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Great Debate: How Christians Should Disagree

Here’s where I’m coming from. I’m human, and I make mistakes, so I know I can be wrong. Also, I know as I grow and learn, I’ll continue to see areas I didn’t fully understand earlier.

Yes, I’ve been wrong before. Yes, I’ve changed my views and positions on things as I’ve gotten older, heard more perspectives and experienced more of the world. I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, as a Christian, I see it as part of my growth and refinement at the hands of an all-wise, all-knowing God.   

But in the church and in leadership, changing positions and admitting error might be considered a sign of weakness. We might be seen as lacking conviction. And I’ve rarely seen this kind of humility displayed, for pastors or theologians to admit: “I’ve changed my mind about this topic. I realize now that I was mistaken.”   

Don’t get me wrong. There are many misleading and deceptive ideas out there, and we must discern truth from error. And I believe the Christian faith is an intellectually compelling, credible and satisfying foundation of belief amidst all of that. I’m not saying we have to leave our minds at the door or adopt an “anything-goes” approach when it comes to belief in God. We just must be wary of locking into our positions so stubbornly that we’re not able to adapt and learn, as God teaches and shows us more about ourselves—and the world we live in.     

I’ll always recall philosopher G.K. Chesterton’s description of the “madman” in his book Orthodoxy. The madman’s view of the world is often perfectly consistent within its small circle of rationality; you can be consistent but not in touch with reality. As he puts it, the madman’s mind moves “in a perfect but narrow circle.”  He writes:

“If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. … The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” 

A madman will never admit that he is wrong. His view of the world is completely closed. In his mind, his views and doctrines are perfectly rational and consistent—but we all know he can be terribly mistaken. He is not interested in the truth but in preserving his ideas and pride. 

As Christians, we should be the first to admit our human limitations and recognize the folly of the madman. We should understand pursuing God’s truth will involve being humbled and realizing we are wrong at times. It should hurt our egos. To put it another (and stronger) way: If we are not willing to admit we are wrong, we are probably not truly pursuing God’s truth.  

Understanding our human limitations should also make us gracious, as we know we are not “above” anyone else. It should allow us to respect those who disagree with us, without feeling threatened.

Christians should be the most rigorous and gracious debaters, because God hold us to the highest standards of intellect and behavior.

So the next time you get involved in a debate, whether about faith or politics or business, ask yourself: “Am I just trying to out-argue the other person? Am I just trying to save face? Or am I able to throw aside my ego and the need to appear consistent at all costs, and pursue truth in a way that honors God and other people?”