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!”1 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).
As Christians, we should always ask how we’re going to say something before we speak. Speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) means that we are not arrogantly looking down on those with whom we interact and that we are instead seeking to understand them and learn from them. We are more likely to win a person to the truth when our focus isn’t on winning the argument at hand. Good conversation that doesn’t cause outrage takes patience and a willingness to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. In fact, love requires it. A good rule of thumb in any disagreement is to be able to state a person’s position back to them in a way with which they agree—before offering what you see as the truth in the situation.
Point to the Only True Help, Hope, and Peace
Most outrage stems from a lack of hope and a fear that there is no true help or peace available in a particular situation. Christians must always remember and remind others that true and ultimate hope and peace exist only in the Lord Jesus Christ. The circumstances of a particular day may be distressing, but they are not beyond the sovereign decree of our great God. The trials of today may leave us broken and feeling powerless, but they also provide a great opportunity to lay our fears before Christ. We may look around and see people divided over the most minor issues, but the Bible reminds us that Christ is the only provider of lasting peace. When Christians engage in discourse, we must do so in such a way that communicates the power of the gospel instead of the defeat of the world.
An excellent prayer for the Christian in any interaction is what David prayed in Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Godly discourse in an age of outrage begins with Christians’ working through important biblical principles in their own heart before seeking to engage with others. The more we understand our own propensities to sin in our interactions, our temptation to be filled with pride, and our desire to be seen as right, the more able we will be to focus our hearts on the truth and hope we have in Christ.
- Roger Nicole, “Polemical Theology—How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us,” in Standing Forth: Collected Writings of Roger Nicole (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 9. ↩︎