Cody J. Guitard, National Coordinator, Ratio Christi Canada
Conversations about serious topics almost always involve disagreements. If you know anyone who has been through marriage counseling (or roommate counseling!), you know that the way we’re supposed to handle disagreements is by talking about it.
Unfortunately, however, more and more people in our society today say that those with dissenting viewpoints from their own should either conform or shut up. In other words, open dialogue is no longer seen as a commodity but a nuisance, and free speech is treated as an enemy to be destroyed. And this isn’t a problem just for Christians or anyone identified as belonging to the conservative crowd—it’s become a problem for self-identifying liberals and those belonging to other religions. Even the non-religious, including neo-atheists, are starting to feel the heat.
But what should the Christian perspective be on all of this? Should we seek to foster opportunities for open dialogue, even with those of dissenting (and even downright controversial) viewpoints, or should we jump onto the “cancel culture” bandwagon and censor those with whom we don’t see eye to eye?
A Christian Perspective
Christianity is by nature evangelistic and, therefore, seeks to share its beliefs with others. This is true whether the topic is about God’s existence, moral beliefs, or the Good News of Jesus Christ. However, this is always to be done through thoughtful persuasion, not coercion. In light of this, I think we can find in the New Testament at least five key principles that help us formulate a Christian perspective on open dialogue.
First, we should be willing to converse with people with whom we disagree, even on our areas of disagreement. Such is, for example, the very nature of Christian evangelism and apologetics: to proclaim and defend the gospel (and other Christian truth claims) to those who do not currently hold to it. Jesus, for example, did this repeatedly throughout his own earthly ministry with his Jewish opponents. Paul, a leading follower of Jesus in the early church, did the same thing throughout his missionary journeys, regularly conversing with the Jewish people in the synagogues and anybody who happened to be in the marketplace (Acts 17:1-4). He even allowed his views to literally be put on trial before the skeptical Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), as well as before leading Jewish and Roman officials (Acts 24-26). He says in one of his letters, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), and both their approaches to evangelism would certainly be a case in point.
Second, it is possible to lovingly present our own viewpoints and convictions to others, and it’s sometimes necessary to do just that. Paul instructs Christians to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), which, of course, presupposes that it is possible to do so. And according to Jude, a brother and follower of Jesus, it is sometimes necessary to present our own position to others in such a loving manner. In the same letter where he prays that “love be multiplied” to his readers (Jude 2), he then says that he “found it necessary” to write to them to denounce false teachings that have infiltrated their congregation, to defend the truth, and to implore them to do the same (Jude 3-4, 17-23). For the Christian in particular, one such instance where it is necessary to lovingly present our own viewpoints and convictions is in the presentation and defense of the Christian faith, which brings us to the next key principle.
Third, we are to lovingly answer any questions or objections that are raised against our own viewpoints. A lot of us don’t like to deal with criticisms and inquiries into our own positions, allowing them to be placed under the microscope for others to pick apart—and understandably so, to a degree. After all, these can be quite invasive procedures and cause us to question our own cherished view of the world (a point to which we will return in a moment). But the Bible actually tells us to be open to such cross-examination and to offer a humble, loving response to those who engage us in it. Paul tells us, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). Similarly, Peter tells us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). And, as we’ve already seen, we’re also told to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), which would, of course, include answering people in a loving way.
Fourth, we should thoughtfully evaluate any viewpoint presented to us, as well as our own. The Bible calls us to have a high level of discernment, being able to distinguish between truth and falsity, and between good and evil. We are to carefully test everyone (1 John 4:1) and everything (1 Thess. 5:21) that comes our way, not uncritically accepting anyone and anything the world throws at us. We’re told by Luke, an occasional traveling companion of Paul, that Paul and his other companion Silas were impressed by the Jewish people they encountered in the city of Berea. Why? Because of these peoples’ careful evaluation of the views Paul and Silas were presenting to them. Luke says “these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; [for] they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We should all be like the Jewish people in Berea, subjecting all viewpoints, including those of the Christian faith, to thoughtful evaluation before adopting them as our own.
Fifth, we can peacefully resist censorship and use attempts to silence us as springboards for further opportunities for conversation, as well as means to encourage others as they do the same. This is likely the most controversial of the five points outlined in this article, but I believe there is biblical precedence for it. When Peter and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, were repeatedly told by the Jewish leadership to stop talking about Jesus, they in turn repeatedly replied that they could not go against their conscience and therefore needed to continue speaking what they believed to be right and what they believed God wanted them to say (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). And when Paul was imprisoned for ruffling some feathers over his talking about Jesus, he used his imprisonment to bring his message to a new audience—the whole imperial guard!—and by this encouraged his readers to keep on preaching the same message he was (Phil. 1:12-18). In other words, attempts made to censor us can actually be used (somewhat paradoxically so) to keep the conversation going.
We could certainly dig deeper to develop additional biblical guiding principles to further formulate a Christian perspective on open dialogue. However, enough has been said here, I think, to encourage us to think about this increasingly sensitive topic both thoughtfully and biblically.
Ratio Christi’s Approach
Ratio Christi takes these biblical principles for open dialogue very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that we have built our whole ministry around them. We’re dedicated to providing opportunities for all people—Christian and non-Christian alike—to come together and have open, thoughtful, and respectful dialogue with one another on the big questions and difficult topics about life, reality, and meaning.
We encourage those who come through our various ministries to devote time to learn the viewpoints of others, to welcome critical feedback on their own positions, to ask thoughtful questions, and to give thoughtful answers. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all views have equal merit. Rather, the point is that we want to foster an environment where every person, regardless of their respective views, can come and reason through the issues together, maintain mutual respect, and, hopefully, together arrive at the truth, whatever that may be.
Muffling open dialogue does nothing to help test the robustness of our views. Rather, it creates an echo chamber (which the Bible condemns; see 2 Tim. 4:3-4) that silences critical feedback and does all but eliminate the possibility of constructive conversation, both of which are essential to assessing the reasons for one’s beliefs. In other words, a rejection of open dialogue is tantamount to blind acceptance of a belief—that is, blind faith. But the Bible calls Christians not to a blind faith but a reasoned one (Isa. 1:18; Matt. 22:37; 1 Pet. 3:15), so open dialogue is meant to be a key component of Christian thought so as to foster a thoughtful Christianity.
Such a thoughtful Christianity is precisely what Ratio Christi seeks to promote, because if we really are concerned with truth, then we should be willing to have open dialogue with others as we strive for the truth together.
Cody holds a B.Sc. in Biology and a Youth Leadership Certificate from Crandall University, and an M.A. in Apologetics (concentration in Scientific Apologetics) from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies through Tyndale Seminary. He is the author of several articles on apologetics-related issues and does itinerant preaching and speaking engagements. Cody currently lives in Moncton, NB, Canada with his wife, Kathy. Cody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See, e.g., Peter Boghossian, “My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit.” Common Sense with Bari Weiss, September 8, 2021, bariweiss.substack.com/p/my-university-sacrificed-ideas-for, accessed October 8, 2021.
Following the example of Christ and his mature followers in all aspects of the Christian life is a repeated theme in the Bible’s instruction to Christians. See, e.g., 1 Cor. 4:15-17; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:7; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7; 1 Pet. 5:3.
See my article “Discerning Truth in a World of Fake News and False Views,” Ratio Christi, April 29, 2020, https://ratiochristi.org/blog/discerning-truth-in-a-world-of-fake-news-and-false-views/.