The Art of Argument: Read Your Enemies Charitably

*This post is the beginning of what will be an occasional series of blog posts that will focus on how to argue well and faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ. 

“Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). It’s not advise. It’s not easy. It’s not a cheap coffee mug feel good verse. It’s a command from the Son of God. It is a radical love which is most fully expressed in the height of divine revelation, the Son of God becoming incarnate and suffering on the Cross to purchase and redeem His enemies (Romans 5:8). 

In this polarized “us versus them” age, there is no shortage of those who may fall into the category of our enemies. Whether they are political, theological, ideological, or just about anything related to human existence, we are sure to encounter our fair share of opponents. A severe temptation when reading those of alternative viewpoints is to read them in a self-reinforcing way in which our own preconceptions of what our opponents must be like are then read into them as we engage with their material. We aren’t really concerned with what their actual argument is, but rather our true concern is found in affirming the fact that they are wrong and worthy of rebuke. As theologian Carl Trueman puts it, “Life is so much easier when all those with whom we disagree can be dismissed as sinful apostates.”1

And maybe they are. Disagreement is not dichotomized from genuine love. In fact, the most famous description of love affirms that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (I Cor. 13:6). This implies that love, contrary to so much of our modern vision of it, will not be all affirming. Love is never removed from a desire to arrive at truth and an ability to hold fast to what is good. 

That said, it should be the habit of Christians to read those of whom they disagree with in the most charitable light as possible. The requirements of love extend to our interpretation of other’s actions and words, yes, even those of our enemies. It is easy to seek to set out to critique someone’s views and to score a victory for “our side.” It is simple to take the most radical interpretation of our opponent’s words to draw attention to our virtue and knowledge. It is the way of the world to seek first to defeat our enemies, it is the way of Christ to die for them. 

Notes:

  1. Carl Trueman, “Demolition Man: Nietzsche For The Christian,” The White Horse Inn, January 14, 2019, https://www.whitehorseinn.org/2019/01/the-mod-demolition-man-carl-trueman-reads-nietzsche/

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

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