Hello, my name is Sam, and I have a problem. It’s a problem that has become like an epidemic in our culture. I’ve tried to deal with and get better over time, yet the temptation is always there, and I end up regretting it almost every time I do it. Yes, my friends — I am guilty of arguing on the internet.
In this day and age, we’ve probably all done it at some point, especially with so many hot-topic issues going around — religion, politics, social issues, world tragedies and more. We see a post or a heated discussion somewhere online, and we just have to jump in with our opinion or beliefs. After all, as Christians who know God’s Word, we have the right beliefs and everyone needs to hear them.
That’s how it works, right?
Maybe sometimes it is. I don’t want to discourage the sharing of biblical truth, or the healthy exchange and discussion of ideas, because I believe those things are valuable. But too often it seems like big arguments about heated topics don’t accomplish anything positive and really do more harm than good.
There was a time when I didn’t realize that.
When I was a little younger and a little less wise, I used to get into huge arguments with people on the Internet, friends and strangers alike. I would try to prove to unbelievers, using facts and evidence, that intelligent design was true or that all the Bible’s prophecies lined up with history. I thought I could argue them into changing their minds and hearts.
But sooner or later I began to realize that, while it’s essential to think through the logic behind our beliefs, Internet arguments usually aren’t the best way to do that. While 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give an answer for our faith at all times, it stresses to do so with gentleness and respect. I’m all for having civil and reasonable discourse, and occasionally I have had some really positive conversations in the midst of online debates, but it seems that those are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases I was letting those arguments get the better of me and not representing Christ very well through them.
So then how should we handle the discussion of delicate topics, and trying to share God’s truth with those who don’t see eye-to-eye? I like to think I’ve learned a few good tips along the way.
Build good relationships with people.
This one is important. We need to show Christ’s love in all we do, especially in interacting with unbelievers and trying to share the truth with them. Therefore, make it a first priority to build a genuine, loving, trusting relationship with anyone you’re reaching out to. Although sharing our faith is key, arguing theology or politics should come second to the rest — if at all. There is a time and place for arguing in the right way, but nobody wants to do it all the time. So don’t be the one to seek out an argument instead of a friendly, ordinary conversation. Get to know the other person in a sincere way, without an agenda, before you move on to the rest.
Ask questions rather than pointing fingers.
The way we phrase things or initiate a discussion has a big influence on the conversation. Recently when I saw someone advocating a certain opinion on a sensitive issue, I asked something like, “Why do you believe that?” or “How does this line up with your beliefs?” Of course, some naysayers still criticized me for even daring to question the person’s opinion at all. Still, by asking questions and being willing to listen to the answers, I allow others to voice their perspectives and open up the pathways to mutual discussion.
Don’t hold unbelievers to believers’ standards.
As Christians, we believe we have the right answers to at least some of the problems in the world and in people’s lives. However, we can’t expect non-Christians, who don’t claim to follow the Bible in the first place, to agree with us right away or conform to our standards on everything. Personally, if I encounter a professing believer who is acting unbiblically, I’ll address them more directly and tell them what they’re doing is wrong. But when we encounter unbelievers, the primary mission is not to make them follow a list of rules, but to reach them with the love of the Gospel. When God’s love does reach someone, transformation and holiness will come later, at the Holy Spirit’s conviction — but it’s not our job to enforce that.
Don’t stoop to their level.
When someone is being stubbornly foolish, or when they’re trying to rope you into a fight, tread lightly! Scripture offers some very apt advice on how to respond in a variety of situations. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him also.” But the very next verse says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” While there definitely is a wrong way to partake in a discussion or argument, the second verse encourages us to speak up and give an answer—as long as we can do it rightly and without acting foolishly ourselves.
Seek answers and understanding. Be open to changing your mind.
When we believe we have the answers already, changing our minds is hard. But it doesn’t mean that we have to — or should — walk away from our beliefs. It just means that we should be open to hearing someone else’s perspective and admit that we don’t have all the answers on every single issue. And that’s okay. In a reasonable discussion on any significant issue, the goal should be not to win the argument, but to find the truth together in whatever form it may take.
Arguing the wrong way is all too easy, but we don’t have to give into that trap. With a humble attitude and God’s love as our guide, let’s go speak the truth in kindness and conviction to anyone who is willing to listen.