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How To Have Fruitful and Healthy Debates Online

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Social media appears to be the primary breeding ground for different ideas to be hashed out and It seems as though every week, there is a new debate erupting. Questions usually arise upon the aftermath of an online debate revolving around how Christians should engage with such situations. Often it appears that each time there is a debate, there is often much bemoaning about how Christians have conducted themselves within the debate. In the past, I have been guilty of arguing in such a way that mars the name of Christ. How we as Christians debate online is important; so what can the scriptures teach us about how we should debate?

Should Chritians enagage in debates?

Before we define how to have a fruitful and healthy debate, we must first discover whether we should debate. Debating isn’t inherently evil. Debating can be a helpful tool in the arsenal of the Christian, especially when engaging people who oppose the faith. Before Jesus sent out the 12 apostles, He commanded them to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). Elsewhere in scriptures, those who are wise are described as those who are able to be persuasive with their speech (Psalm 37:30; Proverbs 16:21,23; 25:11). Debating is necessary when different ideas are being presented, especially those that are critical to the life of a Christian. Debating can be helpful in deciphering through different ideas and deciding which ideas should be accepted and those that should be rejected.

When trying to decipher whether we should argue, it is important to define what isn’t a healthy and fruitful debate. If debating is the exchanging of ideas through various forms of argumentation, then quarrelling is the clashing of ideas mainly through shouting. Debating aims to present opposing arguments with the possibility of persuading the audience and perhaps the opponent. Quarrelling aims to present an argument not through persuasion but through forcefulness. Those who use quarrelling as their form of argumentation aren’t interested in hearing the opposing argument, or even consider that they can be wrong – such people seldom believe they can be wrong. The bible warns against those who choose to quarrel as their form of argumentation. The Bible describes such people as fools (Proverbs 20:3), hot-tempered (Proverbs 15:8), wrathful (Proverbs 29:22) and ungodly (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Furthermore, the bible also warns from even associating with those who are quarrelsome (Romans 16:17), for such behaviour can tempt evil (1 Timothy 6:4).

Are debates worth it?

Social media allows for regular accessibility into the perspectives of different people. In God’s infinite wisdom, He has created humans with different intellects and interests who will have different experiences. Due to sin, humans are susceptible to engage in conflict when there is a difference of opinion; irrespective of its validity. It is important to decipher which topic is worth engaging in and what is better to take to the Lord in prayer. 2 Timothy 2:23-25 states “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,”. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul is admonishing Timothy to commit to the work of Christ, which is to know Him and make Him known, and not waste time arguing over small matters that won’t edify the saints but instead unsettle them (2 Timothy 2:14). Verse 23-25 is critical for the believer when deciding which online debates should be engaged with. Avoid all debates online that are fuelled by controversy. Why? “they breed quarrels”. Those who use controversy as a means to engage in the discussion are not looking to edify the saints and glorify God, instead, their aim is division and confusion (1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:14).

When you want to debate

There will be many opportunities to debate online and how we debate and what we choose debate will be emblematic of why you want to debate. So how can we debate in a healthy and fruitful manner? Here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding whether to debate or not.

  1. Why do I want to engage? When you see a topic that whet’s your appetite for argument, ask yourself why? Why do you want to engage in that particular discussion? Is it to build yourself up, to understand further or because you like controversy? If it’s the latter, then it’s best not to engage.
  2. Do I know enough? There can be an insatiable desire to join in every conversation and give your “two pence” but before you do, ask yourself “do I know enough about this topic to give a reasonable contribution?”. Excellent oration doesn’t qualify you to speak at every moment, neither does reading sufficiently in a particular area in such a way that you can parrot the best points. If you don’t know enough, it’s better to simply listen and learn. The desire to speak at every turn can lead to sin (Proverbs 10:19).
  3. Do I want to listen? James 1:19 teaches us to be slow to speak and be quick to listen. If we want to argue in and healthy and fruitful way, we have to commit to listening. Quarrels will certainly occur if we are more concerned with being heard than seeking to hear. By committing to listening, we are more likely to understand an opponent’s position better and respond in such a way that is clear and doesn’t caricature an opposing perspective.
  4. Do I want a brother or an enemy? Hebrews 12:14 teaches us to pursue peace with all men. All men. Why? Because everyone is your neighbour (Luke 10:29, 36-37). When you decide whether this particular debate is appropriate to engage with, ask yourself “do I see my opponent as a potential brother or my enemy?”. This question is more critical to answer if your opponent is a believer. If they are a believer they are a blood-bought, redeemed, co-heir with Christ. No matter how much you disagree, you are eternally bound to this person. So aks yourself, what’s more important to me, my argument or this image-bearer?

The temptation to flex your argumentative muscle online can be appealing, however, we must remember our allegiance is not winning arguments but to love. Jesus commands us to love God and neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40) and thus love should be the ethic that fuels how and why we argue. If we view debates as a means to “destroy” people, then we will ultimately lose the people we want to win. However, if we see debates as a means by which we can persuade people to the glory of Christ and all His beauty, we will end up having many healthy and fruitful debates online.

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Chude Obuaya
Chude is currently Biomedical Blood Science masters student and a keen academic. He seeks to become a consultant within the healthcare industry, as well as pursuing further degrees in the future. He am an avid reader of books and articles of various kinds, particularly theology and science. Chude also enjoys playing and watching sports as well as being a regular gym-goer.