We’ve seen it happen dozens of times. Someone says something online. Someone else chimes in to disagree. Both sides become defensive. Tempers flare. Harsh words are used. It doesn’t take long for online debates to descend into virtual shouting matches. In the end, no one changes their mind, and everyone just feels frustrated with each other.
But it would be a mistake to think of debates as synonymous with hostility. There is such a thing as a healthy debate. When debates are held within the confines of humility, self-control, and kindness, they can be extremely productive and enjoyable by all the parties involved.
One of the greatest benefits of a healthy debate is the way it challenges critical thinking. As you find yourself confronted with another position, you will be challenged to make well thought out and well reasoned arguments for why you believe something. It helps you to reflect on the potential weaknesses of your position. It even helps you grow more humble. If you get into debates, you will soon realize that you aren’t right 100% of the time!
Debates help you to improve articulation. Have you ever had the feeling that you just can’t get the words out of your mouth, that you can’t get them out quick enough, or that you can’t explain yourself without rambling on and on? The practice of getting into debates helps you grow in your ability to communicate complex ideas in a succinct and effective manner.
Debates help you to nuance your positions appropriately. They help you to avoid illogical extremes. Your ability to express truth effectively will be enhanced by confrontation with error. At other times, you may actually exchange error for truth in your own life. So regardless of whether you win or lose the debate, you win!
Of course, we all need to avoid pointless online shouting matches. One way to do this is to be wise in who you choose to debate. Usually debates with close, respected friends will be more productive than debates with strangers. Private debates tend to be more effective than public debates, where pride can make it more difficult to admit when we are wrong. Be careful to avoid personal insults, and ignore insults when they come your way. Have an exit plan. Know when to walk away. Be willing to lose. Conduct yourself in a way so that you can leave feeling guilt free.
But don’t avoid debates entirely. We live in a polarized world, where people tend to talk past one another. We need to strike a balance. The Bible is too important not to debate. Let’s dig into the inspired words. Let’s figure out where we stand, and let’s grow, together closer to the God who stands above us all. We are to be conformed to Christ, not to our own limited understanding.