Let’s Club ‘Em Into Heaven: Fighting with Grace

Rich Mullins tells a story about an argument he got into with a friend who happened to be an atheist. He explains how he attacked and attacked, constantly on the offensive, swatting away rejections and counterpoints, until he at last had his adversary logically cornered. He thought to himself, “Surely now he will see the validity of the Christian faith.” Instead, backed into that corner and with no remaining defense, his friend spat back at him, “I don’t want your God.”

And so it goes. Humankind is wont to argue, as certainly as sparks fly upward, and even more so amongst topics that are fundamental to a person’s self-conception. If people will come to blows over a sports team or a political party, imagine how abrasive an argument can get amongst those issues with which we define ourselves. We kick and fight and scratch over petty trifles and disagreements—we go to war over the big things. And why not? After all, we are logical human beings, ingratiated with that peculiar power of reason. All one has to do is talk clear enough, loud enough, and long enough, and the opposing party will come to realize their ignorance, and immediately repent of their foolish ways.

Unfortunately, men will often wield this power like a club, when it should be used like a scalpel. Instead of thinking about other’s viewpoints as a cancer—or if nothing else, unhealthy and unbecoming—we often do the exact opposite: we view the other person as an embodiment of their views. We do not think of them as sick people, but as sickness itself. Instead of prodding in with a razor’s edge out of a love of the individual, we go swinging in with our blunt cudgel and try to wail the other person into submission.

The best teachers in history went back even a step farther; instead of straightaway cutting in with a razor, they performed assessments to discern what was causing the symptoms. They were thoughtful, and deliberate and asked questions—as opposed to those foolish and dangerous debaters that ranted and raved in the town square. Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus would prod and nudge and question until the individual came to realize the truth for itself; they were agents of truth, sent to direct man’s gaze upward. Meanwhile, modern man seeks to bludgeon his neighbor into near unconsciousness, and when he is dazed and subdued, grab his head and force him to look into the sun.

Friedrich Nietzsche was this sort of man, as are a good number of Creationists, atheists, politicians, and others who are in the business of argumentation and debate; it is a fallen human trait that runs through all of us and manifests itself amongst the more significant controversies. This isn’t a judgment on any individual, for all man falls prey to this at least once in a while. Even the most deliberate thinker can lose his temper and reach for the dull club of argumentative reason. However, when resorting to this tactic, one is missing the heart of the whole issue. They use a Louisville Slugger when the illness calls for a CAT scan and the kind steel of a surgeon’s tools.

There is no clearer manifestation of this than in issues of faith. There are certain men who have taken upon themselves a crusade to disband and tear at organized religion. It transcends mere disagreement and dialogue; instead, it borders on jihadism, targeting even vague conceptions of God. In response to this, the modern religious community—for this example, the Christian church—has raised up a small army of warriors and given them the title of “apologist.” They instructed them in the ancient art of healing and persuasion, in the manner of Socrates and Yeshua, and they set them forth to exhort and strengthen the Body of Christ. In some manner, this call is extended to every member of the church. We are called by Peter to have a defense for our faith; so we turn to our sergeants-in-arms—Lewis, Descartes, Augustine—and we march out to meet the endless hordes assembled outside the walls of the church.

Most fulfill their obligations well. They reach in with their tools and prod and poke and “demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself against the knowledge of God.”[1] They deal with their brothers and sisters with gentleness and respect, fighting with grace. As a result, they never make the news, never become famous, and through all things, seek to love their neighbor, because Christ first loved them. They are the kind souls that lay down their arms and their pride in lieu of peace and compassion.

However, like any human being, many others fall prey to the sin of wielding the club too readily. Instead of viewing their opponents as patients, or even misguided foes, they personify them as their intellectual views, and in doing so, beat men to death under the guise of trying to save their lives. They attempt to drag their opposition, gnashing and wailing, through the Pearly Gates. Failing that, they resort to throwing mud and trash; if they can’t win, neither can their opponents.

This should not be; never should a Christian enter an argument for the sole purpose of winning— what good will this do? How will Christ be glorified if we attack our enemies with the same viciousness and neglect that they attack us? Was any man ever reasoned or argued into Heaven? Was the Cross lifted up over Jerusalem so that men could come and debate with the blood-stained Christ?

We argue where we should love. We fight where we should extend an olive branch. This doesn’t give a license for weakness, for it requires a special kind of strength to restrain oneself when besieged on all sides; passive aggressive statement such as, “I’m not going to respond to that” have no place in the Christian’s dialogue with those outside the faith. But always remember the foundation of our faith—Jesus Christ. I was not saved because I was logically dragged into the temple courts and thrown before the Messiah; I was saved because the Messiah loved me. This love is the only thing that can save anyone.

[1] 2 Corinthians 10:5