For some Christians like myself, it can be so tempting to wade into any religious debate we see and give our thoughts and opinions whether people like it or not. I’ve done it in the past, justifying it to myself by thinking that I was doing my bit and educating people about the gospel of Jesus. Sometimes I did manage to get points across, but more often than not, I was debating – well, arguing – for the sake of it. There was no need for me to get involved and I didn’t benefit anyone by doing so. So, as Christians, how do we pick our fights, as it were? How do we know whether to get involved or not?
Here are a few verses to chew over from the Bible:
Acts 17:16-21 – While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
2 Timothy 2:14 – Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
Romans 1:20 – For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Proverbs 26:4 – Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
As much as possible, I want to let the verses speak for themselves, but I just want to briefly explain why I included each one, and then wrap it all up in a conclusion. The passage from Acts shows that Paul wasn’t afraid of engaging in conversation with Greek philosophers (who were notorious for sitting round and talking all day, every day). I think this passage is useful because it shows that Christians should not avoid reasoned conversation with non-believers and don’t have to be afraid to engage in respectful, educational debate.
I feel that the verse from 2 Timothy is helpful in knowing the kind of debate/conversation to avoid. Christians shouldn’t bother arguing about semantics and meanings of individual words, because the picture is bigger than that. I feel that this verse is a warning not to get bogged down in insignificant details. We have a duty to focus on the overarching message of Christ.
The verse from Romans 1 is not strictly about debating or arguing, but I think it’s useful for Christians to bear in mind in those situations. It is stated clearly that God has revealed himself through creation. Now a Christian could take this two ways, one of which I prefer, though the other can be done well, too. I prefer to take from this that because God has already displayed himself in creation, it is more fruitful to guide non-believers towards the resurrection and the historicity around that, rather than getting bogged down in science debates about creation. However, I think you could also use this verse as a reason to point out to people the ways that God has revealed himself in creation. As I said, I prefer the first way, but both serve to show how verses like this can act as a guideline.
And finally, there’s the only Old Testament verse from Proverbs. In this book, King Solomon wrote a lot about wise and foolish people and this verse is specifically about ‘answering a fool’. I think this is particularly relevant to ‘trolling’. For those not familiar, ‘trolling’ is where people write annoying arguments to try and make people ‘take the bait’ and end up making a fool of themselves by getting wound up. This verse from Proverbs is a warning not to sink to level of people who are being aggressive or trying to wind you up; stick to situations like those in Acts where something fruitful can come out of a conversation.
In conclusion, it is indisputable that Christians have a responsibility to share the message of Jesus, and the Bible seems to strong suggest that there are certain ways in which to do this. From reading the above verses, I think Christians should be ready to speak well and confidently in situations where people are genuinely interested to hear what they have to say, and that there are pointers in the Bible as to what the most important things are to get across. However, there are clearly warnings not to get bogged down with pointless, tiny details and, just as importantly, if not more importantly, not to sink to the level of people who are only out to abuse or mock you. I believe that in all situations, the best result will be reached if Christians aren’t afraid to stop, think and pray before they answer questions. After all, it’s not the human that saves someone, it’s God.