I grew up loving, even needing, a good argument. My father was a excellent debater, and my mother soon learned how to keep up with him: Challenge him whenever he pontificated. Dad would often throw out quotes from books he had only skimmed or articles he had only glanced at. Mom found challenging him was better than debating him, and it humbled Dad to the point where he had to actually prove his point instead of bullying his way through.
Into that milieu, my brother, sister and I were born. The dinner table was an open season on ideas, opinions and even, occasionally, facts. My poor wife, after coming to a dinner at our house one night, was horrified at the seeming anger that everyone displayed. Yet, I didn’t see any anger at all: We were glorying in the “game”, the interplay and replay of ideas and theories.
All of us in our family are idealists in the Myers/Briggs tradition, which means that we really don’t know what we’re thinking until it comes out of our mouths. Then, if others have the guts to interact with us, we hone and fashion our ideas to a much sharper place. My wife grew up thinking that a person’s stated opinion was their final position (as in, “Is that your final answer?”), so she rarely, if ever challenged my bold statements. It left me confused and surprisingly annoyed.
But, I also have to admit that I fell into the trap of being a bully and pedantic. This turned people off, and it certainly didn’t foster good communication of Biblical Truth. So I found that it was best to back off.
But the Blogosphere has erupted, for lack of a better word, and has given rise to a host of discussions, arguments and debates on virtually any subject. This is my kind of forum. But, as in any discussion of human affairs, the debates can get ugly. How is a Christian to comport themself in this kind of arena?
John Wilson has written a good article for Christianity Today, where he outlines a recent series of lectures on modern culture at Whitworth College in Spokane. The speakers all dealt with highly controversial topics, but did so with a brand of humility that was refreshing to Wilson. After viewing their style, he came up with some absolute values we must maintain when we are engaging people in arguments: (1) humility; (2) love; (3) patience; and (4) commitment balanced with openness.
HUMILITY: That is the willingness to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
LOVE: The determination to count the potential relationship as just as important as the goal to express Truth.
PATIENCE: The goal of any argument may seem to lie in convincing others to believe what we believe. That is a worthy goal. But to get there, we must travel through the land of Understanding first. No one will come to agree with us until they clearly understand us…and until they know we are understanding them. This takes time and often more patience than we are willing to allot. Our unstated goals are often to get someone to acquiesce quickly so we can go onto other matters.
COMMITMENT BALANCED WITH OPENNNESS: If I enter into a discussion, I commit to listening with an open heart. This is often hard for those who claim to believe Absolute Truth. But remember, just because we believe in absolute Truth, does not mean we are the sole proprietor of it. There is much that we do not know about even the simplest concept.
If I personally struggle with any of these it is the patience part. I have a mental clock that is always pushing me to the next appointment. I will often post arguments or rebuttals on other blogs and then not return for days to pick up the point of the discussion. This is patently unfair to others who want to discuss ideas. I admit my error in this. If I have done it to anyone here, I apologize.