Thursday, July 05, 2012

arguing well

I wrote this a long time ago, found it this afternoon and dusted it off.  Hope you find something helpful in it.

I've been thinking about disagreements and arguments, since I have been part of a few in my lifetime and have begun to see patterns to many disagreements, in particular those centered around Biblical passages or doctrines.

Disagreeing and arguing is not inherently wrong or sinful. Many Christians(and strangely sometimes even non-Christians) often respond with a host of Bible verses harnessed together to show how the Bible condemns arguing(or judging), especially among Christians. I believe that in most instances, they wrongly apply these type of verses to suit their specific agenda at that time. Also due to the feminization of the church, I also believe that many Christians feel that only words dripping with flattery and false humility can be used to articulate disagreement.
In other words, acceptable language is that which makes your opponent feel good about his position. Not so. The Bible records several instances where one believer stood up to another believer using very direct, perhaps even harsh words to make their point. Think David confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel. Think Peter confronted by Paul as recorded in Galatians 2. And in dealing with the unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus without sin, never minced words. Of course, as sinful people, it is possible to argue in a sinful way, but too often they are assumed to be one and the same and yet they are not.

In order to disagree succinctly and with the shortest possible way to resolution, the point of disagreement must be apparent to both parties. This will involve pointing out the other person's error or misunderstanding. It's not wrong or unloving or unkind or ungracious to highlight the areas of disagreement so that the issue can be seen clearly.
I doubt, there can be anything less conducive to resolving a disagreement than having to deal with someone's hurt feelings, thus derailing the discussion from its original point of contention.
Of course, I do think different types of people should be treated differently in a disagreement. For example, I want to obey the fifth commandment and honor my parents even while I may disagree or argue about an issue with them. That means treating them without contempt and giving honor to their God-given role in my life. They may be wrong, but I need to honor them as I disagree with them. What that looks like may vary from person to person and culture to culture, but it should be clear if each of the parties are being honest and genuine in the discussion.
Disagreeing with children or young people needs be balanced with the understanding that they are not fully mature yet and the understanding necessary for logical thinking may not be in place yet. So you may have to shelve the disagreement until they reach a more mature place in their lives.
 If your opponent shows a genuine desire to understand your different view, then they should be treated with genuine kindness even as you point out how their beliefs differs from yours.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as someone may just want to duke it out with you and then the discussion may get more heated.

To help resolve an area of disagreement, both parties need to be able to articulate what the other person's position is. I think the highest compliment you can give to someone you are disagreeing with is a true representation of their position. This can be tricky because often our positions are not logically thought out to completion and when someone points out that your position actually leads to this, this and this, we may react as being falsely accused of holding to something. This is why thinking through your opponent's position well enough, to be able to accurately present it, is really a gift to them. It says that you respect them enough to get it right and who doesn't want that kind of respect from their opponents?

If you are reading this or any of my other posts and are opposed to anything I write, may I ask that you treat me as a worthy opponent and do your very best to articulate for yourself the view that I am offering without misrepresentation. In other words, in your own mind, be conscientious to fully understand what I am articulating, so that if stated by you to me, I could say, "Yes, you understand my position, even though you disagree with it".
I learned a few years back when I adopted the Reformed/Calvinistic view of the Bible that many non-Calvinists want to wrongly tell you what you believe and then tell you how it's wrong.  Not very helpful to overcoming the disagreement, to say the least.

Something my husband and I have discussed over the years is how every one wants their opinion to be validated and respected even if they have done little reading or research into an issue.  It is frustrating to be told how wrong or unbiblical your position is by someone who has made little-to-no-attempt to acquaint themselves with the nuances of the discussion.  Being humble(and wise) enough to know when someone is bringing up ideas that you have given little thought or consideration to, can bring a perhaps, difficult discussion to its end by agreeing to read and study further in order to be prepared to make progress in the discussion the next time it happens.

I'll close by adding one aspect I did not anticipate when entering into a disagreement with someone whether it be in person, on the phone or online is how much my understanding of the issue would deepen as I studied certain passages or topics with the intent to offer the correct viewpoint.    Digging further into commentaries and articles, comparing passages and versions is often the results of having a discussion or disagreement with someone.
I have never been sorry for the time I spent studying and thinking about an issue which arose from a disagreement or misunderstanding.  It has all been used to further my thinking and that should never be despised or avoided.

1 comment:

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