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Argumentativeness

Argumentativeness is ungodliness.

I am very opinionated; I'll be the first to concede that. But what's worse, I always speak as if "I am right", even when I don't actually have this conviction in a particular conversation. It's actually only the beginning of my problems. Then there is the tone of my voice; I always sound deadly serious, even when I'm trying to be light or humorous. And then there is my track record; I know I'm cantankerous because I've been told all my life by everybody that I actually make a point of disagreeing with people I disagree with. Am I the only one with this problem?

Phillip Jensen in this great Interview talks about his argumentativeness and what he learned about it over the years:

"As a young man I enjoyed a fight too much. I grew up in a family of brothers. We fought a lot, and I grew up through debating and arguing, and I liked a good argument. A very kind senior academic came and talked to me years ago, and pointed out that when the Bible urges us to “flee the passions of youth”, it’s not talking about sex. It’s talking about argumentativeness, if you look at the context (in 2 Tim 2). The Lord’s servant must not be argumentative, but teach patiently and pray that God may change your heart. So as a young man, my own personality and argumentativeness was too strong. So that was a lesson to learn."
(The Mistakes of Phillip Jensen, The Briefing, Matthias Media, 12 March 2012)
Like Jensen, I was brought up in the rings of the debating team, and baptised in a household of brothers and boxing gloves.

So what do we do about it?

Part of the challenge is that the same Scriptures that talk about guarding against error and fighting for the truth, also instruct us to keep ourselves from unprofitable arguments and descending into fights about points of secondary importance.

One thing I've been trying to do over the last few years: Only disagree with somebody when either,

(1) it is a matter of life and death (this is body, soul or spirit of course), or
(2) they are inviting or would welcome your 'argument' because they are already or would actually wrestle with the issue themselves when you raise your concerns with them.

Is this too simplistic?

Either it's so important that damaging the relationship pales into mere insignificance in comparison to the significance of the issue in your view; or you know directly or indirectly that the person is going to actually thank you for telling them the truth about what you believe about the issue, regardless of whether they agree with you, because they are genuinely open to changing their minds.

Of course (2) is effected by 'how' you tell them in the first place. And (2) implies that a person who wants to argue about it only because they are 'open' in the sense that they want to talk about it to exploit the debate as a platform for promoting their views, that person is not at all in this category. Anyone who argues with these people opens up everyone concerned to divisive and unprofitable arguments that only spread ungodliness.

Even though I've got an immensely long way to go in this area, one thing at least I can see now after years of debating and disagreements, there is nothing more embarrassing than a Christian who wants to take up every fight over every issue with anybody who manifests a distinctively different opinion about an issue than themselves. It goes without saying that I'm forever embarrassed about my track record in this regard.

Whether it's parenting, or 6-day creationism, or baptism or Israel's future--as Christians we should not be arguing about these things.

I've talked previously about Christians arguing about schooling. I've also discussed creationism. I'm not saying don't talk about your views; but what I am saying is that whenever you find yourself disagreeing with another over them, stop it there: we shouldn't argue over these disagreements, but maintain our unity by keeping the peace over differing views on disputable matters within the church.

To be clear, I've explained elsewhere that this call to 'peace making' does not apply whenever true and pure Christianity is the subject of threat; by for example questionable 'Christianity', false teaching, and persistently disobedient Christians. The gospel itself, the purity of the church and the health of christians is at risk here; these are examples of where the Bible does call for disunity. In contrast to our response to disagreements over secondary matters, here we should and must divide for the sake of the churches purity. And about these matters we should of course argue; because that's about the life or death of Christians (1). In fact, it's this perspective that shows us why we shouldn't be argumentative about anything else; because we need to save our arguing and fighting for these matters that are of vital importance.

But bare in mind that I've been talking here about arguments in the church. None of this applies to the world. In fact, I don't believe we should ever be arguing with the non-Christian. Even on (1), when it's a matter of life or death -- it's about the gospel we preach -- Jesus commanded that if they don't welcome you or listen to you, turn around and walk away (don't throw your pearls before swine; protest simply with your feet). And about those matters that are to the church itself of primary imporance, about the world Paul says, "in that case you would have to leave the world" (1 Corinthians 5).

Yes we must be outspoken; yes we must denounce the sin of our world. As did John the Baptist, we must put our necks on the line and be unafraid to be hated by the world, because we 'testify to it that what it does is evil'. But we do not fight. We speak, but we do not argue.

It's not only for practical purposes that we shouldn't be arguing with the unbeliever [afterall, we can't expect unbelievers to be doing anything but sinning], but it's also for theological reasons: we are not their judge, but unworthy sinners ourselves. Though we certainly are called to judge one another in the church, we must leave all judgment of the non-Christian to Christ for that Last Day.

So although we are called to argue with our Christian brothers over those things of gospel importance, before the world we mustn't be argumentative at all.

And in the church, over all other issues except for what is related to the fundamental essense of Christianity itself, and is of fundamental importance to the gospel, over all other views and beliefs let's just agree to 'have views', or be quiet.

Discussing our views can be constructive, if it falls into the category of (2). But otherwise it's actually descructive to the church, and brings shame where we are meant to be bringing glory to Christ in the church.

It was to the church in Rome who had not learnt to simply accept one another regardless of the different views of its members about food, drink, the Sabbath, etc., that Paul found it necessary to command:

"Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God" (Romans 14)

So there's my view of it. But what about you? Do you agree? 

9 comments:

PB said...

One scenario: what do you do when someone you love is doing something you are convicted will result poorly for them, but they don't see as such. Does that fall into 1)? I'm talking about a scenario where your concerns weren't invited, but maybe b/c it is a family member or close friend, you could not do otherwise than express sincerely your concerns.

Joe Towns said...

This sounds like to me it falls in to 2). In that case I'd be asking permission to share these concerns.

Just to clarify: I'm not recommending here that you wouldn't express that you have concerns; even raise what they are with the person's concent to do so.

But what I'm saying is that if the response is that these concerns are unwelcome, and at the point that they become unwelcome, respect that for the sake of the relationship; don't argue about them.

And it's also not just when it's explicitly not welcome; I'm also talking about when it is unprofitable to argue your point through because the strain it causes to the relationship because your concerns are implicitly unwelcome; the person does not really want to hear them.

I'd only recommend 'arguing' these concerns through in this case if the person gives their consent to hearing your argument because, even though they may not agree with you, they respect your intention (or even possibly your 'right' to express these things within certain types of relationships), and for that reason, they are actually 'listening' to you and trying to 'hear' what you say.

What do you think PB?

Joe Towns said...

Also the comment I made over on The Briefing (http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/03/the-mistakes-of-phillip-jensen/) is also relevant

"There were two things [PJ] talked about that struck me as potentially being on the ‘rise’ in our generation and movement: Naivety and Argumentativeness.

The first is something that is compounded among young people because our generation is less ‘risk adverse’ when it comes to gospel growth by virtue of our increasing levels of confidence in ourselves (we are less ‘humble’ as a generation I think).

The second seems to be accelerating because our generation has inherited the spoils of so much ground breaking work that our Fathers have done for us, but then fight over the finer details re the territory we’ve inherited. It’s no longer good enough to have the gospel straight; we need to sort out what we believe about ‘parenting’ too etc."

fional said...

Hey Joe,
I can see what you say about yourself at the start of the post... but I thought you might be encouraged to know that is *not* how I think of you. My first thought of you is as a humble man. So take heart brother: God is doing his work! Lots of love from your sister Fi

Joe Towns said...

Hey Fi
Thank you; that's encouraging!

It's good to know that my argumentativeness has at least been inconsistent! :)

Seriously though, I know that God is helping me and by his grace I am improving; praise God! I've got quite a way to go but as Colin says, "little by little, every day..."

Would welcome any insights you have or if you've posted related thoughts feel free to put a link up here.

fional said...

Thanks for the invite to contribute further Joe. For the most part, I agree with what you're saying, and I think that for anyone who struggles in this area, it's wise to set some pretty careful guidelines. Because this isn't such a big thing for me, I think I'm able to have a looser rein - so please read my comments in that light.

There are a couple of areas where I see a little more room to move. Sometimes I will enter into an argument about an issue of secondary importance with a fellow Christian who isn't at first welcoming the opportunity to expand their thinking, but who I feel pretty sure will do once they hear what I have to say. It's a cheeky thing to do, and I have to think carefully about the person I'm doing it with. If I do do this, I'll always pull out quickly if it stops being helpful. And when it comes to secondary things, I *always* want to end agreeing to disagree, without any judgment.

I also think there's room for arguing with non-believers. *Never* in an ugly, competitive, combative way, but rather with calmness, confidence, kindness - and intelligence. And not in order argue them into salvation, but to expose the falseness of various secondary objections and assumptions they are making. But again, I pull out if it stops being useful and I'm always paying attention to how I am treating them as we argue.

Joe Towns said...

Thanks Fi!
They're some really helpful comments. It's great to get your perspective.

One clarification I should make. The word 'argue' can of course be used if a few different ways. The use I'm applying in this article is really the verb (used without object) when it means 'to dispute; to contend in oral disagreement'.

But I'm also implying a bit more than that with 'argumentativeness'. I'm really considering the situation where things are beyond a discussion in which you're stating your views, to show or even persuade someone else.

I think argumentativeness is the trait of debating things through with others in a way that involves sharp dispute and therefore can easily create division.

Joe Towns said...

So just on that,

I think part of the background context I've got going on in my mind when I say some of these things is verses like:

1Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.


I take your point about *always* wanting to end agreeing to disagree, without any judgment.

I wonder whether the place to end is always agreeing to *agree* (on the primary things) so that there can be no divisions as a result of your disagreement (over secondary things)?

fional said...

I love your final point there Joe, and, with God's help, will put it into practice :).