“He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.”
… “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
What kinds of arguments are quarreling? “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient… in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 23-25
When my children were young, their arguments would end up with: “Yes, it is!” – “No, it isn’t” – “Yes, it is” – “No, it isn’t”. Adults don’t do this, do they? Actually, when we argue a position without bringing evidence and new information to the table, we are doing exactly the same thing. This would be called an “ignorant dispute”. Truth brings light, and that should be our endeavor. We are not trying to “win” as much as educate and learn. As we listen to our opponent, we may find that they have good information that we were lacking. It is important to be humble enough to gratefully accept new evidence that has been well proven, and adjust our thinking to the truth. You do not “lose” a debate when you learn and grow! Even the one who concedes the debate has won something. A new perspective!
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:2
If you are discussing an issue that is addressed in Scripture, it is crucial to know what God says about it. Be sure you are taking evidence in context and not manipulating verses by withholding parts of the text (if they would change the perspective of the argument). While it usually isn’t necessary to post entire Bible chapters, read through the surrounding verses to understand context before using them in an argument so they are not misused. Reference your sources as you quote them. As your opponent uses Scripture to address their arguments, check the context of their references to verify their points. Do this with other evidence as well. Be sure to ask for the source and context, if it isn’t obvious.
“…holding fast to the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” Titus 1:9
When debating a topic with those of like faith, we should not need to use a sharp rebuke. There are times for it though. John the Baptist sharply rebuked King Herod for his incest and adultery. Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees. I can only think of one rebuke of a believer to another faithful believer: Paul rebuked Peter in front of the whole crowd, because he was being a hypocrite and leading so many into error. Galatians 2:11-14.
Also: But toward the Cretans (lazy gluttons and liars) “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Titus 1:13
The purpose of rebuke is to “save the hearers” and for the wandering believer – repentance and restoration; not alienation. If the issue is serious, be firm, but kind. If you feel your opponent is being too harsh, you may be misreading them. Unfortunately, with the written word, you cannot see the person’s face or hear their tone.
“In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed.” Titus 2:7-8
As you go out “into the world” you will have many opponents. This is the time of preparation. Gather a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. Become skilled in researching and expressing your faith as it applies to the issues of the day and you will become an effective worker in God’s field! I recommend reading Proverbs to have a solid foundation of wisdom, but all of Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuke, exhortation, correction and instruction in righteousness.
I encourage you to pray over your posts and replies on social media as well. Ask God for wisdom. He promises to give it! James 1:5.
When your opponent makes an assertion, it is their job to defend their position. You do not have to convince them with your own arguments to agree with your point of view, though you may do so. It is often quite effective to challenge their viewpoint with the following tactical questions, shared by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason; “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” If they must define their terms and give their evidence, they may actually see the flaws in their own thinking before you ever have to present your own arguments or defend your view! The one making the claim has the burden of proof. For more information on this topic, I recommend “Tactics for Defending the Faith” by Greg Koukl.
When in an official debate and asked a direct question by your opponent, you can still use these two tactical questions but it is fine (for the sake of the audience present) to proceed with presenting your own evidence. If you have made a claim of any sort, it is your obligation to:
1. Answer the opponent’s questions without deviation or distraction from the point. Make sure you understand what they are asking. “He who answers before listening, it is his folly and his shame.” Prov. 18:13.
2. Present your views simply and clearly. Define your terms and give evidence to back up any assertions you make. Two or three are sufficient. “By the testimony of two or three witnesses let every fact be established.” 2 Cor. 13:1.
3. Avoid logical fallacies! (For a study on those, see http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/616394/posts)
In brief: don’t attack the person, attack the argument. Also, deal with the argument given, not merely responding with points you want to make. Answer your opponent’s point with a proper counter-point.
4. Be respectful in tone, considering your opponent’s views, not purposefully offending or taking offense. Even if the subject matter is dear to your heart, keep your arguments objective. Anger puts up walls. For purposes of street-debate, acknowledge wherever they have made a valid point or argument. The purpose is for both parties to come to truth, not merely to convince each other of their bias.
5. Avoid use of or acronyms for profanity. Lewdness, irreverence (about God) or degrading conversation is not fitting for a believer.
Rules for debating on social media include the points made above, but additionally:
– When referring to your opponents post, quote them specifically, using quotes, and separate their quote from yours with a line space.
– Use line space between each of your points. Bullets or numbering are helpful.
– Do not use all caps. It is the same as shouting.
– When dealing with personal matters, take it to a private e-mail or private message. Don’t air anyone’s dirty laundry or angst on social media.
– If you are arguing with a fool who only rages and laughs and there is no peace you have two choices. You can leave them alone in their ignorance – as they don’t have any interest in gaining wisdom (Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” Prov. 23:9), or you can continue to make your points winsomely, for the sake of the audience who may have been otherwise misled by false teaching. In Scripture, they are called the “simple.” This includes children who stand by, listening. It’s up to you. Decide if there is value in continuing. Both speaking to a fool and not speaking are defensible, Bibilically. (Prov. 1:4-7 and 26:4-5)
In summary, keep in mind that the person you are debating with may have very strong feelings about their subject. Do not belittle them but respectfully, present your evidence to the contrary for their consideration. Sometimes asking a question instead of voicing an opinion will go farther to convince someone of your view. The evidence may be strong, but do not use name calling (ad hominem) when referring to your opponent. Speak the truth in love. Be objective. This is important. Don’t let yourself nurse hurt feelings. “Love is not easily offended” 1 Corinthians 13. Assume the best intentions on the part of your opponent. Remember to listen before answering. If you don’t know exactly what they mean, you can ask for clarification.
So, let us encourage one another and build each other up, spurring one another on to love and good deeds. And most of all, in humility, seek the truth, together.