Debating, Yes! Quarrelling, No!

The race to be President of the United States is on and so is the political debating! I must admit that I like the professional and orderly way most debates are handles in the United States and the opportunity to hear different thoughts and approaches about how our country might be led best. Of course, I get as frustrated as anyone with what I consider to be purely political responses, rather than speaking from the heart, but I think you get my point.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that professional and orderly in debating the Gospel. I wish we would, both in my denomination and beyond it, take more opportunity to do so! As I go around sharing the Good News as the Father, Son and Spirit Himself, and the Adoption of all into His Life and Love through the Son and in the Spirit, someone will inevitably say during a discussion time something like, “Can’t we stop debating theology and simply love one another!” Many times I want to say, “Can’t we debate AND love one another?!” because I am learning by experience that it doesn’t always have to be an either/or approach.

Understandably, I must admit that because of the way sin messes with our motives and attitudes, debates aren’t always the respectful interactions they ought to be between human sisters and brothers. Before you know it we can find ourselves responding defensively and antagonistically, experiencing a debate that quickly descends into nothing but sophisticated name-calling. That’s certainly NOT who we really are in Christ and I don’t think that is right either! Quarreling, no! Especially as outlined in Titus 3:9-11.

Nonetheless, I want to suggest that debating the Gospel isn’t all that bad, all the time, and especially if it can lead (comfortably or not), to rethinking and embracing the Truly Good News of the God revealed in Jesus Christ! Plus, and because we are sinners, there is often nothing less than a debate that will get the job done of provoking sinners to think differently and better about who we are in Jesus.

C.S. Lewis addresses the issue a little better, I think, when he says that:

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. ~ The Weight of Glory: Learning in War-Time, pp.58-59

Interestingly, C.S. Lewis became a Christian because of his much debating with J.R.R. Tolkien. You can see a portrayal of some of this interaction here. It gets really Gospel interesting at 3:32.

Taking off on what C.S. Lewis has to say, if everyone in the Church were thinking more properly about God, it might not matter to try and clarify the Gospel. But, as it is, a cultural life exists inside and outside the Church that primarily sees God as a single, solitary being, even though it professes in scripture and creed that it believes God is in fact the Relational God of Father, Son and Spirit. To be ignorant and simple now, after the Holy Spirit in the Church has gone through such painstaking efforts and time within the Church to make the Gospel of the Triune God and our Inclusion in His Life and Love so plain, would be to let the adversary have his way, and to throw down our Good News weapons, betraying our uneducated brethren who, under God the Trinity, have no defense but us for the truth and against the lies twisting that truth to their harm!

Good theology must exist, if for no other reason than that bad theology needs to be answered. The transformed and right mind must work not only against the transformed and alienated mind on the other side, but against the muddy illusions and lies (prevalent even in many Christian circles!), which almost deny the mind altogether!

Though I can appreciate a desire for the peace and simplicity we were all designed for, it is obvious in the God revealed in Jesus  “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) that, because of our sin, it doesn’t happen without debate and a kind of war. I think I have discovered by personal experience and in my many discussions on the Gospel with others, that it is not always so much the negative atmosphere of quarreling that others desire to flee as it is the pain of repentance or rethinking. Exposure to the Light of Christ in our darkness is, admittedly, not a pleasant experience, and especially after such a huge investment of our time, talents and treasure given to such darkness. Ouch!!! I’ve been embarrassed and done my share of hair-pulling!

So, leave quarrels about the law alone! But also leave some room in your love and Christian fellowship for a dose of healthy Gospel debating! If you are familiar with Church history, the Church has remained grounded on, or come back to, interacting with and discussing God the Trinity and mankind’s inclusion in His relationship because of much debating.

And remember:

A man named Apollos came to Ephesus. He was a Jew, born in Alexandria, Egypt, and a terrific speaker, eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures. He was well-educated in the way of the Master and fiery in his enthusiasm. Apollos was accurate in everything he taught about Jesus up to a point, but he only went as far as the baptism of John. He preached with power in the meeting place. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and told him the rest of the story. When Apollos decided to go on to Achaia province, his Ephesian friends gave their blessing and wrote a letter of recommendation for him, urging the disciples there to welcome him with open arms. The welcome paid off: Apollos turned out to be a great help to those who had become believers through God’s immense generosity. He was particularly effective in public debate with the Jews as he brought out proof after convincing proof from the Scriptures that Jesus was in fact God’s Messiah. ~ Acts 18:24-28, The Message

~ Timothy J. Brassell

8 comments so far

  1. Nan Kuhlman on


    I appreciate the reminder to debate but not quarrel. I think the main difference between debating and quarreling is the motivation. By debating, I am examining my own thoughts, philosophies, and theology, and seeking to understand yours. But when I quarrel, I am wanting to be right and to convince you that I am right!

    It is possible to “agree to disagree” and keep a loving channel of communication open, but it does require proper motivation, proper respect for others, and a willingness to “live and let live,” knowing that God is working with us all in different ways and with different timing. Thanks for your post!

  2. tjbrassell on

    Great clarity in definitions Nan – wish I would have used them in my post! You sound like you would make a great moderator at a debate and help keep the spirit of the dialogue on track 🙂

    I don’t know if you have seen Steve McVey’s recent GraceWalk post on “The McGurk Effect”, but it is interesting and shows how other things factor into our hearing and speaking, making communication really complex.

    He writes:

    “It’s amazing how we all filter the things we hear through the lens we already possess and have used to interpret information most of our lives. And even if we’ve misunderstood what somebody has said, it’s often the case that no amount of clarification or explanation will convince us that the person hasn’t said what we would swear we heard. This video is an amazing example of that effect. It’s called The McGurk Effect. I think you’ll be amazed . . .”

    Check it out here:

    Thanks for your comments!

  3. shackbible on

    Tim, thank you for this sound argument for…well…arguing. If the Trinity tells us what humanity is, then that makes me think that genuine human thinking doesn’t happen inside a skull, but rather in the conversation between many skulls. It is in conversation that reality takes hold of our ideas, hacking away at them until the ideas fit reality. Like you say, that process of repentance can be painful, but it is necessary and good and even beautiful. I have very much appreciated the work of the Systems Thinking crowd in the rigorous discipline they call “team learning.”

    • tjbrassell on

      ShackBible, “Genuine human thinking…happen[s]…in the conversation between many skulls”. Yes, in my opinion too! That is thinking straight out of the Trinity and the Relational way in which God has always thought (without the skull – and except in Jesus’ skull, now :). I can identify with your appreciation for the Systems Thinking crowd. It was in my association with that crowd through reading, seminars and conversations as an HR Director that I came to understand and hear the Father, Son and Spirit a little more clearly with regard to Life in the Gospel. Thanks for the link and your insightful comments!

  4. John Geerlings on

    Hi Tim
    Thanks for the debate and great topic and insight!! Thanks Nan and Shackbible for your valued contributions.
    When I trumpeted my way into this world for a great many years (most of my life) it was about “my rights” and “my right to be right.” Since all things including debate exist within the humanity of Jesus and the Spirit has been poured out upon all men, then at any time whether we know it or not any person on this planet could utter something profound that comes from the wisdom of Jesus. Little children do this very well!
    I believe that Galatians 2:20 allows us all to be taught by the Spirit to give up our “Right to be right” and live from Life that is right! That would be a good debate?

    • tjbrassell on


      Isn’t it encouraging to know, in Christ, that “at any time whether we know it or not any person on this planet could utter something profound that comes from the wisdom of Jesus.” Ha-Ha! So the saying IS true that “even a broke clock is right twice a day”? And that saying flows right out of the heart of the Trinity Who is our Rightness, and especially in Right Relationships, with and through us! I can identify with wanting “my rights”, and, refreshingly, desiring even more so, now, in God’s grace, to simply live in the Life that is mine and Right in Christ Jesus!

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

  5. Craig Kuhlman on

    Brother Tim…long time no chat my friend…

    The Good News Gospel…as Jackie Gleason used to say…How Sweet It IS!

    I spent two and 1/2 to three hours this evening debating the gospel with a foot and ankle surgeon, a newer client of mine in your home town. I can almost hear you bust out laughing right now 🙂

    I anticipated our meeting to go 30-40 minutes and I had budgeted my time after that, before my 8:00 p.m. class I teach in Corp Finance to complete my paper due tomorrow for Dr. Duke’s GCS course in Min Lead…the ironic thing, that I was engaged in doing (living out my personal mission) prevented me from writing on my personal mission…anyway, just a funny aside.

    After I gave him a very brief overview of Trinitarian Theology, he retorted…so is this something like Love Wins? I said its absolutely like Bell’s Love Wins (he didn’t tell me until a couple hours later that he wrote a scriptural refute of Universalism and Bell’s teaching to teach the teens he leads in a Monday evening Bible Study).

    The even more beautiful thing that came out of the “debate” (and this is from a doctor that admits to his patients I’m not really worried if I have to ultimately amputate your foot, I’m more concerned that you are saved and not go to Hell) is he admitted this sounds different than what Bell has to say. He went on to admit that although he rejected Bell’s ideas, he said you are obviously very intelligent (probably the only time I’ll ever hear that from a doctor). With apologies to Rob…perhaps the doctor’s preference for ties to turtlenecks, what I read between the lines is that he was responding to the intelligence of the Holy Spirit that allowed him to briefly turn toward Good News rather than Bad News. He said, this is appealing, and very pleasing, Sovereignty of God, etc. I think that most people would respond well to what you are saying, but he couldn’t get beyond the fact that our last breath is our last opportunity for salvation. That God has no impact on lives beyond the grave (except for maybe those that could never be accountable in the first place, babies, etc., and that somehow they are unexplainably universally accepted…my words, not his, but same sentiment). It’s funny, but in those few hours he came up with all the but-what-abouts I had for you in Palm Desert…what about sin, wrath, judgment, hell, why have you forsaken me, etc.

    The entire time I never once felt ill at ease, which I think is what you were saying as a distinction between debate vs quarreling. In the end we agreed that we believe what Jesus did was done once and for all for ALL, but that His ability to change a heart stops at death. I told him I believe most all that he does, but that my time frame extends for eternity. That Jesus will never stop wooing the unbeliever, if it takes forever and ever. i told him that to me is Good News. I told him (without quarreling) the idea that somehow Adam wound up a clock that stops ticking at our death and that God has no power to change seems like bad news to me.

    In the end, we drew closer in our respect for each other as fellow believers and friends…perhaps the true outcome of good debate of the gospel than quarreling.

    Nan just quarreled with me over writing so much, and I can’t debate that, so i better conclude :). Thought you might enjoy the illustration of your point in action.

    Stay well, my friend,

    • tjbrassell on

      Hello Craig!

      Yes, much too long since we chatted! I will try to correct that soon! 🙂

      Meanwhile, THANKS, for sharing this story! Your encounter is exactly the kind of debating I am trying to speak of in this article, and how helpful and effective it can be! Don’t you know how excited I am to hear a real life modern story commenting on its helpfulness in the grace of the Triune God?

      In learning to share in more brevity myself, I’ll sign off now, but not without another THANK YOU, and I Love and Miss You Man, and, I pray for you daily! I think you are a natural and effective debater too, from my personal experiences with you! 🙂

      Yours in Him,


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