(1) Just because you can say something (i.e., you have a forum and an ability) doesn’t mean you should.
(2) Having interest in a particular subject does not equal being qualified to speak on that subject.
(3) Even if you have the right and the expertise to speak on a subject, that doesn’t mean you have the right and authority to be nasty when you do.
I don’t always follow these but I do sincerely try. (After all, James 3:2 says that being perfect involves having complete control over your tongue. Who of us can say they have that measure of control? I thought so.)
How to Argue Like a Saint
The site Sharper Iron has a forum that is used and viewed by Fundamentalists and non-Fundamentalists. In a recent discussion of forum philosophy, editor Aaron Blumer laid out some principles for arguing like a saint that come with much biblical foundation. These are good to consider whether you post in internet forums, write a blog, teach, minister to people, or interact with others in any context. They are as follows:
(1) Seek understanding first (Prov. 18:13). Many times we respond and we haven’t really understood what the other was saying (often because we were waiting for our turn to talk rather than simply listening to understand). Read the post again, print out the email and think it through, consider their evidence and their reasons. Forget tying to determine their motives because often we misjudge motives even as we ignore evidence and we end up fighting over nothing.
(2) Aim to persuade (Prov. 16:21). This works better than belittling, name-calling, sarcasm, snide remarks, and accusations (Prov. 13:10; 15:1; 25:15).
(3) Talk up rather than down (Prov. 27:2). This verse has to do with bragging but it also applies to speech that belittles others. We belittle others because it makes us feel big but it actually works the other way.
(4) Aim for brevity (Prov. 10:19). It’s one thing to put a lot information into one post, it is different altogether simply to go off on a rant or a lengthy diatribe. Nothing good usually comes of it (Prov. 13:3; 10:8). Here’s a quote: “Excess talk is characteristic of fools.” Lord knows, that has been true of me too times too many. I pray it will not be true of you, dear reader.
(5) Be thick-skinned (Prov. 12:16). I admit this is a genetic fault with me. I strive by God’s grace to remember that not everything spoken is necessarily an insult nor an occasion to fight. (Sometimes we parse things so that we can find an insult.) Even if something is spoken as an insult, you don’t have to answer. Some things you just have to let pass you by.
(6) Value evidence (Prov. 12:17). This is especially true for those of us who serve the God who is Truth. Just because you have an opinion, that doesn’t mean it’s right. You must present evidence, especially before you condemn others who disagree.
(7) Slow down (Prov. 20:25; 12:18; 29:20). You don’t have to fire off a response right away. Take time to think about things. Do what I said above: reread the post, print out the email and read it over, go home and mull over what the preacher said. Think things through. You may find that the other person didn’t mean what you originally thought or wasn’t even talking about you at all. Most of the time you can’t discern these things in the heat of the moment. Trust me on this one. And remember that the tongue is small but can kindle a great fire (James 3:5).
But Don’t I Have a Right to Say What I Want?
Mr. Blumer also listed several items to consider regarding differences between people who post on his forum. What he says applies not only to posting on the internet but to life in general.
(1) There are differences in ability. Just because you watch golf on TV, doesn’t qualify you to sit at a round-table with Tiger Woods. Just because your daddy was a pastor doesn’t mean you are qualified to tell your pastor what to do. (I was the perfect pastor until I became one.) Likewise, you may have learned a lot from that book or at that conference, but that doesn’t make you an expert.
(2) There are differences in authority. Differences in authority result in different rights. Differences in authority are by God’s design and the Scripture is clear about this from creation right through to the Epistles.
Our problem with this is often a cultural problem: our culture has taken egalitarianism to an extreme degree so that we no longer even recognize authority (as Blumer points out). I’m sad to say, it seems to be getting worse with each successive generation (but saying that makes me sound like an old fogey).
(3) There are differences in character. The Bible recognizes this when it tells us to treat fools differently (The Proverbs) and when it lists qualifications for church offices (1 Timothy 3:1-13). Sometimes character just cannot be ignored when evaluating someone’s arguments.
These three differences necessarily separate people. We can talk all day about how wrong we think it is is but (1) these are grounded in reality (number 1) and in Scripture, (numbers 2 & 3), and (2) these are important guides in deciding to whom we should listen.
These tips were valuable to me and I will be thinking about them for a while. I hope they are valuable to you.