January 20, 2021

How to win an argument . . . like a Christian

By Guest Blogger Andy Zehner

Chaplain Mike made a nice post last Friday regretting what happens when Christians get “political.” By adding my own bit here I affirm what he said. Anything we do from a desire to score off someone else is wrong. But there’s another point I would add. It is too small a thing merely to avoid contentiousness. We do nothing good when guided by our ego, but even when ego is controlled we cannot be content.

Doctrine and practice matter. The Old Testament is packed with proof — Cain’s vegetable offering, Nadab and Abihu’s unauthorized fire, the blemished sacrifices God despises in Malachi — that God doesn’t accept all that is offered to Him. God’s glory demands that He be worshiped in ways that are acceptable to Him. We latter-day believers worship in spirit and truth, but none of us knows how broad a license that phrase confers. “In spirit and truth” is not the same as “what works for me.” God allows us latitude in our practices, but when the fences are down the sheep will wander: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3) We have a duty to stand firm for right doctrine and practice.

Before a church-league softball game years ago, I suggested to my teammates that we try to win the game. I said we’d honor our opponents by giving our best effort between the chalk lines. By their dropped jaws and incredulous stares you might have supposed I wanted to brush off their lead-off hitter with the old high, hard one or go into second with our spikes up. They seemed to think we did enough if we went through the motions, and that serious effort was unChristian. I suspect many Christians take the same approach — content to make the appropriate motions and noises without much care for the outcome — to discussions about religion and faith.

But here’s the delightful thing. Fervency for right doctrine and practice does not require us to compromise courtesy. We aren’t being pulled in two directions. It’s not a case of, “You put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword.” We aren’t required to give up anything except what impairs us. Fulfilling the call to be gracious makes us more effective in defending the faith. You catch more flies with honey.

My thesis is that we need to add a firm resolve to defend good doctrine and practice to the graciousness Chaplain Mike commended to us earlier. Let me back that up with a few principles showing how courtesy and humility go hand in hand with persuasiveness.

Speak the plain truth
Christian debate is infected with unkind and inaccurate hyperbole. Hyperbole is fun, but it isn’t honest. We need to stop using it. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.” People who attend traditional services are not “corpses.” Liturgical services are not “hide-bound magic shows.” Old doctrines are not “medieval superstitions.” This sort of mischaracterization has no place in Christian discourse. Misquoting another person is false witness and sinful. Anyway, mischaracterizations don’t work. When we describe people in terms like these I’ve mentioned, they won’t recognize themselves and they won’t acknowledge the criticism as pertaining to them. The point we are making goes off track. If we care about persuading people and defending right doctrine we must give up what isn’t honest and accurate.

Speak graciously
CS Lewis says, in his Reflections on the Psalms, “It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better.” But Lewis stops short of endorsing violent action. It would be an effective tool, but it is one we cannot wield. And neither can we accomplish anything good with aggressive speech.

The crowd came to be baptized, and John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers. Whatever John said to Herod Antipas got him imprisoned and beheaded. Jesus himself addressed the Jewish authorities as hypocrites, whitewashed sepulchers and blind guides. And the less said about Paul’s comment about the false teachers in Galatia the better. From these examples I would draw no lesson at all. Peter instructs the believers to always be ready to give an answer, but adds, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”

Listen and wait
Consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James wasn’t the biggest name attending that meeting, but he made the vital contribution to the outcome by waiting until after Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and perhaps others, had finished speaking. James comprehended the whole debate before he spoke. And, clever fellow, he even brought Peter onto his side by citing Peter’s earlier statement in support of his own.

I have, on occasion, listened while another person stated his opinion, the preceded to find the obvious flaws in it and reverse himself without any input from me. If I had stuck my oar in, it would have been my ideas he reacted to and not his own.

More questions, fewer answers
My high school friend grew up as I did in a traditional denominational church. But he now declares hymns are unfit for church because, “They don’t know what a diadem is.”  When he said this to me in a recent conversation, I didn’t know how to respond. I should have asked him many honest questions: Who is this they you speak of? Is they the people who attend your services now, or an unchurched demographic you hope to attract in the future? How do you know what they know? Would it be possible to just explain that a diadem is a crown? Doesn’t the hymn you disparage for introducing an unfamiliar word in one line, “Bring forth the royal diadem,” clarify that word in the very next line: “And crown Him Lord of all?” If you reject this hymn as a means of teaching Jesus as King of Kings, how do you teach that important aspect of His nature? Are you only trying to update the vocabulary, or are you changing Christianity?

If I had asked and listened, I might have discovered that my friend is not as wayward as I suspected. Or I might have helped him realize for himself how slight his position is. Either way, our conversation would have been more pleasant and profitable. Some readers might think my questions are too provocative. But people like to talk. They don’t mind what you ask, so long as you listen to their answer.

Cite experts rather than your own opinion
As our conversation went round and round it became obvious my friend didn’t care about my opinion. But my opinion and his respect for it ought never have come into play. I ought to have preferred the more potent weapons and strategies that were available to me. History tells us that hundreds of French knights were slaughtered by arrows from English peasants’ bows at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Even as they fell in ranks, the French knights ignored the archers because their chivalric code demanded that a knight fight against another knight. Like the French knights, I suffered a defeat because I persisted in using the polemical weapons that preserved my dignity rather than those that would have succeeded.

My friend and his idea of church may be right or wrong. What is certain is that what he believes about church comes from Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek model. The fact that Hybels himself has disavowed much that he pioneered ought to matter to my friend. I should have avoided my own inferior thoughts and the desire to win my way, and instead quoted from Hybels’ Reveal report.

Avoid saying “They”
This one may be most important of all. Paul declares in the second chapter of Galatians, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Paul’s reproach was, no doubt, effective because he said what needed saying to Peter’s face and not behind his back. If our goal is to win arguments and persuade people toward right doctrine and good practice, we must be talking to those people. And yet most political talk (both the political political talk on the radio and internet news channels and the religious political talk on this forum and around the coffee hour table) is commentary about people who aren’t even present.

We abhor confrontation, so we avoid saying tough things directly to the people who need to hear them. But I think we need to train ourselves to do that, or to stay silent.

Know what you’re arguing about, and concede as much as you can
Have you found yourself arguing a point which, on later reflection, wasn’t the thing you wanted to stress? When that happens, I can often look back over the conversation and find the moment at which I dug in my heels and began arguing for argument’s sake.

I have a friend who is Orthodox, and once we were going around about it. I was prosing on about the importance of a cultural context for Christianity and how I had labored among the Kyrgyz to free them of Russian symbols and practices that were hindering the development of a true Kyrgyz heart-language church. I continued by stressing that America deserves a church free from foreign overtones as much as the Kyrgyz did. At last I paused, well convinced by myself, and my friend asked the only real question between us, which was, “Do you have any doubts that I am a genuine Christian?” I answered, “No, none at all!” And that was all that needed to be said.

Know when to quit
Let’s be honest. Some people are thick. But that only raises our obligation. The thick-headed man deserves a compelling explanation just as much as the wise and logical man does. Unpersuasive arguments such as “Take my word for it!” need to be set aside. I need to try harder, not less hard, when the nut is hard to crack.

But there is also the possibility that I’m not the man for the job. An antinomian heresy was spreading in Kyrgyzstan several years ago and I confronted the leaders about their error. Our conversation led one of them finally to say, “I just can’t understand why you say we aren’t right.”  And I came to the point where I said, “I believe you. You can’t understand it.”  But I must see it as my own failing and not his. I let him down.

• • •

I hope I have made the case that we need to stay in the debate over doctrine and practice even as we give up methods that don’t work well anyway. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer . . .” And I’m sure he intended that the answer we give be correct and compelling. When he added, “But do this with gentleness and respect,” he was stipulating both Christian virtue and pragmatic polemical strategy.


  1. Dan Allison says

    Thanks for some great direction here. “Concede as much as possible” is absolutely vital, as Tim Keller stresses when he points out that many criticisms of Christianity are sincere and legitimate. Just today I attended a Native American “Sacred Lands Festival.” The music and dance were wonderful, colorful, a true celebration of life, creation, and community. Although all religions and mythologies point to Christ — and have Jesus at their core — the history of the church makes it incredibly difficult to communicate this to some people. The Native Americans I met today have a legitimate hostility to Christianity. The Old Testament narrative that gives “God’s people” the “right to take the land” somehow historically became the right of Europeans to steal land and commit genocide against red people, and they are very aware that the Biblical narrative was used to justify this conquest. They are a vibrant, spiritual people, and it breaks my heart that they reject — and are hostile to — Christ.

    We don’t have to “sign up” people for “our” church every time we witness, or teach them “the four laws of salvation” and get them to say a “sinner’s prayer.” I think that’s nonsense. I’m hoping that just by agreeing with the people I met today — that their criticism is real and legitimate — that perhaps I’ve planted the first seed, that perhaps it will grow in the right direction. Thanks again for a great post.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Concede as much as possible” is absolutely vital, as Tim Keller stresses when he points out that many criticisms of Christianity are sincere and legitimate.

      Problem is, when “Everything Is Political (i.e. Power Struggle)”, anything you concede not only might but WILL be used against you. Just another weapon to Win the Ideological War Without End, Amen.

      The Old Testament narrative that gives “God’s people” the “right to take the land” somehow historically became the right of Europeans to steal land and commit genocide against red people, and they are very aware that the Biblical narrative was used to justify this conquest.

      “Men of Sin” will take any Cosmic-level Authority — God, Christ, Nature, Science, Bible, Koran, Das Kapital, etc — to get Cosmic-level Justification for what they wanted to do anyway. That said, I think you can trace that particular application of “God’s People’s Right to Take The Land” to the Massachusetts Puritans, who envisioned themselves as a “New Israel” setting up a Pure Godly Society in a New World “Promised Land” (with the “red people” already there cast as The Canaanites).

  2. I had a couple things converge that led me to teach a similar lesson to my college age Sunday School class yesterday. One is Chaplain Mike’s post and the other was reading “The Believing Game and How to Make Conflicting Opinions More Fruitful” by Peter Elbow. Here is the conclusion I wrote to the lesson. Note that instead of taking “Christian” approach to arguing, I termed it a “Jesusian” approach.

    The Jesusian Approach

    • He listened.
    John 5: “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Jesus does not argue with the man, but instead engages him at exactly the point where he finds most difficulty. He says he has no one to help him. Jesus, rather than telling him that’s not true because Jesus is the one to help him, says instead, “Walk.”

    Before we can engage others with our solutions and answers, we have to understand first of all what it is that is their problem. The man centered his problem on the lack of help from others and the impediments of competing interests that shouldered him aside. Jesus redirected his objections to the key issue – he wanted to walk. Instead of engaging every point of the man’s argument and refuting it, Jesus listened to his heart’s greatest desire and spoke to that.

    The object in an argument is not to win every point or even to “win” the argument, but instead to bring in the kingdom of God, the triumph of good over evil, the throwing down of strongholds by the Power of Truth.

    • He talked less.
    Beyond listening is the need to let others “clear the air” or get their feelings off their chest. In John 4, Jesus lets the woman at the well do most of the talking, but when he does talk, he does so by seeing things from her point of view and identifying its flaws in a respectful way. Note some of the things Jesus says to her:

    “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

    “Go, call your husband, and come here….You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

    “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    And when she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

    When we engage others, it is important that we provide both room for confrontation and room for reconciliation. Jesus acknowledged her shameful condition, but at the same time spoke admiringly of her for stating the truth. One of the key things to observe is that Jesus allowed the woman to arrive at the most compelling argument for his Messiahship on her own and then affirmed that she had drawn the right conclusion. Better to let them discover the truth than beat them over the head with it.

    • Tell Stories and share experiences.
    When we use stories, the object is not to win or lose, but to share. We can draw our opponents into our point of view through story. By the same token, we can enter into their viewpoint through story as well and engage that story in a constructive way. Jesus affirms the power of story to both enlighten and obscure simultaneously. From Matthew 13:
    Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

    We can use stories as analogies for the points we make. We can use them as illustrations. Most often they are used as anecdotes to refute generalized statements, but they should be employed more judiciously than that. For instance, the Sadducees tried to refute Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection through the use of story in Matthew 22:

    The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

    But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

    Note how Jesus points to the irrelevance of the story by destroying their underlying assumptions. This is a two-edged sword that works either for us or against us, depending on the assumptions. In any case, Jesus concludes with a question that shows the frailty of their whole line of reasoning, much to the astonishment of the watching crowd.

    • Use objects instead of language alone.
    We can appeal to physical objects as illustration of key points. We say, “seeing is believing,” but often forget to bring things to people’s sight and then wonder why they don’t believe us.

    Jesus does this in Matthew 22 as well:

    Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

    • Be nonadversaial.
    We often think that in order for us to be right, we must first prove the other wrong. The woman at the well wanted to argue religion, but Jesus went on to affirm worship in the spirit and truth rather than refute either hers or the Jews’ position. When Jesus was confronted by a lawyer in Luke 10, he used a nonadversarial approach before launching into the story of the Good Samaritan.

    And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
    But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

    Jesus concludes with both a question and a confirmation. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to people who want to argue is that we agree with them.

    Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

    • Silence.
    Believe it or not, sometimes the best argument is no argument at all. Jesus’ final argument before his accusers was to say nothing. Why did he not defend himself? Some would say he intended to die and this is how he brought it about. However, the point needs to be made that Jesus’ accusers had no case and the more they talked the more foolish they looked. By the time Pilate was forced by the Jews to pass sentence, what had started out as an attempt to shame Jesus and bring him down actually ended up being a fatal blow to the Jews who wanted him dead when Pilate hung the placard displaying his crime on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Jews demanded it be torn down because it was an affront to Jewish pride, but Pilate said what he had written, he had written. Jesus’ crime was to be the King of the Jews or their Messiah and that was exactly why they were crucifying him. The Silence of Jesus put to shame the accusations of his enemies.

    We don’t have to win every argument, every discussion. At the same time we don’t have to throw up our hands and walk away in resignation that people who are going to be hard-headed will just have to stay wrong. We also have the alternative of engaging them in ways that are productive, constructive, and may actually convince them that the claims of Jesus are in fact true.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One of the key things to observe is that Jesus allowed the woman to arrive at the most compelling argument for his Messiahship on her own and then affirmed that she had drawn the right conclusion. Better to let them discover the truth than beat them over the head with it.

      • Tell Stories and share experiences.
      When we use stories, the object is not to win or lose, but to share. We can draw our opponents into our point of view through story.

      As someone who’s trying to start a second career as a fiction writer, I can attest to and affirm both of these. Much of the weakness of today’s fiction is caused by forgetting the storytelling and going straight to the preaching. Whether that preaching comes from a Jack Chick tract or The Golden Compass Trilogy.

      By the time Pilate was forced by the Jews to pass sentence, what had started out as an attempt to shame Jesus and bring him down actually ended up being a fatal blow to the Jews who wanted him dead when Pilate hung the placard displaying his crime on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Jews demanded it be torn down because it was an affront to Jewish pride, but Pilate said what he had written, he had written.

      Speaking from a Roman POV, remember that Pilate had taken a LOT of crap from the Sanhedrin since he was first appointed Rome’s Prefect to Judea, including the Sanhedrin trying to get him into serious trouble with the Emperor at least twice. “What I have written, stays written” was probably an exasperated man flipping the finger at the guys who’d gotten him in trouble and forced his hand with “We have no king but Caesar!” implying they would get him in serious trouble again if he didn’t go along.

    • Thanks for this. It’s a thorough and insightful enlargement of the OP.

  3. David Cornwell says

    Andy Zehner’s principles would be worth teaching in all colleges, seminaries and training schools for Christian pastors. The follow up posts by Dan Allison and Rick could easily be tacked on as well. Thanks to each of you.

  4. ‘ Let me back that up with a few principles showing how courtesy and humility go hand in hand with persuasiveness. ‘

    i don’t know, seems kind of disingenuous to me.

    if we’re being courteous and humble in order to persuade, is it really courtesy and humility then? it seems to me, that, the chief hallmark of these 2 virtues is their lack of such pre-meditation and/or calculation.

    we simply share and live out the Gospel because we do, because as christians it’s who we are and what we are called to do. God takes care of the rest. it’s not my job to persuade anyone; God doesn’t need that from me. He is fully capable all on His own to convict, persuade and cause the Gospel seed to grow in another person’s life/heart. in my experience, such maneuvers never profited anyone – not me and certainly not the person to whom i was “witnessing” to. they could usually smell it a mile off anyhow.

    true story:

    one day i was in a local coffee shop getting a coffee, when this guy walked up and gave me a compliment on my coat (it was a lightweight piece meant for backpacking). so this guy and i started talking about camping – what kind of gear we used, where we had been, where we wanted to go, etc. the thing is, is that i kind of enjoyed this total strangers company, and we wound up hanging out for a few outside the shop, talking it up for a bit when, all of a sudden, unbeknownst to me, his true intention and motive came out. he was a business man, looking to sell a “share” in his new on-line company and, wouldn’t you know it, he thought that i, me!, would make a great partner! oh what joy! really!?! and it is only going to cost me how much?

    i immediately looked at my watch and excused myself, feeling betrayed, bamboozled, hoodwinked. none of what i perceived to be genuine was, in fact, genuine. it was a pitch. a line. an angle. and driving home, thinking about it, God used that experience to show and to teach me about “witnessing”.

    the moment that a person feels lied to, feels angled, feels pitched to, like they are being offered a product or a party-line, the moment that the “sales pitch” is brought out….. it’s over. in fact, it’s not just over, it’s mangled. it’s worse than if nothing had been said at all.

    • follow up thoughts:

      1) God is able to cause the Gospel seed that i scatter to grow without my persuasive efforts.

      2) when a human being starts to get the impression that you really don’t care to hear about them, really, truly care (like their own mother or father would care – assuming that they are good parents!) when they begin to suspect that all you want to do is tell them about Jesus, or tell them how much of a sinner they are, or tell them how great, hip, relaxed and rad your church is and why they should come there, when it starts to become increasingly evident that they are trying to be persuaded into ANYTHING (esp. heaven) and that the person they are talking to cares more about their beliefs than they do them…. it’s over. it’s completely over. people don’t care to hear what you have to say until they know how much you care…. about them. truly.

      the only time that i feel comfortable “persuading” anyone, is when they themselves are asking to be persuaded. if they are wrestling with things, and questioning and seeking, then we can engage one another, trying to persuade one another of the truth, as we see it, know it, and understand it to be.

      yet, even still, it is not my job to get a person from “A” all the way to “Z”. like paul said in corinthians, maybe i just plant a seed, and maybe someone else tilled the ground before me, and maybe someone else will come after me and water, but ultimately, it is God who causes things to grow. it IS as wild and unpredictable as Jesus said when he spoke about the Holy Spirit being like the wind, about how none of us know where from or where to.

      there is no formula, no curriculum for spreading the Gospel. no strategies or proven-effective methods. there is just love. true, real, life-sacrificing love. there is only authenticity. there is only regarding another as more important than yourself; becoming their servant.

      • I don’t know. I suspect that if we waited to feel GENUINELY courteous and humble, we’d be waiting a long time. Disciplining yourself to behaving in a courteous and humble manner (regardless of whether you might want to bash the person you’re talking to over the head or not) is, I think, both attractive to others and spiritually beneficial to yourself.

        There have been a few people I’ve known who I came to understand were making a conscious, day-by-day effort to be kind and courteous to all. They are among the most Christ-like people I’ve ever met.

        • ‘ the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. ‘ mlk. jr

          my love for humanity should be as fervent and pure as my love for my wife and children. i don’t discipline myself into loving them. i don’t want my children or wife to be with me,or to care for me, because they are disciplining themselves in to doing so. no, i want, (as do they of me), for them to want to want to both spend time with me and to care for me – genuinely and from the heart.

          if courtesy is what we’re after, then discipline will work – just as the pharisees were on the outside very holy and righteous, but inside they were white-washed tombs! but jesus calls us beyond being courteous – that is the law, in effect – Jesus calls us into self-sacrificial love. something entirely different and infinitely more important than mere courtesies, rules, regulations and discipline.


          you’re standing in line at the grocery store and you overhear the cashier talking about a problem in his/her life. being disciplined in courtesy would say, ‘God loves you, have a nice day’ or some other such manufactured christian platitude.

          being what i believe Christ has called us to be looks like this:

          i will lay down my life for you. is it money you need? i’ve got some extra. is it food you need? i can share some of mine. clothes? i have way more than i need.

          i think rather than knuckling down and determining to push through our fallen instinct, it would be better to simply confess to someone that you wish to lash out at that you feel like lashing out at them! then ask them for their forgiveness. no pretension, no fake facade of being more disciplined then they, of being more ‘godly’ or put together. just one struggling, imperfect human being being transparent with another struggling, imperfect human being about their brokenness and selfishness.

        • ‘ I suspect that if we waited to feel GENUINELY courteous and humble, we’d be waiting a long time. ‘

          i agree, which is why we are called to confession and repentance, not discipline. for out of confession and repentance comes a heart that has been cleansed by God Himself, and having been so cleansed, one’s heart will feel inclined to do the good work that has been prepared in advance for them to do.

    • Jason says:

      > the moment that a person feels lied to, feels angled, feels pitched to, like they are being offered a product or a party-line, the moment that the “sales pitch” is brought out….. it’s over. <

      This is very true.

      I meant to rule out the possibility of anything like salesmanship or "handling people" with my third sentence, which said, “Anything we do from a desire to score off someone else is wrong.”

      • @andy:

        thanks for the response and for the clarification. the whole “score off someone” comment was lost on me. i honestly didn’t know WHAT you were talking about!!

        great article otherwise!

    • If you count to 10 and take a deep breath and offer your thoughts in a positive way, you get much further than if you get exasperated and present your thoughts in a ” You poor misguided fool” way. Saying “that is interesting, tell me more.” keeps the communication going.

  5. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.”

    Well … not all the time. 😉

    But I agree with most of the above. Or, as Paul put it so simply, “speak the truth in love.” Hard to go wrong with that.

  6. To add to what has been said: Unless I know you care about me I probably won’t care about what you say, unless you’re a policeman. Who really changes much of anything about themselves after hearing a speaker address the crowd? For many, listening to sermons is more of a religious duty than a search for new information that they will apply to their lives. Most have already heard the info. and could almost preach the sermon themselves.

    Show me. Don’t tell me. If you think I should love the poor, take me with you when you go among them and show them your love. If you think I should love my family, let me see you doing it in normal life, not when you’re putting on an act for the crowd. If you think I should follow Jesus, let me see you do it, like the Jesus I see in the pages of Scripture did it, not as reinterpreted for modern times. If you believe something is true, show me that you’re living it, don’t tell me.

    You can never win an argument with me. You can show me you care about me and others and you can show me as I walk alongside you how you live your life. That’s the only way I learn. That’s the only thing that might make me decide to live my life differently. People say all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. At the top of the list are: for money, power, control, to look good, because they like to talk, to prove they are right. You can add to the list. I often find that “truth speaking” is anything but.

    • @sam: awesome.

    • Sam, the point you make was expressed nicely by a couple of youth program workers I know as, “Kids don’t care how much you know until the know how much you care.”

      I am a maximum introvert and apart from my wife and family and a very few friends I have very little need for relationships. I’m happy spending time with people who care about ideas, whether they care about me or not. But I think most people are more like what you describe.

  7. I think the terms are too narrow–why “win” an “argument?” My problem with political discourse is NOT the “heated” rhetoric but the impoverished content of the discourse. Both the left and the right have their talking heads who stay on point and deliver the message and nothing of any substance gets discussed or accomplished. Currently, we are in midst of the greatest economic meltdown and depression since the ’30s, but according to Washington, the depression is over. Meanwhile millions of Americans are out of work and banks are illegally foreclosing on people’s homes–and again both left and right say we must accept devastating austerity measures for the sake of the deficit. All I can say is tolerance in the face of intolerance is not what Jesus had in mind. By all means let the heated rhetoric simmer a while, but as another great american once said, “Where’s the BEEF?” when it comes to political discourse and solving our nation’s ills.

    • MICH!!!!!!

      that was awesome.

    • Mich says:

      > why “win” an “argument?” <

      We can change the wording to something like, “Discern truth cooperatively” if that helps. Anyone who doesn’t believe there is one best answer to most questions needn’t think about this topic, though I hope even they will adopt the rules of courtesy. But anyone who believes that their fellow Christians might be, and often are, wrong about things that matter should want to be persuasive. I don’t think there is any doubt that this is part of the Christian life. Paul told Timothy the following, and this is what I’m saying, too:

      “I solemnly charge you: proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct and encourage with great patience and teaching.”

      This assumes the speaker knows the correct message, of course. If he doesn’t, he needs to be the one listening.


      > both left and right say we must accept devastating austerity measures for the sake of the deficit. <

      That isn't really the case. Progressives such as Krugman and Kuttner reject austerity. It just seems that the left and right are saying the same thing. The president doesn't speak for the left. He is a bit to the right of where America was in Reagan's time, even if his political enemies depict him as far to the left.

    • Exactly, Mich. That is why I like to think of conversation and persuasion as a dance. Partners in a dance often challenge each other, but the goal is not to “win” the dance. Indeed, if someone were to “win” a dance over their partner, we would feel something had gone terribly wrong. I was watching the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic “Shall We Dance” on AMC a while back and was impressed at the tension and challenge in some of the dance numbers, yet at the same time, the confrontation led to a resolution that was satisfying to both the plot and the audience.

      I think, therefore, that we can be both persuasive and humbly courteous without any contradiction. Fred and Ginger show us how.

  8. VolAlongTheWatchTower says

    Who is this Hybels and what has he disavowed?

    • here’s a link from a few years ago when Willow Creek first came out and said, “We made a mistake.”


      There’s much newer information in which Hybels and Willow Creek take their discipleship training in new directions.

      What matters for my argument is that thousands of smaller churches led by people like my friend are still blithely moving in the old direction. It is sad enough that they think they are doing something new when the path they tread is already well worn. But it is even more pathetic that they persist in a course after it is proven to be deficient by the people who really know.

  9. I resisted reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for decades because of its title alone. It just sounded too ego, too un-Christian. I started reading it two weeks ago in my 49th year of life, 30th year of born-again life. I now wish I had read and followed it long ago. I’m thankful God can use a book like this to change in ways such as you suggest in this thoughtful post.

  10. Andy Zook says

    Great article and many good points to consider and use.

    Andy Z, (or anyone) how do you respond to the discussion squelcher that goes like this, “You’re judging…Christians shouldn’t judge other Christians’ ways or means… and how do you know God isn’t using this or that?” I got this response recently when I posted chaplain mike’s “I’m a worship war loser – rant” and the follow-up. He felt chaplain mike was being judgmental, with the implication that my agreement with CM would also be judgmental. I chose the being quiet route

    • This is a great question.

      I have a reply in mind, but I’ll follow my onw advice and listen for a while to see of others will answer.

    • This is strictly my opinion: I see the Gospel more as a mirror into which I look to see myself, and not as a magnifying glass I use to examine others. On the other hand, not everything that labels itself Christian deserves the label. Some people, groups and things are so far off the path that they obviously follow “a whole ‘nuther Gospel”. I can hang a sign that says “Christian” on a pig, but that doesn’t make him one. A religious group or a PAC can hang up a “Christian” sign, but that doesn’t make them such. They have to be following and looking a whole lot like Jesus, instead of following a political party or a religious figure.

  11. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.”

    Obviously this writer has never been to my church.

    Baby Boomer dominated, the ‘worship leader’ gets singing in a different cadence where no one can follow (like a concert) and just leaves us listening, we can’t take part.

  12. Great advice in this post. Don’t talk behind the backs of others – “them”, and “concede as much as possible”. Jesus also taught his disciples to take nothing with them for the journey which I presume means going empty-handed, open-minded/hearted.

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