One of the things that characterised my time at secondary school was arguments about the existence of God, and whether or not I was right to hold a Christian faith. I won’t say that these arguments were unproductive, because I do know that people were affected by them and by the simple fact that I stood up for what I believed, but I do look back on most of them and cringe.
It’s the same kind of cringe that I get when I see Christians going hammer and tongs with atheists and various other non-believers on the internet. It was an example of this that prompted me to write this post, as well as the fact that the infamous Stephen Fry interview is doing the rounds again, and sparking conversations about faith across social media.
I want to make it clear where I stand. I think that the vast majority of Christians engaging in these arguments online are doing it with good intentions, and there is always the possibility that God will use what they’re saying to make a difference in the lives of the people that they’re speaking to and the people who read the conversations. I also think that it’s a good thing that people are so willing to engage in talking about faith; I can’t stand the idea that you should have to keep your beliefs to yourself.
But the problem with getting into arguments of this nature is that they rarely seem to go anywhere, and there are a couple of possible reasons for this that I want to look at.
The first is that everyone involved is biased. They can’t help it. The thing about Christianity is that whether you believe it or not has an impact on the way you live your life. Christians have a vested interest in it being true, and non-believers have a vested interest in it being false. To change your mind on the matter is to acknowledge that you’ve been living wrong for all your life, and to change your behaviour, particularly if you’re converting to Christianity.
I see so many arguments that end up with either side either ignoring the points that the other is making, or retreating into irrelevancy. That’s because there’s a limit to how deep these conversations can go before someone gets uncomfortable.
Linked to this problem is the lack of social depth to many of the conversations. Now, sometimes you’ll be arguing with a good friend on Facebook, and you’ll know where they’re coming from and why they believe what they do, but in many of these arguments (especially on Twitter) the participants barely know each other, and so hammer each other over the head with arguments that they know by rote. This can lead to generalisations (‘all Christians were raised that way’) and assumptions (‘you’re an atheist, so you don’t know the Bible’).
I’m a Christian, and I want to see people come to know Jesus as well, that’s no secret. But from my personal experience, having a friendship with someone is essential if they’re going to be truly receptive to what you’re saying about Jesus. The people I’ve had conversations with who then ended up knowing Jesus had those conversations with me because they trusted me as a person, not because I’d stumped them with my brilliant arguments. Some gifted evangelists and speakers may be able to convince people to convert without knowing them, but for most of us, I tend to find that God works through us and our relationships to make a difference in the lives of people we know.
So what’s the right way to go about discussing faith, particularly with people on the internet who you don’t know? I think that sometimes, it’s best not to discuss it at all. There are people out there who are just looking to wind you up, and engaging with them will do nothing for their journey with God, it will just make things worse. That’s not to say that God couldn’t prompt you to engage with them and make a difference to them, but aside from that prompting occurring, I’d say it’s not worth it.
If someone engages with you in a respectful way, then by all means engage with them and respect their views in turn. Be as honest as you can be/want to be depending on how public the forum, think about what you’re saying, and remember that it is not your responsibility to save that person. The only one who saves is God, and while he might use you, your job is to stay humble and make sure that everything you’re saying is giving him glory.
I would also say to those of you who like getting into conversations (and arguments) with non-believers that you don’t know online, don’t forget about the people close to you. What would your non-Christian friends think about that argument on Twitter? Would it bring them closer to Jesus? And do you ever speak to them about what you believe?
I can say with 100% certainty that everyone that I have known to become a Christian has done so because of God, not because of me. It might be nice to hear them mention me in a testimony, and of course it’s encouraging to me personally, but ultimately, I know that every one of their testimonies is about God. God was undeniably present in each of their stories, and that’s what all of this is about.
I think the lesson to Christians from all of this is don’t let it be about you. Don’t argue with people because you want to be proved right, but lovingly engage with the people that God puts in your path, with the intention of bringing them closer to God, and for the glory of God.