In the previous post in this series, I listed some negative aspects of debates that I have observed in theological debates that have taken place around the blogosphere. In the discussion that followed, some excellent points were made concerning right motives in debating and in the methods we employ while engaging in debate.
I want to share with you some principles that I am trying to keep in mind when I engage in debates. As the Apostle Paul stated in Philippians, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I am still learning to apply these, and at times my fleshly nature still rises up and works against these principles, but they are the goal to which I strive.
1. I will assume that my opponent is a brother or sister in Christ. Unless I am debating and atheist or someone from a different religion, I am not going to assume that differences in interpretation of scripture arbitrarily mean they are not saved. Thus, I am going to give them the respect that the Bible says is due between children of God.
2. I will remember that my goal should be edification.If I am only trying to prove that I am right and my opponent is wrong, then I will never achieve this goal. I cannot presumptiously excuse ungracious language or behavior simply because I think I am right. I must define a “win” as being the edification of the one whom I am debating. I do not have to compromise to achieve this, but I must be kind, gentle, meek, patient, temperate and above all, loving as I express what I believe to be the truth.
3. I will remember the likelihood that my remarks are being read by unbelievers. I do not want my comments to be so vitriolic that they would harm the testimony of Christ and hinder someone from coming to Him.
4. I will remember that I am not perfect and still have much to learn. Just because I have believed something all my life does not mean that it is true. Truth is defined by God’s Word alone, and even the brightest of theologians can be mistaken. If they can be wrong, who am I to think I have a monopoly on truth? Along those same lines, I will try to remember that just because my opponent may be wrong on one point does not mean that he is wrong all the time.
5. I will remember that my ultimate goal will be the glory of God. Before I fire off that fiery response, I should ask myself, “Will God be glorified in this?” If I am trying to make myself appear intelligent, wise or superior to my opponent, I will be operating from the wrong motive and will be prone to use methods and language that do not glorify the Savior.
As I said, I am learning these principles. I am ashamed to say that I have learned their importance because of my own shortcomings as much as those I have observed in others. By God’s grace, I intend, however, to adhere to them as closely as possible from now on.
May Christ be glorified in all I say and do.