Some Tips for Better Engagement in Theological Discourse

Many Christians want to be involved in theological discussion on the internet, in Bible studies, and in other contexts where growing Christians are engaged in theological discussion. (Note the contexts I gave as examples. I’m not talking about discussion with non-Christians, or your neighbor or buddy but with fellow believers some of whom, to be blunt, might just know more the topic under discussion than you.)

These tips will make the discussion more fruitful, helpful, and edifying while also keeping you from looking like a big, fat jerk.

  • Be humble. No one knows everything because no one can know everything. There’s no shame in not knowing, but there is shame in refusing to be taught.
  • Having an opinion and having an informed opinion are two different things. Be sure not to confuse the two.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even if you’re an expert in the topic under discussion, at least you’ll understand your opponent’s view and can respond appropriately.
  • Learn some terms and background. You only either appear ignorant or reveal your ignorance when you don’t know basic things. It’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to spout off on things you don’t know.
  • Don’t assume you understand what the other person is saying. Questions are not a sign of ignorance; questions are a sign of wisdom, humility, and an inquisitive mind.
  • Jumping to conclusions is a sure way to start an argument that doesn’t need to happen and then get nowhere.
  • Remember what one of my theology professors used to say: “You don’t have to agree with me, but I don’t have to make it easy for you to disagree with me, either.” Others are not obligated to defer to your judgment, especially if it doesn’t appear you know what your talking about.
  • If you get stumped, or shown up, or don’t know what else to say, don’t start making stuff up and pulling things out of thin air (cf. number 1).
  • When you don’t know what you’re talking about, people who do know what you’re talking about can tell that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

And remember that the purpose of studying the Bible and theology is to grow in Christ-likeness. If spiritual formation is not on your agenda, then perhaps you shouldn’t be arguing theology until it is.

 

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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