With the rise of the internet have come many challenges to the Church. Before the internet, believers were relegated to sharing about events going on in the Church between one another at Church, on the phone, or if they met for a meal. Now Christians can hop on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus to comment on various issues or if one is inclined, they can start their own blog and share their thoughts on any number of topics. To say that the game has changed regarding theological conversation is the understatement of the year. In this article, I want to discuss how Christians can engage in fruitful theological conversation that demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit.
If you were to sit down and chat with me in person you would find that I naturally tend to talk about doctrinal and theological topics. It is a world that I’m obviously very familiar with since I went to Bible College and seminary. It isn’t that I can’t talk about other topics as I also enjoy chatting about sports or the news, but I just love theology.
Sometimes in the course of conversation with someone I will assume the worst about what they said rather than what they actually said. Instead of trying to gain clarification, I will immediately jump on their point and perhaps even ignore what they say. Maybe I won’t even allow them the chance to clarify their point. If we are honest, we have all done this. In the past few years though the Lord has been working on me in this area and I’ve tried to be very intentional in asking clarifying questions or making sure I understand what the other person is saying. This of course gets to the heart of this post, that of giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
The Bible has much to say about the words that come out of our mouths. We may seriously disagree with someone but I would contend until we have understood that person’s point, we don’t have a right to disagree. Someone may say something outlandish and even off the wall. Perhaps they are a new Christian or perhaps they are seasoned theologically. How are you going to correct that person until you at a minimum take the time to understand where they are coming from?
As Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation. This means that the Gospel compels us to not assume the worst about each other, but rather to assume the best about what people say and how they say it. Now, I understand you may highly disagree with that last statement. The Gospel though reorients our priorities and even impacts our language. When we have a clean heart before God we will have clean speech. When we lack clean speech it demonstrates that we don’t have a clean heart before the Lord and need to repent. Assuming the worst about one another is a byproduct of a lack of repentance.
For example, let’s say I’m having a conversation with my wife Sarah. We chat about regular events occurring in the news and then proceed to understand those events through a biblical worldview. Rather than seeking to understand what she is saying, I immediately assume the worst. Who is at fault here? Sarah may not have been clear about what she said but I may have never asked a clarifying question. Instead, I jumped in and went on a theological rant about how she was wrong and how I was right with her point completely missed resulting in her feeling left out of the conversation. Now have I assumed the best about what my wife meant or have I assumed the worst? Have I shown love to my wife or have I sinned against her? The answer here is clearly I’ve sinned against my wife and need to repent and apologize to her, which as a side note, I do regularly. I may not have understood what my wife meant or I may have just wanted to share my thoughts about the topic. How many times have you done this also?
In the Christian blogosphere what I see are people who want to share their thoughts. Often it seems responses to my writing come from those who are only interested in sharing their thoughts about the topic of the post without considering what was in the post itself. As such, they never actually engage the content of the post. Some people’s idea of engaging a post is to quote a few sentences here and there but never engage the heart of the article. Surely there is a better way to engage each other that honors Christ and further advances the discussion so that both parties can learn and grow together right? Thankfully there is and the Bible calls it “one anothering” each other.
When we truly care about someone what do we do? Obviously we want to show that person we care about them. As Christians we have been commanded to love one another. In fact loving one another is a byproduct of the Gospel. How is it that rather than talking to one another, we often talk past each other resulting in chaotic and confrontational conversations that fracture rather than build relationships?
Rather than talking past each other, I suggest we heed the counsel of James who taught that we should be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). We should hear what the other person is saying first whether that is on a blog, podcast, or in person listening to someone talk. If we have a question or a concern about something someone said, rather than assuming the worst about what that person may said we should ask a clarifying question such as, “Did you mean to say this (insert concern)?” or even, “I’m not exactly sure what you mean there can you clarify what you mean? I think you meant this” (insert what you think you understood about what they said or wrote). By doing this we give the person the benefit of the doubt and allow them to clarify their position which ultimately will lead to a more fruitful conversation. Also, asking for clarity allows them the opportunity to restate their case which in turn allows us to engage them or the issue at hand more appropriately.
As Christians we’ve been called to love one another. That isn’t an option. It is a command. Yet, when I read blog comments or even receive them from articles I’ve written, what I see is that we don’t really care to engage one another in fruitful conversation. My question is, “How does this show love to the person who took the time to write down their thoughts or prepare their speech?” Yes you may disagree but you don’t have the right to be disagreeable or unloving. Instead try to ask questions, clarify, and take the time to be slow to speak and quick to listen. You’ll find that you learn more and in the end people will want to hear what you have to say because you actually care about them as people and what they think. At the end of the day it’s one thing to say that you love people but quite another to actually love them. Jesus calls His people to love one another as a byproduct of the gospel working within them. I urge you my brothers and sisters in Christ to love one another because of the Gospel by engaging each other in a manner worthy of the Gospel.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.