Turn Toxic Disagreements into Fruitful Discussions [4 tips]

Matthew Cook

No one knows how to disagree anymore.

And social media hasn’t helped.

Whether it’s about religion, politics, or parenting, we have all witnessed (or been a part of) a disagreement that got down-right nasty.

And Christians aren’t exempt.

That sad thing is, these toxic disagreements happen between believers all too often.

But here’s the thing:

As Christians, we can and should do better.

Disagreements don’t have to turn hostile.

Disagreements can actually result in fruitful conversations.

Here are four tips to help you make the best out of the disagreements you are involved in.  

1) Ask clarifying questions

Asking questions ensures that you actually understand the person you disagree with.

Oftentimes we may think we understand someone else’s position, but we really don’t; we've only heard what someone else has said about that position.

Ask questions and then listen to what they say so you are understanding them properly.

It's the least you can do.

You don't gain anything from refuting a straw man, so take James 1:19 to heart:

2) Re-examine your own position

Here’s a fact of life:

Just about everyone thinks they are right about all of their beliefs.

It’s helpful to show a little humility and consider that you may be wrong.

When you’re in a disagreement with someone, see it as an opportunity to take a fresh look at what you believe and ask yourself some questions, like:

Why do I hold this view?

Are there good reasons I believe this?

It all comes down to understanding why you believe what you do.

In fact, people challenging my positions has been a huge motivator for me to study and learn my own positions well.

When you are confident in what you believe, and you can support those beliefs with good reasons reasons & evidence, you're less fearful of being confronted, and therefore not as defensive.

3) Be Teachable

As Christians we ought to have a high regard for the truth because Jesus said “I am the truth.”

And truth is what corresponds to reality; the way things really are.

If someone brings up good criticisms of a particular belief you hold, be humble and be willing to adjust your views to align with the truth.  

Let’s be clear.

You are not infallible.

With regards to my positions on certain doctrines, I can recall at least 3 issues that I have changed my mind on in response to solid evidence and good reasons.

We all have room to grow, but we can only learn if we are teachable.

4) Be gracious

Keep in mind that you are representing Christ!

How you conduct yourself matters!

Consider Colossians 4:6,

Don’t attack the person you are talking with.

Keep the conversation focused on the topic and be firm if need be, but also be respectful.

I admit that there are times when I can’t imagine how some people believe the things they do.

Here’s an example.

There is this crazy idea that Jesus never existed (yes, there ARE people who believe that).

It can be tempting to ridicule and mock someone for holding to such a crazy position, but what will that accomplish?

They will likely just get defensive and shut down.

Instead, take the high road and aim to be civil and winsome.

Yes, we want to be careful that we don’t fall into the relativistic trap of “everybody’s beliefs are equally true”, but what good is it if we “win” the argument, but push someone away because we were harsh and rude?

It won’t happen all the time, but sometimes your gracious attitude actually rubs off on the other person and your conversation can become productive.

Disagreement can be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to end with name-calling and hurt feelings.

Disagreements can actually be intellectually stimulating and invigorating discussions where both parties can learn something.

I believe if you put these four tips into practice, you will be surprised by how many potentially hostile disagreements turn into fruitful conversations.

More posts by Matt (Bio below)

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Matt has studied Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics on his own for several years now. He is passionate about sharing the evidence for the truth of Christianity and answering the objections of today's post-Christian culture. He hopes to someday earn a formal education in ministry and/or apologetics. Matt lives in Wyoming, Michigan with his wife Sara and Son Ezekiel.