How to Discuss Contentious Topics

Argument

Most have noticed that the world in which we live has become more divided and contentious in the past few years. Many topics that come up for discussion – both in person and especially online – can elicit strong emotional responses from individuals. Because of this, we may be tempted to avoid any type of discussion on potentially controversial issues, especially if we know (or are reasonably certain) there will be disagreement.

However, for many controversial topics, there are Biblical principles that apply to them. Therefore, discussions on these sorts of issues can provide a way to direct others – especially those who are not Christians – to what the Bible teaches. So we should not avoid discussing such things altogether, but we do need to understand the proper way to discuss contentious topics.

With that in mind, there are certain principles that we need to consider when it comes to discussing contentious topics with others.

  1. Speak the truth – “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God…” (1 Peter 4:11). This means that when we are discussing matters about which God has revealed His will, we must accurately represent what the Scriptures teach. Timothy was told to “preach the word” and “endure hardship” as others would “not endure sound doctrine” and would “turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Timothy 4:2-5). No matter what the opinions are of those around us, we have an obligation to speak the truth.
  2. Speak the truth in love – “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). In fulfilling our obligation to speak the truth, we are not permitted to do so in a hateful way. We must speak the truth, but do so in love.
  3. Show the proper attitude – “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). This is related to the previous point about speaking the truth in love, but this passage expands that idea. As the Lord’s bond-servants, we must make sure we represent Him well in our discussions with others. When contentious issues arise, we must remember to show kindness, patience, and gentleness. Our goal is not merely to win arguments, but to win souls for the Lord.
  4. Attack arguments – “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is often tempting to attack the opponent, rather than the opponent’s arguments; but this ultimately is useless. If we are discussing abortion, homosexuality, racism, or any number of potentially contentious issues, we need to answer the arguments of those who have been misled because this is the only way we can hope to bring them to the truth.
  5. Avoid responding in anger/frustration – “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Proverbs 15:18). “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28). When we discuss emotionally-charged topics with those who disagree with us, we may become frustrated or even angry for a number of reasons – they seem to not be listening, they are attacking us personally [see previous point], they are using arguments that are factually incorrect, etc. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by these emotions of anger or frustration and respond improperly. James reminded us, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
  6. Strive to be at peace with others – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Some people will have very strong emotional reactions when certain topics are discussed. We cannot help how people react; however, if peace is possible, we should do what we can to maintain it.
  7. Remember the goal of these discussions – “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In the end, what truly matters is whether or not we are right with the Lord. Paul recognized this and made preaching Christ his priority. We can discuss any number of topics with others, yet we must not lose sight of this goal.
  8. Recognize the time limit upon these discussions – “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14). It is easy for discussions and debates to go around in circles and not seem to accomplish anything. Jesus taught a principle in this passage that we cannot continue in discussions with one person – or one group (cf. Acts 13:44-51) – for an unlimited period of time. If the discussion is productive, great. If not, eventually we need to move on.

Paul told the brethren in Colossae, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). There are important discussions to be had with those around us. But we need to remember these basic Biblical principles so that in our discussions we might plant the seed of truth in their minds that may eventually lead them to Christ rather than sow seeds of discord that will drive or keep them away.


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Comments

  1. Wayne Teel says

    How to Discuss Contentious Topics is a very good article and I appreciate you writing and reminding all of us that we need to handle this topic very seriously. It is sometimes difficult to show the proper spirit when in discussion with someone who will not listen to the truth. This is an issue that we all need to work on. Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Wayne! I appreciate your encouragement.