Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time examining the rules which govern informal religious dialogue. We’ve taken a look at the importance of keeping a conversation on task in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate” and considered a few “Duh Rules” that can be useful in keeping a debate on friendly terms. This week, we’re going to conclude our list with a brief discussion of the rules which govern those “awkward” situations that will inevitably occur if you ever try to share the Gospel with… well, just about anyone. Don’t panic – if the conversation is on-task and friendly, these situations aren’t nearly as fear inducing as they might be otherwise!
Rule 5 – If You Don’t Know, Just Admit It
Next to Rule 1, this might be the most important. There are a lot of people with legitimate questions about Christianity. While we’d all like to be “Super Christian” and have the answers to every objection a skeptic can pose… we don’t. When someone fields a question that you can’t answer, the best thing you can do is to admit it. Then, volunteer to find an answer. When someone is legitimately interested in your faith, they’ll be willing to let you check your sources and give them a response.
On the flip side, if you ask a question and the person you’re debating doesn’t immediately have an answer, be gracious enough to let them do some research as well. When you are respectful of others, the chances are, they will be respectful of you.
It’s also important to maintain a level of understanding for doctrines which simply can’t be defended in a “logical” fashion. The “trinity” is a fine example. Go ahead. Ask me how there can only be one God, but three distinct persons! The truth is, I simply don’t know. At the risk of sounding trite, “The Bible says it, so I believe it.” Interestingly enough, more than a few of my friends have been willing to accept this as a legitimate reply, if only because most recognized that there were many similar cases in their own religions. I didn’t make a point of pushing them around for embracing something they weren’t capable of explaining and they returned the favor. Being honest about my own ignorance ended up furthering the relationship more than faking my way through an answer ever would have!
Rule 6 – Don’t Be Afraid to Admit When You Are Wrong
On the same note, never be afraid to admit that you were wrong! It can be easy to misunderstand the beliefs and teachings of other faiths. Since you’re not a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or an “Enter religious preference here”, it’s not shameful to lack a complete understanding of someone else’s beliefs. If you make a statement and find yourself getting corrected, take it in stride and thank your friend for caring enough to correct you.
By the same token, God did not call us to be Bible experts either. At some point or another, someone is going to point out that your knowledge of your “sacred book” is deficient. Your ability to both admit that you were wrong and to alter your views to match the Bible’s teachings can go a long way towards adding legitimacy to the dialogue. Through this, people see that the point of the debate really is the discovery of truth, not your proving yourself right and them wrong! Try to be consistent in what you present. Check your facts and double check them. But don’t panic if you’re wrong, because God can use that too!
Rule 7 – Just Present the Truth
Last, but not least, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we lose a debate. Keep in mind that the only job God has given us is to present the truth as clearly as we are able. Sure, sometimes we say something really stupid (or even just plain ignorant), but God knows our hearts and He will make sure that what He wants to accomplish gets accomplished.
And yes, sometimes we think of the things that we should have said long after the discussion is over. While you may use those ideas in future discussions, you needn’t kick yourself for not using them in the last one. If God had needed you to say that, you’d have thought of it at the time.
So there you have it, seven rules to help you keep your religious dialogues on track, friendly, and honest. Follow them and, even when you “lose”, you’ll wind up a winner.
One final word: once you’ve found the high ground, hold it. Others may not treat you with courtesy or respect and they may even be downright rude, but that’s no excuse for you to return “in kind”. We are ambassadors for Christ and we represent Him in all situations, even the unpleasant ones!