Dear Theophilus: Worldview and Conflict

Rich Holland

two guys talking

Dear Faculty,

How can you discuss worldviews and religious beliefs without causing conflict?

Sincerely,

Theophilus

Dear Theophilus,

I’m so glad that you asked this question! Some people think that we shouldn’t have discussions about worldviews and religious beliefs, precisely because such discussions often result in conflict. But since religious beliefs are the most important beliefs that people have, discussing them is essential. In fact, if you are a Christian, you know that Jesus has commanded you to have discussions with others about your religious beliefs (see, for example, Matthew 28:18-20). So, I’m happy to offer this advice about how to avoid unnecessary conflict as we have discussions about our most important beliefs:

Be Loving

First and foremost, check your heart to see what your motivation is. Jesus said that the second-greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV). Loving your neighbor means (at the very least) that you have your neighbor’s best interest in mind. So, if all we want to do is win debates, score points or show how smart we are, we should just keep quiet. When we talk with others about religious beliefs, we should only do so out of love, not out of a desire to win a debate. When we sincerely love other people, the chances of a conversation causing unpleasant conflict are much lower.

Be Gentle

Second, always be gentle and respectful. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we should 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” (ESV). Unfortunately, some people have been anything but gentle and respectful as they have attempted to force their religious beliefs on others. Even many Christians have ignored this biblical mandate and have been harsh and overbearing in their presentation of their beliefs. But the Bible tells us that we must be gentle and we must be respectful of others.

From a Christian perspective, we should never be deliberately confrontational as we discuss religious beliefs with others; nor should we mock other people or show them any kind of disrespect. We should constantly maintain a demeanor of respect and gentleness, even if there is significant disagreement about important matters. Being gentle can go a long way toward avoiding negative confrontations.

Be Humble

Finally, be willing to admit that you don’t know everything. This should go without saying; but many people simply assume that what they believe right now is 100 percent correct, so they don’t need to change their mind about anything. This, of course, is a narrow-minded approach that does nothing but stifle growth toward maturity.

The Bible seems to indicate that we should always be learning and growing toward maturity (for example, see Ephesians 2:13-16; and Hebrews 5:11-6:2). But in order to learn and grow, we need to be willing to admit that we may be wrong about some of our beliefs. Even if we think we have the Bible on our side, we must be willing to admit that we may have an incomplete or imperfect understanding of the Bible. If we admit that we don’t know everything, we will be motivated to listen at least as much as we talk; and keeping an open mind in this way is sure to reduce conflict in our conversations with others.

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