How to Argue and Disagree Amicably

by Max Andrews

This is an inevitable aspect of life: people will always disagree with you.  What’s very important is how we ought to respond to someone when we disagree.  Here are few points I’d like to share from experience:

  1. Don’t get angry. We love to use ad hominem attacks but remember you’re discussing an argument or position, not the person.  Getting upset is a natural reaction.  When you let your upset disrupt the friendly atmosphere or affect your arguments, STOP.
  2. Stick to the arguments (following 1). Be reasonable and calm.
  3. Go to the person with him you disagree with first.  This is simply Matthew 18.  Don’t write open letters with defamatory comments and unnecessary attacks (a la Norman Geisler).
  4. Do your best to really have a robust understanding of the other position.  You often heard that you should know the other position just as well as you know yours if you want to criticize it. Well, that’s not true and it’s completely infeasible.  It surely helps but here why that phrase is a problem.  To offer criticisms you just need to contrast it with what you believe to be true.  This is simply conversion, contrapositions, obversions, contraries, and contradictions put into play. If you can do that then you don’t need exhaustive knowledge.  If that phrase is true then everyone will be shutting their mouths all day long.
  5. Let the other person speak and don’t interrupt.
  6. Don’t respond if you’ve been emotionally compromised.  Respond when you’re thinking clearly and calm.
  7. It’s okay to be passionately against something but remember, it’s the argument and not the person.  A lot of people take the word ‘ignorant’ and claim you’re using an ad hom. Well, it depends on how you’re using it.  If you say that someone simply lacks knowledge of something then that person is ignorant.  I prefer to say ‘lacks knowledge’ because it’s received better.  So, if you can avoid controversial language that may be apprehended in a distorted way do what you can to avoid it.
  8. Know your limits and realize when you’ve been pressed by a good argument.  Know when to step out of the argument. Stepping out doesn’t mean you’ve conceded, it’s just best at times when you need to research everything that’s been said so for, time constraints, or emotions are getting high.
  9. Always argue with someone as if you’re going out for a drink or dinner afterwards.  Sometimes you may actually need to do this if emotions get high.  Offer to take your friend out for a drink, food, ice cream, the bookstore, or anywhere.
  10. Draw the lines where the lines belong.  Certain things are not crucial–they’re peripheral. For example, in a philosophical or theological context, the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and the application of the atonement are crucial and central. How the atonement functions (satisfaction, Chirstus Vicar, substitionary, etc.), how God knows and acts in creation, and how the universe was created are secondary.

Here’s an example of what not to do when confronted with a difference of opinion.  The context is this: I shared an old post of mine titled “Why I’m Not a Calvinist” and one of my friends shared it online.  Well, another fellow commented on the post with this:

I have noticed that your friend is very fond of straw men and not a big fan of Scripture. I am a Calvinist, and asserting God’s absolute sovereignty in no way attributes Him as the origin of Sin. Sin is rebellion against God either by attitude or action (Mat. 5:20-48). It would be like trying to blame the ocean for the desert, because the desert is devoid of water.
I would hope your friend would focus less on philosophy and more on Scripture and it’s propagation to the unreached masses. If he changed his focus to mirror that of Christ and the Apostles, he might just find his views doing the same (and that goes for all of us).

Can you believe all of these insults drawn out from my post?  Go back and read my post.  It’s not an exhaustive argument against Calvinism.  It’s simply my snapshot as to why I’m not a Calvinist.  From that post I’m apparently attacking arguments no one is making (Hmm, okay…) and that I don’t like Scripture.  Really?… Really? Notice he doesn’t really construct and argument in his response. He merely states that God is sovereign.  Okay… Sure. This is something I, a Molinist, an Arminian, and even an open theist may agree on. Why? Because it’s so ambiguous to say such a thing!  Hence, this isn’t a reasoned response, it’s just defamatory comments and charging me with being too philosophical, not loving the Scriptures, and not loving the unreached masses.  Yeah, I don’t know where any of those came from, especially my apparent lack of care for the unreached.  Someone told me online that this may have been a new and young Calvinist straight from the cage. Anyways, this is not how one ought to react when confronted with a different view.

Anyways, you’ll notice some things were repeated or stated in a different way.  That’s because they’re important! Arguments are good and healthy for the mind.  As John Milton said, “It is only through the free exchange in the marketplace of ideas will truth arise.”  Dialogue and discussion is good.  When discussing theological or personal issues make sure you’re solid in your faith and you’ve got the fundamentals and the secondaries down.  If you’re doing this in an apologetic format well did Dan Wallace say that the road to hell is lined with the bones of apostate apologists.

8 Responses to “How to Argue and Disagree Amicably”

  1. Is your keyboard still functional, Max? I can’t imagine the state that it’s in, considering all the briliant work you’ve been putting out just recently. Good one. Again!

    Blessings to you and Leah, my good friend!

  2. Hey!

    I thought this was a good article. I will definitely check out “Why I’m Not a Calvinist”.

    Thanks for great article!

  3. great stuff Max 🙂

  4. “Go to the person with him you disagree with first. This is simply Matthew 18. Don’t write open letters with defamatory comments and unnecessary attacks (a la Norman Geisler).”

    This may seem a bit on the nose – but have you gone to Norman Geisler?

    • We have, several times. I have sent him messages several times. If you were aiming for my nose you missed. I hope you weren’t assuming I was hypocrite.

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