Some Tips for Better Engagement in Theological Discourse

Many Christians (and non-Christians) want to be involved in theological discussion on the internet, in Bible studies, and in other contexts where growing Christians (and those opposed to Christianity) are engaged in theological discussion. (Note that I’m mostly talking to Christians and talking about Christians discussing theology with fellow believers some of whom, to be blunt, might just know more about the topic under discussion than you. But it might apply to other contexts, as well.)

  1. Be humble. No one knows everything so there’s no shame in not knowing something.
  2. Recognize that having an opinion and having an informed opinion are two different things. Because, no one knows everything (which means you don’t know everything).
  3. There’s no shame in asking questions. So don’t be afraid to ask questions. This will not only help you figure out what the other person is trying to say; you may learn something.
  4. It helps to learn some terms and background if you want to discuss any topic, especially theology. And this will keep you from looking ignorant. An “Arminian” is not someone from “Armenia” and terms like “amillennial” or “universalist” can serve as useful shorthand to greatly simplify a conversation.
  5. Don’t assume you understand what the other person is saying. (See number 3 above: Ask questions!).
  6. Jumping to conclusions is a sure way to start an argument and get nowhere. And it’s just not nice. For example, if I say I’m opposed to something, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in favor of the opposite, because there may be more than one perspective on the issue.
  7. 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.” This is especially true if you’re arguing outside your area of expertise or just plain don’t really know what you’re talking about.
  8. 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 (remember number 1: Be Humble). It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
  9. 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. Again, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
  10. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Especially if you don’t.

About Michael R. Jones

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