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Great Debate: How Christians Should Disagree

When I first became a Christian, I had a lot of questions: about the Bible, the historicity of the faith and much more. So I read lots of books on theology and philosophy. I found debates between Christians and atheists online, and listened to hours upon hours of arguments. 

At first, I found it helpful. But after a while, I found it a bit discouraging.     

The debates usually followed the same pattern: Both sides presented opening statements, then took turns giving rebuttals of the other person’s position.

You could count on two things while listening to these debates: First, neither side would ever concede the other side was right about even a minor point. Instead, they ignored the argument and attempted to distract the audience by attacking the opponent in a different area. Second, neither side ever seemed to admit they were being inconsistent, even when it was obvious. Moreover, there was often a tone of condescension and defensiveness throughout the discussion.

Sound familiar?    

And it occurred to me: To what degree were these debaters really pursuing the truth? Or were they just trying to save face? 

I understand the multitude of pressures they faced, to represent their respective communities. But it made me realize how our egos can sometimes obstruct us from pursuing and knowing truth. Do we realize how often that happens?

Have you ever been in the middle of an argument with a coworker, friend or family member, and realized:

1. Why am I so worked up? I don’t even really know or care that much about this topic!
2. Maybe I’m wrong. But to heck with it, I’m going to fight to the bitter end! 

So many times in these debates, it seems we latch on to our positions like they’re our children. Our egos get so tied to the ideas we’re representing, we take criticism or disagreement so personally.

And on the other side of things, we feel so good when our ideas are approved or accepted. That may be part of why, in group discussions, many people are afraid to disagree with each other. It amuses me to no end to see how discussion leaders respond to an answer that’s just flat-out wrong. They usually grunt, “Hmm, hmm.” Or say pointedly: “That’s a very interesting answer, Kelly. What does everybody else think?”

Sure, it’s natural to feel a connection to the idea you’re putting forth, because it’s what others will associate with you and judge you by. Yes, it’s good to own an idea … but sometimes, can an idea own you instead? To the point where we refuse to admit we’re wrong? That doesn’t seem to me to be a very humble mindset. 

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adrianpei@churchleaders.com'
Adrian Pei works as Director of Creative Arts and Resources at Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. He earned degrees from Stanford University and Fuller Seminary, and is passionate about writing and developing culturally-aware leadership. You can find him on his blog at www.adrianpei.com, or on Twitter at @adrianpei.