.
The fact is, many of these age-old debates are not going to be resolved by having just one more conversation.
This means that most of my interactions are geared towards unbelievers who, often times, express no interest in matters of faith whatsoever.
However, from time to time, I do find myself defending a particular view of the Bible against fellow Christians. Most recently, these debates have been in the areas of presuppositionalism and the age of the earth.
A fellow Christian brother, blogger, and (now) friend, Caleb, and I disagree wildly on a few things–namely, the above mentioned topics. And yet, we are able to have some of the most pleasant, rational, and eye-opening conversations.
This is RARE, unfortunately, in Christian circles.
I decided to take a look through some of our conversations and have identified four key principles which, I think, have facilitated this unusual cordiality and respect between us.
So while this week’s post may not do much for unbelievers, I hope and pray I can strengthen some fellow Christian brothers and sisters and pave the way for a more robust, respectful, and meaningful platform for debating in-house issues.
1. An Attitude of Grace
Let’s get something straight real quick. While we can certainly have an attitude of humility about our position, we all tend to think we are right. Otherwise, we wouldn’t debate in the first place!
And while we’ll deal with that in-depth in a few moments, it’s important, for now, to remember that you can think you are right while maintaining a graceful attitude and demeanor.
This is perhaps seen most clearly in an interaction between Jesus and His disciples in Matthew 18:
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.”
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”
Jesus’ disciples were having a debate amongst themselves as to who would be greatest. I suppose that Jesus could have egged them on if He had wanted to, let them compare works, have them to do silly things for Him to gain His favor, or simply treated them as entirely inferior.
But He didn’t do any of that.
He simply told them that whoever gets saved and humbles themselves as a little child will be the greatest. See, it’s not about status in the Kingdom–it’s about sonship! Their contention was offensive, but their reward, according to Jesus, would come only through humility.
Jesus approached this situation with grace. But–it’s not over yet. See, Jesus still knew He was right, and stood His ground. He goes on to issue a stern warning to any that would offend one of His little children. It’d be better that a MILLSTONE were hung around His neck!
He knew that offenses would come–but nevertheless, the warning was issued for those who would bring the offense.
God cares for His own, and if we are going to take a firm position within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy that is against what another brother or sister believes, a graceful attitude will be paramount to handling that conversation.
2. A Willingness to Change
“Change” is a strange word as it relates to matters of faith. It’s also a very dangerous word.
When someone speaks of change within Christian circles, it usually means someone has either left the faith or is beginning to show signs that they are going to.
But it’s not always this way.
In many cases, change can be good. It can help us to sort through areas where we may have gone wrong before. Scripturally, we may spend more time studying and God reveal to us the proper way to understand a particular portion of Scripture, which changes what we originally thought.
Remember–it was spiritual change that brought each one of us from darkness into light–how much more should we be willing to change once we launch deeper into studying the things of God?
Now there are, of course, fundamentals of the faith we must NOT, under any circumstances, change on. Salvation is by grace, through faith. That mustn’t change. Jesus is the ONLY sacrifice for sins. That mustn’t change.
But when we are having in-house debates on issues which do not affect basic Christian doctrine, we should certainly be open to new evidence enlightening our view.
The key to change is a fundamental understanding of logical consistency.
What I mean by that is we must not allow special pleading (i.e., a logical fallacy which implies a double standard) to characterize our in-house debates. Our only standard is God’s Word, and while we must hold our opponent to that standard–we must hold ourselves to it as well.
When we approach these debates with a willingness to change our position, we demonstrate a level of integrity that should be expected in the life of a Christian. This also allows us to demonstrate that Christians can and should operate with intellectual honesty—faith is reasonable, and a willingness to change our position helps bring that to light.
3. The Courage to Stand
It’s important that, even though we should have the willingness to change, we must also have the courage to stand.
It’s okay to believe something that not everyone else believes.
I cannot repeat that last statement enough! You are going to disagree with people from time to time—that’s inevitable. But as long as your discussions are characterized with an attitude of grace, and the willingness to change, you should have the courage to stand!
Here’s the caveat; if you’re going to stand, you should be able to articulate your case—well.
There are plenty of Christians who love the Lord and who disagree with me on the age of the earth. However, I can argue for that position pretty thoroughly, and have no problem standing on it in an in-house debate.
I think there are good Biblical and scientific reasons to believe in a young earth, and I feel I can articulate this well.
At the same time, however, there are other things I believe but would probably not engage in a debate on, because I am not well-enough versed to argue for the position. For example—I consider myself to be a Molinist (as opposed to a Calvinist or Armenian).
While I have good reasons for believing this way and have done quite a bit of study around it, I would not be able to confidently argue for this position in a debate with someone who disagrees and has made this their primary area of study.
Keep in mind, there is a difference between having good reasons to believe something and being able to argue for the position.
Nevertheless, good in-house debates are characterized by participants who are willing to change their position—but who have the courage to stand firm on the one they are defending.
4. A Call to Intellectual Honesty
Last, but certainly not least, is a call to intellectual honesty.
By this, I mean being willing to admit when you are wrong or when there is difficulties with your position.
A good example of this can be seen in the YEC argument against evolution. I have heard creationist after creationist say things like, “Evolution is dumb and stupid!” But in my estimation, this is not intellectually honest.
As young earth creation scientist Dr. Todd Wood points out,
“Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.”
For most creationists, these are fightin’ words! But not if you’re concerned with intellectual honesty. There are also good reasons not to believe or trust the conclusions of the theory of evolution, which is why I don’t.
Dismissing a proposition as stupid does not make it so.
Every claim should be evaluated on its own merit, and this kind of thinking should dominate our in-house debates—no matter the topic.
This is helpful because debates which feature participants who are not intellectually honest usually end up being nothing more than mud-slinging contests, where shouting matches and logical fallacies are the primary mode of exchange.
This is not only unhelpful, but it’s unbecoming of a Christian testimony and does not reflect the glory of Christ.
Do your homework on topics you wish to fight for, and always enter an in-house debate with a high regard for intellectual honesty. This will improve the nature and spirit of the debate, and will give clarity as to the decided outcome.
You may, like me, decide that you never really want to engage in debates of this sort, and that’s fine too.
Like I said earlier, it’s okay to believe something that not everyone else believes, and—you don’t always have to defend your position against others.
But should you decide to, remember to do it with an attitude of grace, the willingness to change, the courage to stand, and a call to intellectual honesty.
This is how we glorify the Lord, even when we respectfully disagree.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!