Last week, in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate”, we discussed the importance of keeping a religious discussion focused and “on task”. This week, we’re going to look at a few more rules that will help us keep that discussion friendly. I call these rules the “Duh” rules because most of us would like others to treat us with the same courtesy they outline… but we sometimes struggle to return the favor. As you read through the list, take a moment to ask yourself which of the rules you follow and where you could do with some improvement.
Rule 2 – Don’t Present Arguments You Wouldn’t Accept, Yourself
While this may seem obvious, often, in the heat of discussion, it simply isn’t. That’s why I’m taking a moment to state it here. Before making an argument against someone’s beliefs, make sure that if the same argument were reversed, you’d be willing to accept it as valid.
A perfect example of such a weak argument is the frequent appeal to the lack of archeological evidence for the “Book of Mormon”.* While, initially, the argument may seem solid, a closer investigation proves otherwise. For years, there was no archeological evidence for the Hittite civilization mentioned in the Old Testament. Then, in 1906, Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered over 10,000 clay tablets confirming their existence.
Now, I’m not saying that anyone will ever find evidence to support Joseph Smith’s teachings, but what I am saying is that this is a dead-end argument that’s likely to end in a shouting match and not a discussion about Christ. The same goes for arguments based upon emotion. It just feels/doesn’t feel right is subjective, not objective and leads to the idea that truth is based upon my feelings, not God’s Word. Sure, emotion comes into it, but this doesn’t form a solid basis for arguments about eternity. The basic rule of thumb is, “If you wouldn’t accept a similar argument against Christianity, then don’t use it against other religions.”
Rule 3 – Don’t Debate Someone Who Just Wants to Fight
This can be a really difficult rule to observe both because it requires the ability to control one’s own emotions while discerning the motives of another equally erratic human being. The truth of the matter is that some people ask us questions about our faith, not because they’re interested, but because they want a fight. Most of these discussions are worthless and only end in frustration and ought, in general, to be avoided.
You can usually tell if someone is merely trying to pick a fight by the way they react to the answers you’re giving. For example, if they interrupt you mid-sentence or shoot off another six dozen questions before the last word is out of your mouth, they probably care more about demonstrating their own superiority than they do about the truth. They’re out to show you how wrong you are and, believe it or not, they will win, if only because their voice is the loudest.
While we shouldn’t turn down an opportunity to share Christ, we need to take our cue from Jesus. When He entered a town, He’d present the Gospel. He’d dine with those who were interested, but when someone clearly didn’t care, He moved on. His energies were better devoted to sharing than to arguing. If you find yourself in this situation, pray for the person and then head on down the road. Don’t waste your time on worthless debate.
Rule 4 – Don’t Be Someone Who Just Wants To Fight
We all like to be right, but when it comes to evangelism we need to keep our eyes on the goal. Remember, this is about Jesus and the gift He offers us, not about proving our superiority!
If you ask a question, listen to the answer… the full answer. Respect for a person and their beliefs, even if they differ from our own, is essential to forming the type of relationship that may eventually lead to a commitment to Christ. Jesus often disagreed with the people He met, but He never cut them off, made fun of their beliefs, or sought to make them feel stupid. He heard them out and so should you.
Romans 12:14,16-18 reminds us, “…bless and do not curse… do not be haughty in mind… Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Next week, we’ll take a look at a few rules regarding “awkward” situations, but for now, take the time to share a few of your own experiences with the “Duh” rules in the comment box below!
*This type of argument can be used effectively, but in order to do so, you’ll need the opportunity to build a case just like a lawyer does in court, presenting it as part of a “preponderance” of evidence. Finding someone’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime isn’t enough to convict them of murder, but add in the threatening message on the answering machine and the victim’s blood all over the defendant’s laundry and you have a case. The same applies to arguing against a given religious view.