Posted by: HAT | April 23, 2015

On Not Liking to Argue with Christians

Tibetan tangka of Yama, a ferocious supernatural form in Tibetan style

Yama, Indian god of death, protects Buddhism against demons. Or perhaps contemplatives against inner demons of addiction to powerful negative emotions. But the Buddha may have said something like ‘When you find yourself in a hell realm, help the demons.’

Hi, Gang!

I don’t like to argue. I mean, I really don’t like to argue, to the point where I will leave the room or change subjects or actually stop talking if I feel the conversation has become an argument. If you knew me personally, you would find that last statement almost unbelievable, but it’s true. It’s a part of the legacy of growing up with my parents that has held its value over the decades.

I especially don’t like to get involved in what I think of as “arguments with Christians.” This is ironic, since I am a Christian – according to me, anyway. Not according to everyone, no doubt.

This explains why I did not comment on the comment on a blog post the other day in Ministry Matters. I had read the article, and liked it. Then I read the one comment that was online at the time, and had a thought or two. I almost left a comment. I thought about it for at least a minute or two. I even clicked on the “leave a comment” link. But in the end, I thought … the only thing this can lead to is an argument. With Christians.

When I went back to check yesterday, there it was in the proliferating comments … an argument with Christians.

That is: an argument between people who do not share basic premises. Between people who believe that if their basic premises are not shared, they shouldn’t have to or can’t possibly share other things, either. Like pews and pastors. Baptisms & eucharists/communions/Lord’s Suppers. Grace. The body of Christ.

The f-bomb drops. [That’s “false teaching,” for those of you who didn’t grow up this way.] There’s a rising cloud of denials, defenses, and split hairs.

I have no stomach for it at all. Because, as I read it, it’s always the same argument, no matter what its ostensible substantive content. It’s the one that goes “You’re not a real Christian.” “Yes, I am.” “Are not.” “Am too.” The one that just goes on and on going nowhere, until finally our moms and dads call us in for dinner.

Somewhere in Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology, at least according to my faulty memory, he says something like no one can be sure they are Christian – the objective determination of that status is really God’s. I couldn’t find it, of course, when I went searching through the three volumes I annotated an incredible 15 years ago in seminary. Maybe it was never there in the first place. But I did find this, almost as pertinent:

The basic ambiguity of religion has a deeper root than any of the other ambiguities of life, for religion is the point at which the answer to the quest for the unambiguous is received. Religion in this respect (that is, in the respect of man’s possibility of receiving this answer) is unambiguous; the actual reception, however, is profoundly ambiguous, for it occurs in the changing forms of man’s moral and cultural existence. These forms participate in the holy to which they point, but they are not the holy itself. The claim to be the holy itself makes them demonic. (1)

In other words: we really can encounter something transcendent in religion. But it’s easy to get confused about where that something comes from, and what encountering it depends on.

In other other words: It is probably a bad idea to argue with people who may be under the influence of the demonic. It’s way too easy to get caught in the undertow.

(1) Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology. Volume Three: Life and the Spirit, History and the Kingdom of God. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. 104.



  1. Interesting point, my problem with Tillich though is he fails at his own endeavor by being passive aggressive at times.

    For example:
    If I say everybody is partially holy; that would mean I have some objective knowledge of what is and isn’t holy so as to make that claim.

    It’s like saying “Everything is Subjective;” you need an objective view point to look out at the world and say you are all wrong.

    Or worse, I have no idea; I feel this discourse is not helpful. So I will shutdown a dialogue that two parties find the topic important enough to fight about because I find my desire for a lack of conflict more important than whatever it is they are fighting about.

    I think the latter is what makes the U.S. a bad peace broker in the middle east… we want peace over whatever they want, so they need to have peace because that’s most important as what we want.

    Now, the people your discussing need to figure out Christian isn’t copyrighted…

    but as regarding disagreements the real thing is if they are really fatal heresies or not. I am a Calvinist, I think sin causes people to be one thing or ignorance another. But God is working in Lutherans, Baptist, etc. the way a teacher still helps special education students; so they need to be true to that working and I bless them.

    What is not acceptable is for them to be untrue to themselves or me to my calling so that we have “unity” at all cost. Because then we start to ignore whatever aspects of the Truth we hold even partially because we don’t have the Truth to know what stays or goes…

    See, I think THAT’s humility and far more embracing of diversity than trying to pretend it’s all unicorns and rainbows. And that’s the attitude we should foster.

    Correction is love, debate is honesty, conflict is relation, and pain is nearness.

    • If I understand you correctly – which I may not – you are suggesting it is at least a little passive agressive not to comment on the main motion, and then go off and start a side conversation on whether the main motion was a pointless argument or not. I would grant you that!

      I would also agree with you that the issue of being true to one’s calling is a factor. This particular instance caused me to think about what it must be like to be a pastor, and need to participate in some of these arguments because of one’s relationship to the arguers.

      • You understood me for all my disjointed mental hobbling. Being pastoral always has the inherent risk of false humility in that “we don’t know” or “its open” can actually be used as a weapon. It’s better to say I am led here and you there, and try and limit having discussions for the sake of winning the argument because it’s always important to ask what prize do you get for the price of winning.

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