Please admit that you are arguing with me. Contrary to popular understanding, arguing is not bad. It is not wrong. Quite the opposite it is a good thing. My theological growth can be contributed to the great arguments from godly men that have persuaded me (biblically) to abandon, not only, un-biblical views but dangerous ones, too. A simple definition of the word argue should reinforce the idea that arguing is not bad in itself. Merrian-Webster’s Dictionary defines argue as follows:
1: to give evidence of : indicate2: to consider the pros and cons of : discuss3: to prove or try to prove by giving reasons : maintain4: to persuade by giving reasons : induce
I tire of Christians telling me that we should not argue especially as they’re arguing with me. Of course what they mean is shouting, screaming or the obnoxious form of argumentation. Just pause for a moment, though, and try to imagine Paul doing this- “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Co 10:5–6) and this- “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience”(2 Co 5:11)- without any form of argumentation.
With that out of the way let’s now come to some basic rules for arguing. Here’s an extremely helpful one- know your own position. This is very beneficial since it communicates to your opponent that you have spent the necessary time and energy in the Word of God as well as using the minds of the godly men that God has gifted to the church. I cannot recall how many times I’ve been in discussions with fellow Christians that do not really know their own position. They understand that so and so holds to it (usually their favorite preacher or theologian) or perhaps they just grew up hearing a position continually repeated enough times that they just adopt it without studying it in depth. When they hear me or someone else arguing a position that opposes theirs, they immediately react on impulse, get frustrated and wind up showing they do not comprehend the very position they are trying to defend. They cannot explain it. They must use someone else to present their position for them.
What typically happens at this point is simply quoting so and so or saying so and so says (insert theological position). Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong quoting someone else because they can articulate a position better. The problem arises when one does not test that persons understanding of Scripture themselves to see if he can draw a line from point A to point Z and not just state his conclusions. In other words can they handle the whole of the Bible as a unit rather than a few pocket of passages? Can they rightly handle the texts of Scripture so that it does not do injustice to the rest of the Holy Writ. Because if it does then someone has made it fit into their preconceived theological construct.
If I can break it down further into a sentence it would be this: If your opponent is in a theological disagreement with you and can explain your position better than you can, that is not good for you nor the discussion.
It would be extremely helpful if you knew your opponents position. Far too often I have encountered people that seem to be arguing against me but do not understand what I believe. They have been told by their pastor or favorite preacher/theologian what I believe but that person does not understand my position either. As an amillennialist and covenant theologian I get this all the time. Especially from dispensationalists. An example of this is, recently, when discussing the kingdom or covenant theology, dispensataionalists immediately have directed my attention to John MacArthur’s “Why Every Calvinist Should Be A Premillennialist” message (or someone else). Any amillennialist and covenant theologian that listens to that message immediately sees the gross misrepresentation and horrendous misunderstanding of our position.
Sadly, many Christians learn about their opponents viewpoint from the those that are against it. If you are going to engage in arguing against my position (strongly), please seek to honestly learn what I actually believe. Read books, listen to messages to honestly learn. No one is saying that you have to abandon your position to adopt the other but it is the right thing to do when you learn your opponents position fairly and accurately from them. Disagree all you want but demonstrate for them that you’ve taken the time to sincerely learn and can object from a proper understanding of their position and interact with exegesis of Scripture. Otherwise we’re spending more time going backwards rather than forward. Too much time is wasted clearing up the false understanding of a position.
I learned this the hard way. I grew tired of the Reformed Christians saying that I did not understand their position. So I decided to read them for myself. Of course my intentions were dishonest because I only wanted to refute them and say that I read them for myself. However, in the process I noted that what I was taught about them from others was not accurate at all. Not only that but I saw how they not only handled my proof texts to demonstrate my faulty understanding of them but were able to present their own, that I and others had to dance around, that fit perfectly in harmony with the whole of Scripture.
This brings me to a very brief point. Handle the Word of God in discussions. If a verse is presented to you against your position, please do not avoid interacting with it and jump to your own proof text and simply say “Scripture interprets Scripture” as if your passage trumps the one presented to you. You must be able to explain both and demonstrate that they are in harmony with one another.
Finally, if you cannot accomplish any of these basic principals then you should avoid entering any theological discussion. Sit back learn, study, listen, ask but by all means inform yourself.
Of course there are some people you just shouldn’t argue with:
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet” (Pr 29:9).
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,