[Originally published as part of 5 Dangerous Ideas about Faith]
Dangerous Idea # 3 “We just need to love people and not try to persuade or argue with them”
This claim sounds persuasive. Really persuasive. This generation of teens has seen our country arguing and hugely divided over issues of morality, immigration, abortion, elections, religion, and more. We are all tired of the mudslinging and insulting that we see every election cycle. It has gotten old.
As a millennial, I grew up hearing that we should “avoid talking about religion and politics” if we want to get along with people. In an attempt for everyone to get along and feel welcomed, we have promoted tolerance and acceptance as one of our key virtues that can help our society move forward into the future.
This definition of tolerance is different than the traditional one, though. The traditional definition used to be “getting along with people even though you hold opposite views.” In our culture today, tolerance has been defined to mean:
accepting all ideas as equally true.…. everyone has their truth, and we must respect it. In order to love people, we must celebrate whatever viewpoint or life choices they make. To do otherwise is not loving.
We have also seen this viewpoint influence the way Christians think about engaging with others. Amongst believers, It is generally viewed as more effective to just “love people and not try to argue with them.” After all, they say, people were never argued into the kingdom; thus, Christian apologetics (presenting evidence and reasons for the biblical worldview) is not necessary.
Is this approach truly the best way forward to engage with each other?
To claim that our posture should be either avoidance or accepting all ideas as equally true is self-defeating since it cannot create real dialogue and perpetuates only a superficial sense of community.
It’s Not Doctrine that Needs Changing; it’s People Skills
Maybe the better way forward is that we learn HOW to think and act in dialogue with people that have opposing views.
First, it seems that we should probably be clear on how we are defining the word love. Is it just a feeling? Is it kindness? It is physical intimacy with someone else? Or could there be a more robust definition of it? I believe there must be. There must be an unchanging definition of love rooted in something transcendent (beyond changing humans) because everyone seems to define love differently in our culture.
If there is anything objectively wrong, then there must be an objective standard to measure something as evil or wrong. For tree rot to exist, there must be a tree. Tree rot is a negation of the standard of “treeness.” In the same way, the existence of evil, the negation of good, is evidence that there is an objective, unchanging standard that transcends humanity. This standard must be an unchanging, intrinsically good divine being: God. he himself, his nature of perfect goodness is the standard.
Since his nature is the standard and source of goodness, then our definition of love must be connected with understanding who God is. If the New Testament is true, then when it writes about God, love, and his followers, we should take notice:
“Dear friends, let us love another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…. whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God-God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” 1 John 4:7-11;15-16
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6
“I give you a new command: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~Jesus in John 13:34-35
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. ~Jesus in John 14:6
If God is the standard and source of all life, goodness, and love, then defining love based on who he is makes sense. From what we know from these verses, God’s love can be defined as:
Having full knowledge of who we are yet being fully committed to us.
As author and pastor, Matt Chandler says,
Love is saying ‘I have seen the ugly parts of you and I’m staying.
This is what God is like. This is the perfect expression and definition of love: God.
God is committed to our greatest good. What is our greatest good? To know the truth about why we exist. what is the trust of why we exist? To be in relationship with him, the source of life and love, and to reflect that love back to others. Thus, the most loving thing we can do for others is to share the truth with them. Love always delights in others knowing and embracing the truth.
Accepting People as They are isn’t the Answer
Is serving others helpful in persuading them to live and see things the way you do? Certainly, but the claim that “we should only love and serve people” is making an argument against using arguments. It doesn’t even meet its own standard.
It’s impossible to escape using logic.
We should be gracious and serve people, but truly loving them is telling them the truth. Unfortunately, some people are welcomed into organizations that have faulty assumptions about life, its purpose, and who Jesus is, so they end up embracing that system of belief primarily because they WANT it to be true because it feels so attractive to be welcomed and have belonging there.
The standard for which church to attend is not primarily how welcomed you feel, but something that includes “is the truth challenged here? Am I allowed to ask tough questions about their truth claims and find satisfactory/reasonable answers?”
There will always be a disconnect and malfunction in society and in faith communities when love and service are separated from a rigorous pursuit of truth.
Loving Service is Integral to Christianity
Serving, loving, and welcoming others into our lives—even those that may never even come to faith, possibly our enemies—is one of the greatest callings of every Christian believer. We are called to genuinely love and care for others and share the truth with those we care about and whoever will listen.
Christianity is a worldview that should allow for real tolerance and welcoming of those they disagree with into our lives. All the while realizing that welcoming is not equal to celebrating a viewpoint we disagree with or compromising a conviction, but seeing each person as valuable and made in God’s image and worthy of respect and honor. Serving others, even our enemies is the example of Jesus, and he is what makes Christianity so attractive.
We must pray that our lives would match our message of who Jesus is and reflect his attractive, relentless love for others.
Learning to Disagree Politely
Second, we must recapture the art of respectful debate. Without this, how can we even test ideas, see other perspectives, or change?
- We must learn to listen to understand instead of listening primarily to respond.
- We must learn to see things from the other person’s point of view instead of misrepresenting their view and then refuting a false caricature of it.
Handling conversations without these two is neither loving nor respectful. In a letter from Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and a leader in the early church, explains how we are to be defenders of truth and hope that engage with others in an attractive manner.
Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear. 1 Peter 3:15
Loving someone means that we would should speak the truth to them. Debate is good for all people. It just must be done with care and humility. We must reclaim debating well and learning what real tolerance looks like: getting along with people that we disagree with.