When I first gave my life over to Christ and actually tried to start following Him, I became really prideful and sought after knowledge of God as a way to competently argue with others about the hot button topics of the day. When I say “argue,” what I really mean is “fight against as an offender.” Needless to say, I quickly established myself as the good-Christian-know-it-all, and I was ignorant of what it meant to really love people. This was all in my sophomore year of high school.
Shorty after that transition into following Christ, I ended up transferring to a local Christian school, where I was still a know-it-all, but now God was convicting me about how little I was doing to really love people. I could argue all I wanted and could read all the books and memorize all the Scripture, but if I didn’t love the people with whom I was arguing, what was the point?
I eventually graduated high school and went to college, where I realized that arguing was normal, and debates were as common as pigeons in New York City, and something more was required of me. The simple message of the Gospel, and how I lived it, needed to be enough. And so for the three years I was at college, I certainly read a lot of theological books, but spent most of my reading (outside of school reading) on just knowing the Bible, praying through it, asking a lot of questions of the mature Christians in my life, and talking to people about what God was teaching me, whether they were Christians or not. I didn’t look to argue or fight, and often times didn’t pursue discussion unless an obvious and God-approved opportunity arose, until about the last year or so, when I started a Bible study for the purpose of discussing our beliefs, reading the Bible together, and praying for one another. So I dropped my argumentative side, assuming it would never be useful, and it would be wrong to ever entertain it again, since I’d only argued from a place of pride.
Now I’m at Ft. Bragg, a married lady, expecting her first child, pursuing a life of discipleship with her husband. Recently, the issues of race, feminism, abuse, and others have come up in conversation with non-Christians in the community, as well as with the Christians by whom I’m being discipled, and those whom God has called me to disciple. “More” theological topics have come up also, like spiritual election, the second coming, the definition of Church, works-based salvation, and others. And these conversations have pulled me into deep waters without a paddle (the paddle here will represent the ability to use knowledge skillfully and with wisdom) or a boat (the boat here will represent confidence in and knowledge of God’s thoughts on these matters), and made me realize that I’ve gone from one extreme to the other: I saw a dark side of myself when I argued, and so I gave up trying to use arguments as a way to reach the lost and encourage the brethren, but now I have mis-stewarded an ability with which God designed me, so that I can’t go to deep, difficult places with the people who need to go there in order to heal, grow, and help others grow.
The actual definition of the word “argue” (or reason, as a verb) is, “to present reasons for or against a thing; to contend in oral disagreement; dispute. Also, to persuade, drive, by reasoning.” So when I use this word henceforth, this is what I mean. I do not mean my previous, distorted definition of “fighting against as an offender.”
God, in His faithfulness, has brought several things into my life as of late to remind me that there is a place for argument and a proper use of argument in reaching the lost and encouraging the brethren, but I can’t just jump in, thinking I know everything. I have to let Him teach me. And so He is!
The first thing He made me see was the need for awareness of what’s going on with difficult topics (like the ones listed above, others being things like abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, war, the Christian’s place in politics, etc.), the need for prayer concerning these things and complete submission to God on these issues, and how these needs are tied up with the Great Commission.
“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” (Matthew 28:18-20)
In the New Testament Epistles, the apostles (I know that not all of the authors of the Epistles are apostles, but bear with me) spend most of their letters answering the deep, difficult questions of the faith that arise because of the presence of false teachers, disputes among the members of the Church, or because people who are made new in Christ are still ignorantly keeping their “old man” practices. There are other reasons for the issues brought up, but these are some of the big ones.
It seems that, as these apostles are responding to the confusion of the Churches and individual believers in their day, and as they’re writing out encouragement and challenge to those who have not deliberately reached out to them, they are seeking to eliminate as many strongholds in the minds of their readers as they possibly can, so as to spur the readers onward in their walks with Christ and encourage them to keep fighting for the Kingdom.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
I always read this Corinthians passage as one concerning my own thought life. “Yes, I should take every single thought that passes through my spaghetti-noodle brain and conquer it for Jesus, forcing it to its knees before His throne. Yeah.” But I was recently challenged to look at it differently. What if “pulling down strongholds” is referring to the strongholds in the minds of others, and “casting down arguments” is referring to actually casting down vocal arguments about important things between parties?
This thought came from a book by Nancy Pearcey, titled “Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning.” The main thrust of this book is to encourage believers to understand other people’s worldviews so that they can accurately and effectively proclaim Truth.
“The answer is that the ultimate goal is to preach the gospel,” Pearcey writes. “But the gospel is not simple to those whose background prevents them from understanding it. Today’s global secular culture has erected a maze of mental barriers against even considering the biblical message. The goal of worldview analysis is to knock down those barriers—to ‘demolish strongholds,’ as the apostle Paul puts it (2 Cor. 10:4-5), so the Word of God can be heard in all its fullness. The term stronghold in the original Greek literally meant a castle or fortress. Paul used it as a metaphor for the arguments and ideas that build walls around people’s minds and prevent them from knowing God…Christians are called to tear down mental fortresses and liberate people from the power of false ideas.” (page 15)
While Pearcey is specifically referring to people completely outside of a biblical worldview, and even a Church upbringing, I think this still applies to discipleship, and working through hard stuff with Christians and non-Christians alike. Does this mean, however, that you should actively avoid preaching the Gospel as you interact with non-Christians, until you’ve demolished all of the strongholds? Heck no! It does mean, however (I think), that it might take a bit more loving work and time and effort to reach people than we think.
The “Reasoning” in the Book of Acts
On top of God showing me the need, He showed me the practice and the success in His Word.
“But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:22)
“And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.” (Acts 9:29)
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.” (Acts 17:1-4)
“Therefore he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the market-place daily with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:17)
“And he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4)
“And (Paul) came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:19)
“And when he (Apollos) desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 18:27-28)
“And he (Paul) went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)
This time and culture in Acts was not that different from our time right now. Tons of philosophies and sciences and ideas are circulating, all of them and yet none of them claiming to be thoroughly true, and even the very definition of “what in tar-nation” is truth anymore is under attack, and people are deeply confused while feeling dangerously confident. Yeah, Acts was not all that different.
Paul in particular had a practice of going to the synagogues of whatever cities he visited to reason with Jews inside, and Gentiles outside. My probably inaccurate mental picture is Paul sitting in an imperfect circle as he talks from the Scriptures about how they (the Scriptures) prove Christ’s messianic identity, lay the foundation for the Gospel he’s preaching, promise hope and purpose and freedom-giving Truth, and show that “Guys, we’ve had it all wrong…But this is right.” The actual definition of the word reasoning (also translated into dispute) is dialegomai, which is defined exactly as it’s translated: “to think different things with one’s self, mingle thought with thought;to ponder, revolve in mind; to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss.”
But what’s the point?
So, there’s a precedent in the Bible for taking time to talk through difficult things. Granted, Paul might not have been talking about abortion or homosexuality or anything like what we might have to talk about today, but in his Epistles he certainly dove deep into topics like philosophy (Colossians 2:1-10), what roles for husbands and wives should look like according to God (Ephesians 5:22-33), definition and establishment of morality through Creation (Romans 2:1-16), questions about why the world is the way it is (Romans 1), even government politics (Romans 13), to name a few. And Paul is not the only apostle who seeks to disciple the Church in this way. Peter, James, and John also seek to do this by addressing deep issues within the hearts of the members of the Church, things like suffering (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 3:13-17) and spiritual warfare—yes, spirits and demons and junk—(1 Peter 5:8-10, 1 John 4:1-6).
The challenge I’m taking in reading these is that I need to not only be fiercely willing to go deep with people in the issues that keep them from encountering Christ (and thus being willing to be used by Christ to demolish those strongholds), but I also need to not be afraid of being equipped with the knowledge of those issues, and an even deeper knowledge of God and the Scriptures.
How do I learn how to go deep?
Along with showing me the need, showing me the precedent in Scripture, and even challenging me through authors like Nancy Pearcey, God has placed a number of people in my life that not only want to go deep and talk through difficult things, but they need to go deep. So He’s almost making me apply what I’m learning, and reminding me that I can be confident that His Truth will win out in the end.
Granted, it’s not simply my words that win people over or demolish their strongholds. It’s the Holy Spirit doing His work of “guiding into all truth” (John 16:5-15) and drawing non-Christians to Jesus (John 6:44). I’m just the conduit through which God does that. That’s why, in my mind, the ultimate obstacle is choosing to be willing to be used by God in going deep with people, because even if I don’t have the knowledge I think I should, God still uses my willingness (hopefully that makes sense…). And the cool thing? I’m figuring out my faith even more than I thought I could as I seek to go deep with others, and feeling much more confident in the reality of God’s Truth than I have been before.
And prayer…I’m learning through the Word and through experience that God has designed prayer to not only deepen our relationship with Him, but to change our hearts toward others and our perspective of the world, and even to transform the people around us as He desires. So, I’m finding that prayer for those I argue with (or “go deep with”) is also really helpful and vital to their growth and God’s growth of me.
There are other ways to be ready to go deep with people, like daily studying, reading, meditating on, memorizing, listening to, and praying through the Bible, letting God through the Spirit change your heart and mind and further establishing you in Him and allowing Him to demolish the strongholds in your own mind. There’s also plenty of books on what tactics to use in communicating with people during arguments, what questions to ask, what things to bring up. And all of these are really good things to look into and figure out. But the foundational things you can do, upon which you can certainly build without ever replacing them, are to know the Word, thoroughly submit yourself to the Spirit’s leading (He’ll bring to mind Scripture, help you use discernment, and keep you level-headed…After all, He is God in us, which is pretty cool, ya know?) continue learning about God, and pray for yourself and the freedom of others.
And I’m still learning what all of this looks like…Something I haven’t quite figured out is using the “wisdom valve” on the knowledge I gain (I just really love reading books…), and finding the balance between being equipped through reading books and the Bible while also being fully submitted to God in the moment…Because there is a place in my walk with God to read extrabiblical material, while standing on the foundation of Scripture and trusting Him to use it all to change and challenge and grow me…But how are all of these connected and is there a way to mess it all up?…To be continued.
What this DOESN’T Mean
“I have a right to argue with people, and I need to make sure people know how wrong they are. I need to protect my beliefs.”
This is the exact opposite of what I think God thinks. The point of being willing to argue is to love the other person by hearing their thoughts and offering Truth in exchange. I want the person with whom I’m arguing, whether they’re a Christian or not, to be set free by God’s Truth, not placed in further bondage because of my insolence. Also, the goal of arguing is not to protect my own beliefs. God is Truth. The Truth, and Truth is called by no other name. He is more factual and accurate than any science, and His reality is the only reality in a world full of fake. I do not have to “protect” what I believe; God’s Truth will stand whether I protect and defend it or not. The goal of arguing is to show people the freedom they can experience in seeing that Truth. I have that freedom. They do not.
“I can now push my own political views because I believe God supports them.”
This is also not the point. The point is to figure out what God thinks about all of these things, establishing that in our own minds as what is true, and then reasoning with others concerning these things. You’re not asking “Does God support my views?” but rather, “Am I in support of God’s views?” “Christian” is not always synonymous with “Conservative” or “Republican,” and “Non-Christian” is not always synonymous with “Democrat” or “Liberal.” Do these parties often parallel the respective belief systems? Yes, absolutely. But I hesitate to put God in the limited political boxes we’ve created for ourselves.
“I will only win people over to the Gospel through spending time in arguing with them.”
This is not true, specifically the isolating word “only.” Sometimes, like while I was in college, people are not won over by arguments. They are more won over by how you live and how your beliefs affect how you treat others and see the world. If what I’m arguing doesn’t reach my feet as I walk through life, then how valid are my arguments, really? This is the trap I fell into from the very beginning. I was so caught up in arguing with people that I didn’t take the time to learn how to love them. The concept here is to be willing to argue and lovingly capable of going deep with someone if that’s what it takes to bring them to the Gospel.
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'” (John 8:31-32)