Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christian Conversation Stoppers (How To Win a Debate Every Time)

Apr 18, 2011

I have noticed a rather worrying trend in many Christian circles today. It has to do with how some believers will quickly bring a discussion or a debate to a quick halt by throwing out, almost as a cliché, words such as, “that’s not very loving” or “that’s not very gracious”.

It happens quite frequently, and those who do this think it is a sort of trump card that allows them to automatically win any argument, or silence any opposition. It really is the Christian equivalent of how homosexual activists silence debate and seek to demonise their opponents.

In any debate with these guys, they simply have to throw out the term “homophobia” and that’s it – end of discussion. No matter how much logic, data, evidence or reasoning you bring to bear on a debate with them, as soon as they toss this verbal hand grenade into the discussion, it’s all over. They think they have won, because this notion of ‘homophobia’ is seen to trump everything.

This tactic is now quite often being used in Christian debates. Especially if one is seeking to defend some biblical orthodoxy, all the opponent has to do is accuse you of being ungracious or unloving, and the discussion is over. The critic has taken the high moral ground, and there is little one can do.

And with so much in life, there is of course an element of truth in all this. Is grace, love and the like vital in all our conversation, discussions, and even disagreements? Absolutely. That is not being questioned here. But many believers find that anyone seeking to affirm biblical teaching at any time is by default being ungracious and unloving.

Simply to take a stand on any biblical doctrine is seen to be provocative, aggressive, unloving and divisive. If that is the accepted presupposition, then yes, that is the end of all Christian debate. People simply begin to wonder whether they should even open their mouths for fear of being labelled harsh, unloving, judgmental, ungracious, and so on.

But to see how unhelpful and unbiblical this is, one simply needs to go back to the Bible. Take any of the great characters in the Bible, and you will find plenty of examples of what today would be considered to be quite harsh, unloving and intolerant speech – and acts.

The Bible is in fact full of these, and had these characters lived in today’s PC and TC climate, most of them would have been soundly rebuked for their lack of grace and love. Dozens of individuals come to mind here. Let me just mention a few.

Just how ungracious and unloving was Elijah? When he mocked, ridiculed and taunted the false prophets, he did not exactly seem to be a blazing example of tact and diplomacy. Indeed, he seemed to deliberately go out of his way to denigrate and deride these Baalists and their false gods.

Just how ungracious and unloving was Isaiah? He offers some of the most stinging denunciations of idols and idolatry in the entire Bible. He offers withering denunciations of idolatry, and is not afraid to use the strongest of language to do so. Simply reading the book of Isaiah out loud today would be regarded by many as quite an un-Christlike activity.

Just how ungracious and unloving was John the Baptist? Even Jesus had to defend him: “he came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’.” Indeed, the prophets in both Testaments were accused of all sorts of things, and rejected by the masses.

Just how ungracious and unloving was Jesus? Think of all kinds of rather nasty things he was happy to say. Calling people “white-washed tombs,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites” and the like does not seem to be the epitome of love and charm. Publicly rebuking Peter and saying “Get behind me, Satan!” is not exactly how you win friends and influence people.

Just how ungracious and unloving was Paul? Referring to his opponents as dogs and the like would make him very unpopular in many Christian circles today. And poor Peter, he too was publicly rebuked by Paul as well. ‘Oh, but we are not to air our dirty laundry in public’ we are told today. And just what was he thinking when he absolutely blasted the Galatians? Where is the love Paul? Where is the grace?

The truth is, the use of harsh, even provocative language is found throughout the Bible. Jesus and others used it constantly. The use of satire, irony, mockery, ridicule and sarcasm is used time and time again. I have written this up in more detail here:

Now I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water here. Can people become unnecessarily unloving and ungracious in their talk and discussions? Yes they can. But what I am concerned about here is the attempt to silence anyone who wants to affirm biblical truth by throwing out these charges, often quite recklessly and needlessly.

We need to realise that in a world which values ‘tolerance’, acceptance and non-judgmentalism above all else, any sort of disagreement or stance for truth will automatically be viewed as being judgmental, harsh, ungracious, and so on. When we have decided that all truth claims are in fact unloving acts, then one will always be accused of such nasties.

We already have secular laws being passed making various types of ‘vilification’ to be illegal. Anyone can claim they are a victim of ‘hate speech’ and ‘vilification’ simply if another person disagrees with them. This has resulted in a wholesale crackdown on freedom of speech.

Now we are seeing this played out in the churches. Whatever the intention has been, the result is the same: people are being silenced, debate is being curtailed, and freedom of speech is being whittled away – all in the name of sentimental and dopey notions of love and grace.

As always, there is a fine line to tread here, and we are all ordered to speak the truth in love. But those concerned about biblical truth will always have to take a stand. If they get labelled as being unloving or ungracious for doing so, then so be it. The biblical characters mentioned above would have also been accused of the same.

Fortunately they kept proclaiming truth – because they really did love people – and they refused to be silenced. We must do the same. We can all improve in our ability to love and be gracious. But we can also all improve in the need for some boldness in standing up for truth when it is not popular to do so.

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32 Responses to Christian Conversation Stoppers (How To Win a Debate Every Time)

  • I think that Christians in general need to completely kill off any fear of man in them. By doing so, all those so called argument stoppers become nothing more than water off a duck’s back.
    Mario Del Giudice

  • Try asking them how loving they think the martyrs in Rev 6:9-10 are, as they cry out for God to avenge them.

    Too many so called Christians want to “love” people all the way to hell. But then we know a lot of them don’t like that concept either, because “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.”

    The fact that God has provided a way out and they only have to accept it, is not usually good enough for them. They prefer a God of their own making to the Biblical God who calls people to righteousness and to speak truth in love.

    Mark Bachelor

  • I love my politically incorrect God! The PC alternative is like a blunt instrument or food without flavour. Inane and bland and pointless. There was nothing bland about St Blandina!
    Jamie Bowman

  • Its time for some confidence, boldness and a backbone.
    Boyd Hawkins

  • Don’t forget the leftist forms of argumentative demagoguery, what Dennis Prager calls SIXHIRB;


    Damien Spillane

  • Good stuff Damien.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The Truth will set people free! The righteous are as bold as lions, and we need to throw of all fear of man and speak the Truth in love.
    When we hold back from speaking the truth, or are wishy-washy and compromised, those who are living in unrepentant sin are going to hell and their blood is on us!!!
    Thanks Bill, Mario and Mark for your boldness and faithfulness!!!
    Barb Hoc

  • I would argue that Christ’s (and therefore our) approach to any situation is love. But love isn’t the wishy-washy, excessively tolerant, compromising thing many make it out to be. It’s a fearful and unsanitized thing that drives God to earth, the truth to sinful hearts and Christ to a cross. Love is hard and sharp. Not soft and shapeless.
    Adam Elovalis

  • Orwell said it well.
    “During Times of Universal Deceit, Telling The Truth is a Revolutionary Act.”
    Rob Withall

  • Yes that is a good one Rob, and quite relevant here.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks again Bill….in my early Christian days I used to only get those ” that’s not very graceful or loving” responses from unbelievers….how times have changed.
    I can still remember a “silent moment” with some Christians when reading the below Psalm.
    I don’t think they knew it was in their Bible!!!

    Psalm 149
    1 Praise the LORD.
    Sing to the LORD a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
    2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
    3 Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
    4 For the LORD takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
    5 Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
    6 May the praise of God be in their mouths
    and a double-edged sword in their hands,
    7 to inflict vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
    8 to bind their kings with fetters,
    their nobles with shackles of iron,
    9 to carry out the sentence written against them—
    this is the glory of all his faithful people.

    Praise the LORD.

    Simon Rossic

  • I’m with Barb. It’s just such an anomaly for people to be bold enough to confront and actually stand up for righteousness now that it causes a radical reaction when we do! Boldness has ENORMOUS power to it. The fear of man is dispelled by the true fear of God. I truly believe that there are times when we have to hold our nose and jump in at the deep end by actually coming out and speaking the truth where we don’t believe it’s going to be received. If Jesus can come into the temple swinging a whip, we can’t do less.
    Dee Graf

  • When I first started reading this it looked like one of those typical tv/internet commercials; using this method will give a six pack, or loose weight etc.
    I was expecting something to stop atheists, nevertheless another eye opening article. On the topic of truth I’m proud to be apart of a church (Lifehouse) with a pastor who is both loving and yet unafraid to say yes there is a hell and Jesus is your way out of it.

    Anthony Lichoudaris

  • If you are correctly using the Bible, and someone says, “How unloving”, just say “Does that make you more loving than God?”
    Barbara Fisher

  • The word kind in the Love is very kind is a word that means to tell others the truth. Most of the time no one wants to be corrected. God also says “I do not love you if I do not correct you” Back up what I just said about kind.
    If I let my children do anything they wanted to and did not correct them then I do not love them.
    This is your out from there that is not very loving. Well loving is getting corrected. OR you do not love the other person. I would rather stand before God having corrected a situation, person then any other way. Remeber God when He sent his people to another people for correction He said if they do not repent then the sin is upon their own heads. The person who told them of the sin is not responsible any longer.
    Beverley Estes

  • Paul in Romans 13 talks of obeying the authorities that God has ordained in our lives, and Peter in his commentary on Paul’s writings gave his amen. Paul, however, defined the legitimacy of the authority in verse 3 when he said, “for rulers (or magistrates to those contentious of the word “rulers”) are not a terror to good works. Peter picks up on this when he says, and who will harm you for doing good or well, BUT he says that if you ARE to be punished, let it BE for doing well, not evil, and in such punishments, he says not to be afraid of their terror. Why? because when rulers, governments, or authorities become a terror to good works the legitimacy of the law incorporated in that authority is nullified, and one would become automatically lawless, BUT, even if we are not under the law of government we still have a law that the balance of Romans 13 touches on, and that is that of LOVE, and we are to continue doing good as interpreted by THAT law…and the commandments are listed for which Love is the pivital point. When Peter who tells us to obey EVERY ordinance man was forbidden early on in the Acts of the Apostles to stop preaching the truth, mainly of Jesus, by the magistrates, he said, “it is better to obey God than men.” This pretty much sums up Paul’s introduction to Romans chapter 13, found in Romans 13.

    So continue DOING GOOD, meaning to preach and teach truth wherever that leads us, even in opposition to PC.

    Stephen Ray Hale

  • I think that we often miss opportunities for success in debates by not challenging the emptiness of the adversary’s “stoppers.” Answering questions with questions can spawn a whole new line of thought that is often necessary to gaining ground in apologetics.

    When people throw out those show-stoppers, they are demonstrating their ignorance of that which they descry.

    “What is your definition of love?”
    “By whose authority do you feel superior to the Christian view?” … and many more.

    These can go on and on. Now the detractors are on the defensive.

    Paul Molyneux

  • There are many trump or wild cards Christians use to end a discussion. Another classic is “the Spirit has led me”.. or “my spirit says otherwise”. I call it sentimenal “syrupy yuk” which has nothing to do with “respectful” dialog. Pulling that card is what’s disrespectful.

    I liked your ref. to “John the Baptist”…it makes a good reply when someone claims you are being ungracious. “Ya, well so was John the Baptist!”

    Gary Lopez

  • People have crafted a god to comply with their fantasies, and whose whole purpose for mankind is to make earthly life so beautiful that heaven isn’t necessary. That way the whole idea of hell becomes irrelevant. Sadly, too many preachers have accommodated this unscriptural outlook by choosing to be popular with human beings instead of obeying the Bible’s admonition.

    2 Ti 4:2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

    Margaret Swaim

  • Thank you for an excellent analysis and thought provoking discussion. My goal is always to “speak the truth in love” Eph 4:15 but to keep that balance is a challenge. Your comments encourage me to keep speaking, witnessing and sharing the “truth” John 17:17 – God bless your work.
    Ron Jordan

  • And by the way, we need to realize that political correctness was created by godless Marxists with the goal of destroying Christian western civilization one brick at a time. There’s a good 22 minute documentary that can be viewed online (google videos is best). It’s called, THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. Why have we laid down and played dead on these attacks. It’s time we started speaking up in what Business consultant Susan Scott described in her book of the same title as FIERCE CONVERSATIONS.
    Elmer Dean Cozzens

  • Isaiah 58:1 Our beautiful Lord calls upon us to say the truth in love. but with the intensity of a trumpet sound!
    Revelation 14:6-12! In verse 7, God says to proclaim the Three Angels Message to the whole earth with a “LOUD” voice!!

    Go forward Christian soldiers, and follow God’s command to proclaim the truth with boldness and with the power and love of the Holy Spirit! The results of which we will not be able to see until we all meet on the streets of gold!!
    Love, Brother David Wright

  • Bill, your mention that this argument is used in Christian circles is quite an understatement.

    I know several lay preachers who don’t get invited back because they dared to present a biblical position on contemporary issues such as Islam, homosexuality etc… even though the point of their message was our need to love them.

    It seems that church is no longer a place where one can speak the truth in love. How dare we use the bible to bring correction and rebuke or highlighting error! All we need is love baby.

    Steven Bergen

  • Thanks for this article Bill. It seems to me that many Christians find it difficult to make the distinction between biblical judgement and discernment. We are not called to judge (lest we be judged ourselves – Matthew 7:1-2) but we are clearly instructed to discern between what is good and what is evil – and that definitely includes watching out for behaviours and viewpoints held to and practiced by fellow believers which are contrary to the Word of God. It is a shame that so many believers (myself included at times) fail to take the opportunity to encourage a brother or sister on in their faith by identifying and challenging heretical thoughts or practices that they may be following, particularly when ‘conversation stoppers’ are thrown around. It’s time for the Church to stand boldly and love people in the fullness as God intended; let’s not let PC infiltrate and influence the Church anymore!
    Joel Hawting

  • Thanks Joel

    Yes I speak to Matt. 7:1 and the issue of judging here:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Amen. No matter where one turns ones head today, one will always encounter these kind of cliche’s, which is why such blogs as this are imperative and relevant to a relativistic world. Whatever one says about various components of Douglas Wilsons’ theology, I found his book “A Serrated Edge” incredibly helpful concerning this topic. It is a defense of the use of biblical satire, and it is done quite brilliantly.

    One thing I loathe – is that we are living in an age of mediocre and moderate men. The days of individualists, or, what Spurgeon called ‘eccentric preachers’ is gone. Men like the late Leonard Ravenhill, for example. Others would include the patriotic protestant Ian Paisley, or the the missionary Paul Washer. These are unique men, and while not all men are necessarily ‘eccentric,’ I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that we have a great need for such men (and women!) today! Elijah was eccentric in his dealings with Baal. And his eccentricity was far from ecumenical! I can’t see Elijah playing footsy with the Baal prophets in an ecumenical good Friday ‘stations of the cross’ showdown, like many are doing in a few days with Roman Catholicism.

    You know what I think? I reckon there’s a thousand eccentrics out there, even on Australian soil, but they’ve been so hampered by church politic, so poisoned by popularity or the praise of men, so threatened financially or abused by the ecclesiastical leaders, that they tend to hide away such giftedness from God. I long for the day that men get a little wild, rough, and daring with their words and actions. The postmodern church will call it a ‘scandal’ for sure, but in the words of old Catherine Booth-Clibborn ‘I am scandalized that you are scandalized! Respectable? You’ll never win souls if you are!’

    The devil would have us chase his mice of distraction than slay his lions of devastation. Oh how I feel so distracted! Might we all unsheathe our swords and smite the head off some apostate goliaths! “Off with the head of Modernism,” I say, “Off with the head of Roman Catholicism,” I say, “Off with the head of Mohammedanism,” I say, and “Off with the head off [in the words of Leonard Ravenhill] Dead-Fundamentalism!” Glory to God.

    Forbes Morrison

  • Thanks Forbes

    You got me in a bit of a bind here, as I seek to avoid Catholic-Protestant infighting on this site, for reasons I have offered on many occasions. But I like your words otherwise, and enjoy the quotes, and am quite thankful for the tip on Wilson’s book. I will have to order it straight away.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for the article. I would like to add another couple to Damien’s list:

    Extreme right wing

    Patricia Halligan

  • The way to defeat this is to ASK, “what do you mean by that?”.
    And when they give an answer, if they have one, simply ASK, “how do/did you come to that conclusion” Greg Koukl style.
    You do not have to ‘wear’ their accusation – they do.

    That will stop them in their tracks as they have to justify their ‘put down’.
    Same tactic should be used with any put down – especially “homophobe”.

    Peter Stokes

  • Very true Bill, its one that false brethren use all the time on us.
    Dorian Ballard

  • It is so troubling to see, over the last 30 years, that love and relationships have become the center of doctrine in most of the churches I have attended. I wonder why a person taught in most churches would really believe that it was necessary for Christ to die for us…
    Ralph Riley

  • All around me I see one extreme to the other. Groups that only want grace, and groups that only want “hard love”. Focusing on only one of these and seeing the whole world through those goggles is never going to amount to anything good.

    There are many Christian debaters who kill debate by going in with no room for criticism, questioning, reason, or opinion. They have already decided that they are right. I don’t see that as a positive alternative to the conversation stoppers mentioned in this article.

    Of course, debate (and apologetics) is more than just having the right information, it is delivery as well. There is an element of clever speech and persuasion in the mix. We could probably do with teaching people HOW to speak and not just what to say!

    Jess Hagen

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