In today’s cultural climate, the two words that seem to be synonymous are ‘judgmental’ and ‘Christians’. Christians’ being labelled as intolerant; it’s becoming harder for us to be heard. This inevitably leads to two camps. There are those that would much rather stay out of anything ‘controversial’ and those that take a much more violent approach. For example, by bombing abortion clinics and targeting gay bars all in the name of Christianity. The very people they have been called to reach they instead condemn through hateful acts, in so doing they wrongly judge that the imago dei that Christ died for are not worth saving. The first group, staying silent seems easier as they fear the push back that can cause them to remain locked away in the haven of their Church buildings. However, when Jesus called us to love our enemies (those who belong to this world), I don’t believe that either of those approaches is what He had in mind. So, how do we love those that are hostile to our faith and remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus simultaneously?
Arguing well will be pivotal to us loving those we disagree with.
Oxford learners dictionary defines the word argue as “to give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” Notice the words ‘persuading’ and ‘cite evidence’. We shouldn’t force people into becoming Christians. However, according to 2 Corinthians 5:11 we should try to persuade them.
I believe there’s a lot we can learn from the life of Apostle Paul. A man who started off as a staunch enemy to Christianity who later became one of Christianity greatest banners. Often, what many Christians missed about Apostle Paul’s approach in engaging with non-Christians’ is the consistency to his methodology. Apostle Paul wasn’t scared of a disagreement but he also knew when to cut his losses. He knew the difference between quarrelling and arguing. If we are to be effective in our engagement with non-Christians’, we must likewise not be scared of disagreement but we must learn to disagree well. Throughout the book of Acts, Luke reiterates that Paul would intentionally look for people to engage with, “As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people.” – Acts of the Apostles 17:2 NLT. At first glance, you might be thinking “So what!” But how he reasoned is just as important as the fact that he reasoned. Paul’s method throughout the book of Acts provides insight to how we can engage with people today.
Firstly, I want to point out that Paul reasoned with people. The word ‘reason’ is the transliterated word ‘dialegomai’; it’s connected to the word Dialogue. In other words, Paul didn’t stand up and gave an hour-long sermon. Being trained by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39 and Acts 22:3), he picked up this rabbinic way of teaching through his early education. One of the methods of teaching at the time was that the teacher would ask his students questions upon questions. The questions themselves was the method to which the students gained a deeper understanding. It’s important for us to bear this in mind because people tend to switch off very quickly when we go on a monologue. We should ask questions in order to understand our audience. Taking an interest in people and listening to where they are coming from helps people to open up more.
Another methodology that Paul used is that he would look for common ground. Often as Christians’, we are a lot of the time known more for what we are against than what we are for. In Acts 17:28 (NLT), Luke records a dialogue between Paul and many Greek Philosophers. Within this conversation Paul affirms one of the views of their ancient poets,
“For in Him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.”
Paul in effect isn’t agreeing with every Ancient Greek poet. He is in fact agreeing with that particular statement. Do we know the truth well enough to be able to spot it in worldviews that by and large opposes Christianity? This requires discernment and honesty on our part to be able to agree with the truth while at the same time disagree with viewpoints that contradicts the truth.
Lastly, Paul had a way of speaking that looked more like an attorney presenting his/her case before a jury rather than a street preacher shouting at those in his presence (Acts 22:1-21 and 26). In effect, Paul was a type of attorney standing for the defence of the gospel (Philippians 1:7). Paul was concerned about how he treated people (Acts 24:16). In instructing the young Pastor Timothy, Paul says “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-25 NLT
We know through Church History that opposition to Christianity has always been present. If within our communities we can grow in the art of arguing well by learning to disagree respectfully and listen to each other’s views, it will put us in a good position to engage with people outside of our Churches. This requires deep and meaningful relationships with people one in which we don’t allow disagreement to cause us to stop loving those we disagree with. So, can we please argue?
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue. And it is extraordinary to notice how few people in the modern world can argue. This is why there are so many quarrels, breaking out again and again, and never coming to any natural end.” – G. K. Chesterton
By guest writer Praise Anyanegbu
God Loves You, Always & Forever!