Tag Archives: disagreements

When not to debate

A friend of mine was recently challenged to a debate. He is fully capable of defending his position and I have no doubt that he would impress his audience with his knowledge and wisdom. However, I thought the particular debate would be unwise for several reasons and I wrote them in the following article.

After I wrote it, I realized that it had applications beyond the particular theological argument I was addressing. In fact, many within the church community would do well to understand the risks of a debate structure in answering challenges.  Politics, work situations, community organizations, even families suffer certain risks from debate-structured discussions.  Even those who come here to learn about narcissism will find these points to be familiar.

So I offer the article here and welcome your comments.



 As Americans, we believe in debate. We have been taught that reasonable discussion on various sides of a topic will lead to a reasonable conclusion that all can accept. If every voice is given equal opportunity and status, truth will prevail.

In fact, that rarely happens.

There are several reasons to avoid debating, particularly when the challenger wishes to debate the status quo. Here are just a few:


  1. Audience – There are four audiences in these debates: those who already support the current speaker; those who already disagree with the current speaker; those who have not yet made up their minds on the issue; and those who are outside the issue but enjoy the entertainment. That means three out of four are unnecessary. Those who already support one side over the other will very rarely be changed by a debate. Even if their side obviously loses, they will find excuses for the loss and carry on. Within the fourth audience, the ones who haven’t made up their minds, there will probably be many who will never come to a conclusion and the debate will not affect that. Thus, for many debates, the purpose of convincing the audience is insignificant.
  2. The primary reason most challengers wish to debate is for legitimacy. The debate forum, in our culture, appears to give each side equal footing and equal validity. One side may be wrong, but they are considered “worth listening to.” One recent book lists differing perspectives on various theological issues without judgment. By doing so, the author ignores the fact that many of these perspectives have been soundly and widely rejected among evangelicals. The reader is led to assume that these are equally valid perspectives simply because they are listed together. Two sides or more represented in a debate are assumed to be equal. Even though the status quo (SQ) may have superior scholarship and longer tradition, the challenger appears to have the same strength.
  3. The challenger has the most to win, because he has the weakest definition of winning. While the SQ appears to be burdened with everything included in traditional perspectives, the challenger simply has to create doubts or make the SQ look foolish. Many times the challenger doesn’t care about points or convincing the audience; he simply enjoys the opportunity to state his case and make the traditional look less appealing.
  4. Playing rules are different between the debaters. While the challenger is easily forgiven for overstating his case and attacking his opponent personally, the SQ is rarely afforded the same privilege. Our culture somehow expects that the underdog must stretch the rules and be more aggressive to make up for the weight of the authority of the tradition. In a Christian culture there is a burden on the SQ to be “nice.”
  5. The vocabulary is not equivalent. Challengers often redefine words. The audience believes that it understands the words as defined by the tradition, but the challenger uses the same words to mean something else. This deception is rarely explained and, if the SQ points out the discrepancy, the challenger finds a way to sidestep. By changing the definition, challengers give themselves opportunity to deny or affirm with little accountability.
  6. All statements are presented as truth in a debate, whether or not they are true. The expectation is that the opponent will be able to point out the error or deception in his time allotment. The challenger will use this to put the SQ on the defensive. When a statement is made and support is given, the opponent is not able to make clear to the audience the point of error without sacrificing his own opportunity to make a point. Once the challenger sets the tone of the debate so that the SQ is on the defensive, he no longer cares about the truth of his statements. When pressed, he can simply move to other statements to make himself look strong and his opponent look weak.
  7. The burden of proof is on the SQ. While tradition expects that the challenger should provide proof in order to support his challenge, the audience is usually less affected by a lack of proof from the challenger. The audience expects the challenger to appear weaker. However, they are greatly affected by the apparent weakness of the SQ. Since the two sides are debating, when one appears weak, the other appears strong. The challenger will seek to attack the SQ in ways that force the SQ to support the tradition. Any inability to do this will affect the audience far more than a lack of proof from the challenger.
  8. There is no common authority. When the debate lacks common authority, the opportunity for progress is stifled. We witness this often in debates concerning creation and evolution. One side appeals to the Bible as ultimate authority, while the other appeals to science. These debates usually frustrate both sides and the audiences. Even when the authority, like the Bible, is accepted by both sides, the interpretations may be sufficiently different to negate the commonality.
  9. The pull to the middle. One must always ask about the overall goal of the debate. If the debate is seen as a dialectic, the pull to the middle will be the goal. Dialectics are effective in “both/and” discussions, but not in “either/or” discussions. For example, if the abortion debate is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the rights of the mother,” a dialectic approach may help to form laws or policies that address both concerns—because we want both concerns addressed. If it is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the lack of rights of the unborn,” a dialectic approach will only lead to confusion. How could both be true? When the culture sees both sides as equal in the debate, the expectation will be that some middle ground represents truth.
  10. The appeal to the mind. Ultimately a debate is an attempt to convince by reason. Christian concepts are usually not learned or understood by reason, particularly reason alone. An appeal to reason in the Garden was what got us into this mess in the first place. The serpent simply questioned details of the truth until Eve’s reason took over and made a decision. When faced with the details or logistics of miraculous events, for example, reason struggles. And we tend to reject that which causes our reason to struggle. We may debate the reality of a world-wide flood in the days of Noah, but when the audience is confronted with the details of feeding the animals or cleaning the ark, they become troubled. The mind wants to be able to understand these simple things, rather than release them to the miracle. Debates give the impression that truth can be rationally discerned, when Scripture tells us the opposite.

(Notice that I could not find a better word for the defender than the “SQ.” Almost any word for the one who seeks to maintain the traditional good or right has negative connotations. We are a culture that admires the challenger and the underdog. I think that means they have an advantage in debates.)


So those are ten of my reasons. Anyone have any to add?


Filed under Church, Theology and mystery

I am good enough

Words of Grace 


I confess up front that this post is a reaction to something I heard recently. I have heard it over the years, but this one hit home. You have heard it also; maybe you have even said it: “I’m not good enough.”

The young man says it as he walks away from a relationship. The young mother says it as she walks away from a church. The son hears it from his father. “I am not good enough.”

Not good enough for God to bless you. Not good enough to have that relationship. Not good enough to fit in with the others. Not good enough to expect something positive out of life. Not good enough.

Those are hateful words. Lies. Venom from the heart of the evil one.

All day long the evil one stands before God and says that none of us is good enough. He accuses us of sin and brokenness. He reminds us of what we have done. He tells us that we are not good enough.

Who has not sinned? Who does not need a Savior? Who can cast the first stone? Let’s face it. We are all the same. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “None is righteous. No not one.” All who come to Christ do so as sinners who can neither escape their sin nor atone for it. We all come the same. Needy. Broken. Sinful. Unclean. If one of us is not good enough after coming to Jesus, then none of us is. Either the Savior is enough, or we are without hope . . . all of us.

One of the most grievous sins must be for one person to look on another and think that the other is not good enough. How dare any of us hold ourselves to be better than another! The only difference between any two people is Jesus. Those who have come to Jesus have their sins washed away and stand now in His righteousness. Those who have not come to Jesus stand in their own faulty and insufficient righteousness.

But all of those who come to Jesus for salvation are the same. No one is better than another. No one can boast of superiority. Nor can anyone accept inferiority. It’s about Jesus, not you or me.

And we are as good as He is. Otherwise we are nothing. His righteousness, His goodness, is in us. He is our Life. So we are good enough, if He is good enough. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

I am good enough.

Jesus is my goodness.

I am as good as anyone who belongs to Him.

Because He has made me good

I am good enough.


Filed under grace, Words of Grace


Grace 101


One of the most unfortunate ideas that seem to come out of legalism is that we begin to believe God’s commands are arbitrary.  He tells us to do things that have no real value, just to see us fail so we can be further in debt to Him; at least that’s what some seem to think.  Or the rules are made to make us holy and the more difficult the rules are or the less they make sense to us, the more holy we will be when we keep them.  In any case, God becomes a rather cruel Person.

But, under grace, the Scriptures and the commands open up so we can see the almost overwhelming love of God and His care for us.

For example, many of us have had the idea of “be of one mind” forced on us to keep us in line.  In other words, we shouldn’t disagree with the teacher or voice our concerns to others.  We were reprimanded and encouraged to search the Scriptures until we found our agreement.  If we couldn’t find that agreement, we were supposed to stay quiet and submit.

But is that what the Lord meant when He expressed His desire for the people to be of one mind?  Were we supposed to blindly adapt our thinking to that of the teacher for the sake of peace and unity?  I don’t think so.  If we remember that the motivation of the heart of God toward us is always love, then a command like this must be seen in that light.

One of the aspects of the “good ground” that has been compromised by the deception of the evil one is the idea of support.  In church we called it “fellowship.”  Yet, when the goal was conformity, rather than true unity, fellowship had either no meaning or it meant something negative.  For the person who has questions under legalism, fellowship is hard to find.  In fact, many found more fellowship outside the church than inside.

The longing of our hearts is for support and camaraderie.  We want to walk with like-minded people.  There is a special joy in finding someone who believes in the love of God as you do.  We can worship together, serve together, even grieve together.  Those who understand grace can come alongside the ones who struggle.  We all understand that it is easy to fall back into self-condemnation and judgment.  When we walk with others who understand the truth, they help us to find our joy again.

When the seed falls on good ground, the seed of the message of grace, it is very important that it find support and nurture.  And, of course, it is very important to the evil one to destroy that support and nurture, or at least inhibit it so the seed does not grow.  So it should not surprise us that the fellowship of the church is compromised.  For too many who find grace, the fellowship of the church becomes a problem.

Yet, the concern of the Lord is still in our favor.  He knows that we need each other.  He knows that we need safe people with whom we can express our doubts and fears, even our struggles.  If the motivation of those people is the love of the heart of God, then we can grow and our strength in grace increases.  It is certainly good for us to be of one mind—one mind with the Lord who accepts us, who does not hold our sins against us, and who sees us as valuable to Him.

The message of grace is a message of the love of God, worked out sufficiently on our behalf in the Person of Jesus Christ.

So we seek out people for support.  We have to be careful, of course, but there are online communities, small groups, even home churches where we can find that support.  And, if we learn that we were deceived, that the message of grace has been compromised in the group, we simply seek another group.  It isn’t fellowship that’s the problem, it is the lie.  The lie pulls us away from Jesus and away from the support of those who understand the truth about who He is and what He has done.  Don’t give up on finding support.


Filed under Grace 101, Relationship

Avoid them


What good is having a blog if you can’t use it to rant just a little? 🙂  I have been in a discussion on another site with someone who is arguing against the grace and love of God by telling believers they should be focused on sin and condemnation.  It is frustrating, time consuming, and fruitless to get into these arguments.

You know the people I mean.  They just can’t stop.  Their logic is stretched and their words are cutting.  These guys pull out verses and claim certain Greek skills and ignore any real challenges to their ideas.

Paul met these folks, probably much more often than you or I do.  His advice?

9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. 10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Romans 16:17

Avoid them!  Don’t let them suck you into their traps.  It’s hard.  I find that I want to speak out against their lies and errors.  But it is a trap.  It distracts you, upsets you, and you don’t win.  They will have the last word, no matter how stupid it is.

Yes, sometimes I do speak up.  I seem to think that I can get a word in as a teacher.  But I have learned that it will be unfruitful.  The best I can do is help others see the foolishness of the other’s position and statements.  I confess that I almost always come away feeling used and dirty somehow.

In the discussion I have been in this morning, the arguer referred to the pain and struggles of those who have come out of legalism as “dog poop” and “dog piles.”  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  When logic fails, be prepared for the jabs and depersonalization.  Like the narcissist, the legalist will use whatever means he can to “shut you up” so it can look like he has won.

Then, if you ever do manage to paint him into a corner, he cowers and cries and wonders why you are so mean.  He ignores his own attacks and cruelties and projects that on you.  By trying to counter his statements, you are hurting him.  And, again, he wins.

So Paul says to avoid them.  That makes a lot of sense to me.


Filed under grace, Legalism

Educated Trust

“Trust but verify.”  We understood these words, even applauded them, when Ronald Reagan used them to refer to his position on the Soviet Union.  But in our personal relationships in family, church, or work, we seem to think that the phrase involves a contradiction.  If I trust, I shouldn’t have to verify.  Right?

I will be honest.  There are people I will not trust again, primarily because I will not give them the chance to be trusted.  I will be kind to them, perhaps even friendly, but I won’t trust them.  At least I won’t trust them in the way they want or expect to be trusted.  I know too much now. 

But that knowledge allows me to continue a relationship with them, changed but still active, in spite of what they did.  In fact, my expectations of them now factor in what I have experienced.  And that is how we begin to move forward to trust again.

You see, trust is opening your heart to another person.  It is placing certain expectations in the relationship.  When you tell someone a secret, you expect they will respect you and keep what you have told them to themselves.  When you learn that your secret has been shared, perhaps in a cruel way, you learn something about that other person.  You learn that the other person either does not respect you or is not able to keep your secrets.  That information is good to know.

You also learn something about yourself.  You have a need to share, a need to connect with someone, a need for love and care.  But when you beat yourself up and think of yourself as stupid or weak for sharing, you deny the need of your heart and you hurt only yourself.  Just because that other person was untrustworthy does not mean that you are foolish or pathetic.  Put the sin and weakness where it ought to be.

We say, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.”  But that lesson is limited to that one person.  There are others who won’t try to fool you.  There are people who will love you.  You can trust them, but trust them in an educated way.

One of the little known facts in the Bible is that Jesus did not trust the people He loved.  In John 2:24, Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Passover.  There are people all around Him.  They have seen His miracles and they claim to love Him.  They say they believe in Him.  But, the passage says, He did not trust them. 

Well, the text actually says that “He did not trust Himself to them,” or “He did not entrust Himself to them.”  Why?  “…because He knew them.”  Think about that.  He loved them enough to go to the Cross for them, but He did not trust them because He knew them too well.

Two things:  First, you are never called or expected to entrust yourself to another person.  There is nothing I can find in the Bible that suggests that we should place our hope or our expectations in another regular human.  The problem, of course, is that others are like us.  They sin, they lie, they maneuver for advantage, they hurt the people closest to them.  The flesh is incredibly self-serving and others are expendable from its perspective.  Anyone can hurt you.  The only One who loves purely is the Lord Himself.  Entrust yourself to Him and not others.

Second, educate your trust.  See others truthfully.  When you tell a secret, know that holding a secret is hard for almost anyone and the right circumstances can compromise the tightest lips.  When you want to place your hope in a person, know that he or she will probably fail you.   See people as they are, not as you want them to be.  You can’t really expect anything consistent or pure from them.  That’s not a statement of despair or anger, but a statement of reality. 

So, friends will fail you.  That does not mean that you shouldn’t have friends.  It means that you should let them be regular people.  Some will be mean and maybe you should stay away from them.  Others will just be weak or foolish.  Love others and receive love from others, but never expect that love to be unconditional or pure. 

I said yesterday that trust is a gift you give to yourself.  Entrust yourself to the Lord, who loves perfectly and completely.  Then trust others in the way they should be trusted—as friends and family members with weaknesses and fears and compromises just like you.  Don’t be afraid to receive the imperfect love others offer.  It’s all they have.


Filed under Freedom, heart, Relationship

“You shouldn’t feel that way!”

One of the underlying factors that opened my eyes to the link between legalism and narcissism was the constant attempt to change the way we felt.  It seemed important for our emotions to be controlled.  We learned about conquering anger.  Sensual desire was always evil.  Almost any kind of desire was to be rejected.  Any desire for change was seen as motivated by sin.

So, we were often told, “Don’t feel that way.”  If something happened and we were sad, we were somehow wrong to feel sadness.  If something happened to make us angry, we were wrong to feel anger.  We were supposed to feel according to an approved formula or we were rejected.

Why is this manipulation of feelings so important in legalism?  There may be several reasons.

  • Legalism rejects differences.  Any system is based on conformity.  Formulas and mathematics are the core of systematic thinking.  Legalism teaches a cause and effect theology.  If you do this, you will get this.  If you do that, you will get that.  If each individual has his or her own thoughts and feelings, the system doesn’t work.  So we were taught to think of groups, rather than individuals.  Spiritual gifts were limited in number and people were lumped into groups.  There were prophets who responded to situations a certain way and exhorters who responded differently.  There were several groups, but no individuals.  No differences that could not be fit into the system.
  • Legalism requires control.  For the system to work, each part must do its job and not cause problems.  Free or uncontrolled thinking is dangerous.  Legalism must put boundaries and fences around thinking and feeling.  If two or twenty people respond to some situation in different ways, the system can be adjusted and defined to account for the differences and control them.  But if hundreds or thousands or millions respond differently, the system would be impossible to implement.
  • Legalism rejects the person.  Perhaps the strongest link between legalism and narcissism is depersonalization.  You and I don’t really matter in the legalist system.  We are part of the number, part of the group, but not much more.  The system is what is important, not you and me.  Because the person is rejected, all kinds of cruelty can be inflicted.  In the name of the system, people have been rejected and abused.
  • Legalism rewires the mind.  In order to welcome all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, the legalist system must change the thinking and feeling of a person.  There is no order in the variety of perspectives found around the world.  There is one way to worship, one way to dress, one way to talk—the right way.  Anything outside of that way has to be eliminated and replaced with better thinking.  Feelings come out of thinking and must conform as well.

So your feelings must conform or you will be rejected.  “Don’t feel that way.  Feel this way.”  Never mind what is happening in your own heart.

But the effect of this manipulation and control, the effect of legalism, was the loss of self.


Your thoughts?


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

When Narcissists Argue

It’s Narcissist Friday!

First, narcissists don’t really argue, do they?  No, they attack.  If you don’t understand that the only goal of a narcissist in an argument is to win, you will find yourself at a terrible disadvantage.  He doesn’t really care to understand your opinion or your ideas.  He just wants you to shut up in humiliation, especially if you dared to challenge his idea.

Too strong?  Not really.  Those who have lived or worked with narcissists know what I mean.  In fact, this may be the first time you have heard anyone state it as strongly as you have experienced it.  Very often it is during an argument when the true colors of the narcissist can be seen.

Yesterday I wrote about ad hominem arguments.  The narcissist is often a master at this fallacy.  In fact, he may do it in a way that you don’t even recognize as such.  When he says, “But is that wise?” he may be suggesting that you are too stupid to get his point.  When he says that he understands how you could think that, you wonder if he just disrespected you.  Or he may do it in a way that seems gross and unfair.  He may remind you of some foolish decision you made or say something about your parents.  This tactic will change the argument, probably even end it.

Why does he do this?  Because he is insecure.  When the narcissist is challenged, he must win using any method necessary and as quickly as possible.  He will also try to win decisively so the topic won’t come up again.  He cannot afford to look foolish or wrong and he simply won’t take the chance.

Most people simply give up arguing with their narcissist.  It costs too much and it never ends well.  I would suggest that this be considered a tactic of control, rather than a position of defeat.  By refusing to argue, you disarm the narcissist.  He or she will be frustrated to realize that you are not overcome by his thinking.  Just be prepared to listen to a long one-sided argument. 


Filed under Narcissism, Relationship, Uncategorized