So, your child disagrees with you, and they want to question . . . or — worse yet — debate! What do you do? Join AMBrewster as he helps Christian parents learn to debate Truth with their kids.
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“Five Ways Disagreeing Children are Valuable” (episode 50)
“Why Does My Family Argue? | and how to stop” (episode 331)
“Parenting Angry Children” series (starts in episode 287)
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Click "Read More" for today’s Episode Notes and Transcript.
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I imagine the title of today’s episode reminded you of some very trying and uncomfortable situations with your children.
I don’t know that most people view debating with anyone as being very positive, let alone debating their children, but I hope that today you’ll have a better understanding and new appreciation for the process that glorifies God.
As always, we’re going to look at some biblical principles, but we’re also going freshen up on our ancient battle tactics. Have you ever read the Art of War by Sun Tzu? There’s some amazing stuff in there, but you’ll never guess what I found that will help us parent better.
But more on that in a minute.
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Okay, so what does an ancient book on battle tactics have to say about our parenting?
Let’s first start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines debating as a “a contention by words or arguments.”
And though that may sound negative, secondly, we need to acknowledge that not all debates are wrong. The word contention can refer to a sinful, contradictory person, but it can also refer to two differing opinions.
Listen, we encourage our high schoolers to sign up for it, we want to hear our political candidates do it, and it’s very enjoyable in academic subjects that catch our interest. Did you ever see the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate? It was wonderful!
But the only issue we really have with debating is that our own pride hates to be contradicted.
It’s true, that what should be a pleasant debate can quickly turn into an argument that exits The Communication House we discussed in Episode 38. But just because people use them the wrong way or participate in them sinfully does not automatically mean all debates are sinful. Jesus Himself frequently entered conversations where differing opinions struggled and where people walked away still in disagreement.
This observation teaches us two things:
Because if you believe all debates are wrong or pointless . . . God disagrees with you.
You can have two people who disagree on a point debate, truthfully and lovingly and for God’s glory. My family and I loved a good disagreement. We would actually enjoy stretching our brains to consider different sides of certain topics. In fact, I have a friend whose family would actually pick topics, debate them, and then switch sides and debate them again!
So, how would a parent accomplish this with their child?
First of all, you need to make certain your heart is right. Remove the pride and remember — like we talked about last time — there is real value in a disagreeing child. If you can make certain that you and your child stay in The Communication House, any discussion can be a redemptive one.
So, I don’t think this is a question about whether to debate or not. And, if you’re a parent, you almost can’t stop the debates from coming unless you’re just going to be an all out Dictator Parent.
However, if more Christians knew how to discuss controversial matters in a biblical way, I believe we’d see a huge topographical shift in the debating landscape of our homes -- more Truth would be disseminated, fewer misunderstandings would arise, and more families would have the opportunity to respond correctly to Truth. And this applies to more than just your family.
If that doesn’t excite you, you need to grasp your role as a parent and a follower of Christ. No one ever promised that the preacher of the Gospel wouldn’t meet confrontation or that people wouldn’t argue with him. In fact, it was pretty much guaranteed the opposite would occur.
So, we must know how to handle debates. By the way, everything I’m about to share applies to simply answering your kids’ questions as well. It may not be a full-on debate, but how we answer their dilemmas requires the same handling.
Principally speaking, the Bible has much to say about the makeup of our discourse (which is Truth), the method of our discourse (which is communication), and the motivation of our discourse (which is our philosophy). Simply put, The Communication House says we’re to share God’s Truth (the makeup) with God’s love (the method) for God’s reasons (the motivation).
Here’s a basic framework for any discussion that will guarantee that even if you’re disagreeing, God will be pleased with the conversation:
Of course, this discussion could easily be over at this point because God always has the final word.
However, I was recently doing some study on a particularly enjoyable piece of literature called The Art of War when I tripped upon a wonderful discovery.
Traditionally we accept that a great general named Sun Tzu wrote his thirteen chapters as a treatise on war and then spent the rest of his life proving just how right he was in his conclusions. If you’ve never read it, there’s some fantastic information with a quiver-full of application to a variety of fields.
But recently one particular passage struck me with the realization that if families debated conflicting ideas like Sun Tzu approached a vicious army of invading ruffians . . . it would afford us a greater opportunity to make sure the makeup of our debates, method of our debates, and motivation for our debates were Christ-honoring.
Here’s the passage about which I’m talking:
“It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.”
This is a gold mine of wisdom! Let me illustrate how these truths should guide our family debates by working backward through them.
1. If the parent is incredibly inferior to his child in that A. he is not prepared to argue using God’s Truth, B. cannot open his mouth without being caustic and unkind, C. becomes defensive at the hint of a disagreement, or D. manifests any number of other sinful character traits (impatience, arrogance, etc), he must not only avoid the debate, but refuse to engage lest he hurt the cause of Christ. If you can’t stay in The House, you don’t have the conversation.
Military Illustration: A soldier who turns his gun on fellow soldiers is to be immediately pulled from the front and thrown into the brig . . . whether that person is the child or the parent.
Real-World Illustration: A mean-spirited parent who possesses nothing but proof-texts, a slew of boiler-plate clichés, and slanderous jabs should never engage in any discussion ever -- let alone claim to be an Ambassador Parent. Sinful, manipulative, emotional, illogical propaganda techniques are their only line of defense. Westboro Church’s handling of the homosexuality debate is a perfectly horrible example of this. Their entire arsenal is emotionally charged, Truth-devoid propaganda.
Application: A person who just cannot seem to debate without running out of The Communication House -- parent or child -- likely may need to embrace the love of Christ in salvation, and until then should cease pretending to be a representative of God. I John tells us “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Debaters like this are also only going to hurt themselves and others. II Peter makes it clear that some things in the Bible are “hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Born again Christians don’t deliberately distort God’s Word, and we don’t want to muddy our children’s understanding of it.
2. If the parent is inferior in his ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth and/or inferior to his child’s ability to logically and respectfully prove his arguments, he should either rally more help to his side, or avoid getting into such debates period. This type of thing happens all the time. I’ve counseled numerous families whose children love to talk and share their minds, but the mom or the dad never grew up that way and has a hard tine answering the child’s objections without getting frustrated.
Military Illustration: A soldier who can’t fire a gun at all will be no help in a battle and should be put on kitchen patrol.
Real-World Illustration: Unfortunately, parents who debate like this often make up the luke-warm, pew-sitting contingent of Christianity. When asked by their children what’s wrong with homosexuality, they know they’ve heard that “being gay’s a sin,” but they’re not sure who said it, and – to be honest – the only arguing they do is often motivated by selfishness and annoyance. They’d have as much success debating homosexuality as they would trying to persuade their kid that they should hold the remote. Propaganda techniques are occasionally used because this parent lacks substantial evidence and practice presenting it.
Application: Pride is the great blinder of men. It persuades the unskilled to create and the unlearned to teach. But parents who do this do so to their and their child’s detriment. This parent should take seriously the command to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). This is not an option, it’s a calling.
3. If the parent is equally matched with his child’s question, he must first reconsider his thesis. Assuming his motivation is the glory of God and his thesis is in line with the Bible, and assuming his rhetorical abilities are on par with his child, this parent should “offer” a debate, but never just plunge forward assuming the victory is his. And if he should meet an argument he cannot answer, he must graciously admit he doesn’t know and politely request the opportunity to do more research.
Military Illustration: A soldier who has just as much potential of shooting an enemy as the enemy has of shooting him has value in a fight . . . but not much. We don’t want to lose one soldier for every soldier the enemy loses.
Real-World Illustration: I thank God for the segment of parents who’re current enough with biblical and social issues that they can speak with equal and opposite professionalism. These parents represent Truth well when fiction is present. They respond graciously when attacked with vitriol. And overall they handle logical argumentation well enough that they don’t ever reach for the weapon of propaganda. Sometimes the best thing you can do when your child possess a point of view with which you disagree, but are uncertain where the Bible addresses it, is to say, “You know, I believe God has something to say about that, but I’m not sure where to find it. I think we should both take some time to study the biblical principles that apply to your idea.
Application: It takes much wisdom to know the difference between “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). This intelligent, God-loving parent may still easily stoop to using dishonorable propaganda if he’s not wise enough to not answer the fool according to his folly. In such a case, “in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14). Learn from those who are highly skilled in counsel and debate.
4. If the parent is twice as skilled as his child in validity of content and mastery of language, he should exercise his rhetorical devices to “divide” the opponent’s arguments with Truth. These scenarios often occur when the parent is debating a lie veiled in “truth.” This isn’t to say that our children are directly attacking God’s Word, but that they’re legitimately confused because they think their Failure Philosophy is biblical. To show the error of truth/lies, the parent must be at least twice as skilled as his child.
Military Illustration: This illustrates the difference between a sniper and the common soldier — the sniper has tremendous value in a conflict.
Real-World Illustration: Let’s use an example like this: You’ve done a thorough job explaining to your child why she needs to spend less time with a certain boy at school. But she respectfully asks you to reconsider and submits the idea that the more time she spends with this boy the better chances he has seeing Christ in her.
If we shut the conversation down with, “You’re going to do what I said, you understand?” Wow, have we failed. Assuming our daughter has presented a thoughtful idea, immature though it may be, there is great value in exploring it. As we discussed last time, it shows she’s thinking, she’s feel comfortable enough to be honest and trusts us to interact with her, and she’s revealing vital information about how she thinks and what she believes is important.
So, if you’re in the position to accurately and deftly show her from the Bible the principles and commands that will help her respond maturely to this dilemma, you will have done her a fantastic service because you’ll answer her question, answer it biblically, and model for her how mature Christians think and grapple with difficult situations.
Application: Abiding on this plateau of debate requires continued study and humility. This Christian parent must never falter in his attention to God’s Word. Though it helps to be aware of the world’s arguments, all it takes to refute them is apt knowledge of Christ. Humility is the character trait that will keep the parent immersed in God’s Word and protect her from being overconfident or arrogant in light of her ability to “divide” her child’s arguments.
5. If the parent is five times more skilled, his argument should make short order of his child’s simply by sharing God’s irrefutable Truth in a logical way.
Military Illustration: At this point, our military metaphor must change. We’re no longer comparing average foot soldiers. Here we see the difference between a squadron of tanks against a single insurgent.
Real-World Illustration: The world does an amazing job indoctrinating the masses in their Failure Philosophies through every medium it has. Your immature children will be — at one point or another — partially or temporarily swayed by the world’s arguments.
Let’s use a more difficult situation. Let’s say that your child has always believed that homosexuality is a sin, but in a conversation with a self-proclaimed lesbian at school, she’s introduced to the “fact” the original Greek of the New Testament was mistranslated in our modern English Bibles. This girl as also seemingly been able to work around every Old Testament condemnation of homosexuality because those who reject the LGTB lifestyle do so wearing mixed fabrics while eating ham sandwiches. So, your daughter asks the question or respectfully challenges what she’s been taught.
The mature parent who’s versed in the Bible and the world’s propaganda will never stumble when presented with such “arguments” because she’s studied to show herself approved of God, and she need not be ashamed because she knows how to rightly divide the word of Truth. And in the end, your child will know she’s conversed with a woman who loves her God and her child — just like the Bible says.
Application: The ability to quickly dispense with a foolish argument often leads to a dominating, unloving spirit. This parent must always temper his knowledge with love because “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (I Corinthians 8:1).
6. If the parent is ten times more skilled in Truth and communication — he possesses a greater knowledge and handling of God’s Word that only comes through intense study and devotion to God — he will be able to cogently debate the topic with sincerity and depth that not only proves difficult to counter, but also shows deep love and respect for his child.
Military Illustration: This parent is the proverbial atomic bomb to errant thought. But don’t forget that this military illustrations are given to demonstrate the incongruity of ability, not the devastation of relationships.
Real-World Illustration: The Bible is prodigiously clear that addiction and partaking in any substance that harms the body is a sin, but it’s also clear that God is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance. In a debate with the average high schooler concerning the recreational use of marijuana, a well-studied, approved-parent will arm himself with Truth, use logic and reasoning with abandon, be apt to teach, and make his arguments with a goal that the Lord may be glorified . . . but he will also care for his child with the love of Christ.
Hearing a child argue for marijuana use would scare many parents to death. But when you react in fear, you’re not trusting God and your makeup, method, and motivation will likely fail you.
Instead, the Christ-honoring parent’s entire debate will be grounded on the premise that the child standing before him is either lost or out of fellowship with his God. His child will represent a broken human fighting a losing and devastating battle with the God of the universe. His compassion and love will guide his presentation of Truth so that the child will never once feel hated or disrespected. Instead, he will see a human Ambassador of Jesus Christ.
Application: In order to be this type of parent, this Ambassador of God must continually return to Ephesians 3:14-19 to remember why we’re here: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Understanding the Truth therein is to understand your calling — this Ambassador Parent of the Most High will live a consistent life of love and Truth which will be fleshed out in the home, at work, on Facebook, in church, at school, at the movies, and in all the world.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 27:19).
Debating is an art. But it’s also a command. We must present Christ and be able to give an answer to everyone who asks.
Just do it the right way.
Today’s free PDF episode notes are available at TakingBackTheFamily.com. We discussed a lot of stuff today, so it may be helpful to have them for future reference.
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I know that every time your child presents a conflicting concept, it can be intimidating. Whether or not you engage in that debate or attempt to answer that question is directly tied to your love for God and your understanding of His Truth. The best thing you can do to be ready for any question of debate is dig in to God’s Word.
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