Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
(1 Peter 3:9,15 ESV)
It starts innocent enough. Someone likes and shares an article or post which argues for or against a controversial topic. You click on the comments. Everyone has something to say. Back and forth the comments fly, everyone arguing their points with reckless abandon. The temptation to jump into the “discussion” increases exponentially with each comment you read. The founding fathers would be proud. Nowhere are the first amendment and the freedom of speech so exercised than in social media comments. However, I have come to realize that Evangelical Christians shouldn’t argue on Facebook. The reason is, when we argue with strangers on Facebook, we are engaging in the wrong argument. Therefore, the argument tends to digress into an exercise in futility.
But let me explain. First I need to define the terms that I used in the title. Also, in full disclosure, I consider myself to be an Evangelical Christian. I no longer argue on Facebook, but I do read the comments.
The word “Evangelical” is derived from the Greek word “evangelion,” which simply translates as “glad tidings” or “good news.” In short, “Evangelical” simply refers to someone who conforms to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith and who proclaims the “good news” about Jesus Christ.
But of most importance to our discussion, an “Evangelical Christian” is one who believes that Truth is found in Scripture and, more specifically, in the intended meanings found in the words, as expressed by the Biblical authors. Scripture is believed to be true in all that it asserts and is a reliable expression of God’s will and purpose.
By “Facebook“, I am referring to any “discussions” with people who we do not know (have a relationship with) on any social media platform.
By “argument” I am strictly speaking about matters related to morality and traditional Biblical concepts. These topics include but are not limited to: abortion, gay marriage, gender identity, euthanasia, evolution, etc. I know what you are thinking: “But these are important issues. Doesn’t God want us to speak about these issues? Aren’t we supposed to bear witness to the Truth?” Yes He does, and yes we should. But by arguing in these venues, we are engaging in the wrong argument. Therefore, the argument is lost before it is begun.
Let me provide an illustration: For the diehard football fan, football doesn’t have to end after the Super bowl. There is Arena Football, which starts in April. For those who are not familiar with Arena Football, there are a lot of similarities with National League Football. However, there are a lot of differences as well. For starters, the field is shorter, the goal posts are smaller, and each team is allowed only 8 men on the field instead of 11 as in the NFL. There are many rule differences, one being: a receiver only has to have one foot in bounds when he catches the ball, as opposed to the National Football League, where the receiver must have both feet in bounds. Now imagine that there was a shortage of referees at the start of the season. Six referees are required, but for one game there are only three. So, the Arena Football League recruits three referees who just finished officiating for the NFL. During the game, a receiver ran down the field and, as he approached the sideline, he jumped into the air and made a spectacular catch, landing with one foot in bounds and one foot out of bounds. All six referees were in a perfect position to see exactly where the receiver’s feet touched the ground. All six referees agree that one foot was in and the other foot was out. Three referees immediately signaled a catch, and the other three referees immediately signaled incomplete pass. The referees conferred and began to argue among themselves. The three referees from the NFL argued adamantly that because the receiver did not land with both feet in bounds, it was not a catch. The AFL referees were equally as convinced that the receiver made the catch because he had one foot in bounds. Obviously, the problem is that the referees are not using the same rule book. So, until the six referees agree on the correct rule book, any arguments regarding the catch will not be productive (an exercise in futility). The issue is the standard for truth, or in this case what rule book they are using.
When Evangelical Christians argue on Facebook, we are not using the same rules as everyone else. To put it another way, the issue is not one of abortion, gay marriage, gender identity, evolution, etc. The primary issue is how a person defines and determines Truth. Until the issue of Truth, how it is defined, is addressed, no amount of arguing will result in any changes of opinion.
I have read arguments made by individuals that could pass as Biblical dissertations. The person outlines the relevant Biblical passages and writes, “God says. . . ” and lists all the pertinent Scriptures. As an Evangelical Christian, I have thought, “Wow, that was a really great argument! She really covered all of the points.” And then the individual on the other side of the argument would come back with something like, “You’re stupid! I can’t believe people still believe that book. . . ”
I have never read a series of comments where one person has responded, “You know, you’re right. I never realized the Bible had so much to say on the topic. Thank you for bringing me into the light. “
Why is this? Isn’t the purpose of discussions and forums to listen to the other side and be open to possibly changing our position? Haven’t we all at one time or another admitted an error or changed our opinion about something?
Now, if you want to “share your opinion”, “make a point”, or “stand up for what is right”, go right ahead. I am just saying that your arguments will not make any difference in the opinions of those you are arguing with until the basis of Truth is addressed. If the person we argue with does not recognize the same standard of Truth that we do, there is no common ground for discussion.
What about the individuals who disagree, saying they are Christians and that they believe the Bible? They say something like, “Well, I’m a Christian and I believe that a woman ought to have the right to choose what she does with her body.” Or, “I believe the Bible, but I believe God is Love and He loves everyone, including the homosexual. God wants them to be happy too!” Why is their Biblical conclusion different from yours? To understand why our Biblical arguments do not seem to get through to those on the other side, we must realize that many individuals have a different approach the Bible.
How do we determine meaning? For verbal communication, you need: a speaker, a language, and a hearer. Just like any other form of communication, the Bible also has three components: the Biblical authors, the text itself, and the readers. For most forms of communication, the author determines meaning — what did the author intend to communicate? For most of church history, this was the traditional view of how to understand the Bible. Sure, there were disagreements on doctrinal issues, however, the primary area of concern was, what did the Biblical authors mean when they wrote the text? When we read a love letter, we want to know what our beloved is really saying to us. When we read a book of fiction, we imagine ourselves in the world that the author created. But, for many, the meaning is no longer found in the intended meaning of the Biblical authors, but rather, the reader determines the meaning. The Bible is filtered through the individual reader’s environment and experiences.
Imagine that the Apostle Paul were to come down from heaven for a day to “straighten out” what he meant by the words he wrote in Romans chapter 1. The apostle Paul sets up a Facebook account, and joins in the conversation and “discussion” regarding gay marriage. Let’s say that there was no doubt to anyone that this was in fact the apostle Paul when he said, “This is the apostle Paul. When I wrote the first Chapter of the letter to the Christians in Rome, this is what I meant. . . ” Evangelical Christians would be high fiving each other and saying, “Thank you Paul for clearing that up for us.” But, there would be people, claiming to be Christians, who would say, “Paul, that’s nice and all, but that doesn’t matter. The meaning has changed. The text no longer means what you intended.” By thinking of this example, you can understand why a Biblical argument would not be very persuasive on the relevant topics of the day, without first addressing the issue of what is Truth and how is Truth defined.
In the Supreme Court, there may be those on one side who believe that the job of the Justices is to determine what the founding fathers meant by the words of the constitution, and the implications that come from the original, intended meaning. There also may be those on the other side, who believe that the constitution is a fluid document that must be reinterpreted in light of present day experiences. Just like in the previous example of Paul, if the founding fathers came back from the dead, visited the Supreme Court, and said, “When we wrote this, what we meant was . . .,” half of the justices would be thrilled and the other half would say, “That is irrelevant.”
As Evangelical Christians, we must realize that it is not the case that those who support abortion, gay marriage, evolution, etc., are incapable of understanding what the Biblical authors meant and need someone to explain it to them. The problem is, they may know what the Biblical authors meant, but they just think it is stupid. Therefore, no amount of persuasive words will convince them until they are persuaded about Truth and how it is defined.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. . .” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV – emphasis mine). The word in the Greek language used for “foolishness” does not mean that some are incapable of understanding the message. They may fully understand what is said, they just think it is stupid. (Incidentally, the Greek word used here is “moros” where we get the word moron. But I digress.) The same word “foolishness” or “moros” is used in 1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (NIV-emphasis mine) Certainly God understands the “wisdom of this world”, it is just foolishness (or stupid) to God.
If an individual does not recognize the same standard of Truth that we do, then there is no common ground for discussion. In fact, if an individual does not recognize the intended meaning of Scripture as Truth, then the preceding paragraph would be viewed as irrelevant because it wouldn’t matter about the intended meaning of the words used by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.
As a final point, I believe it takes time for a person to come to the Truth. No matter how eloquent a Facebook comment is, an individual is not going to be convinced that the intended meaning of the Biblical authors is Truth. An individual must be allowed the freedom to question God and the Truthfulness of Scripture — a freedom we are often hesitant to allow. Too many times, well intentioned Evangelical Christians come across as, “Believe the Bible, or else!” God can handle an individual’s doubts and questions. In fact, I believe God welcomes honest questions. The Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good;” (Psalm 34:8 NIV)
So, go ahead and argue if you want to. Make your point. Let them have it. However, don’t be surprised if your arguments fall short and you get the “You’re stupid” treatment.