The world has never seen an age like today, filled with so many self-proclaimed experts who know so little about their professed area of expertise. The modern cycle of news and opinions coupled with the publishing power of the internet has helped create an environment where a ten-minute Google search replaces years of research, study, and education. A person’s “extensive” findings can be immediately shared on social media. The ensuing comments overflow with other “experts” holding opposing opinions. Battle lines are drawn. Insults are hurled. And all involved parties are filled with anger and dismay over the ignorance of those who dared question their freshly acquired, strongly held beliefs. This raises an important question: How should Christians seek to conduct themselves in such a cantankerous environment where everyone is primed to be outraged by their newfound adversaries?
Roger Nicole wrote: “Christians have not managed in many cases to win over their opponents. They have shown themselves to be ornery; they have bypassed some fairly important prescriptions of Scripture; and in the end, they have not convinced very many people—sometimes not even themselves!” In an age of outrage, Christians have an obligation to model Christlikeness with discourse that is “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to allow our emotions to overtake us, but the Bible provides basic principles that should inform Christian discourse.
Determine Your Motives
An honest Christian will admit that sometimes our motives to interact with those with whom we disagree have less to do with vindicating truth or reason and more to do with pride and the thrill of debate. Just because something is true doesn’t mean we should say it. The Bible reminds us that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). So, saying a true thing with improper motives is an indictment against us, not a commendable notch on the belt of truth. Often, the best response to a disagreement is to take time to discern the motives that compel us to interact and determine whether it’s a worthwhile disagreement in the first place. If we decide to proceed, we must do so praying for humility and for love toward our neighbor. Whether we’re face-to-face with the person or interacting online, we can never be too mindful of the fact that they, too, are created in the image of God and have the same need for Christ as we do, above all else.
Remember the Power of Words
Christians must choose their words wisely, especially in disagreements. Words have incited violent wars and bloody revolutions, but they have also inspired and motivated generations, and they are the very means God uses to bring sinners to Christ (Rom. 10:17). Proverbs reminds us that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking,” but it also offers the remedy that “whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). James also reminds the believer of the incredible power of the tongue: “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things” (James 3:3–5). He compares the tongue to a fire, setting an entire forest ablaze, reminding us that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8). What a deadly weapon we wield! Sticks and stones can only break bones, but words have the ability to kill (Prov. 18:21).