December 13, 2009

If You Want to Fish for Men, You Have to Cut Debate

To listen to many American Christians, you would think that the main mission of the church was to fight a culture war. There seems to be an implicit belief that if we can just win that culture war (whether that means ending abortion, banning gay marriage, or proving science wrong), then people’s hearts will change.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Jesus ever using that approach. He didn’t debate science, run for political office, or lead demonstrations. It seems to me that He was more interested in changing hearts, one person at a time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be an influence on our culture. But it’s a matter of influence, not control. It’s a matter of people being drawn to Christ by our love, not by our ability to debate. Very few people are argued into relationship with Christ.

Recently, I saw an online essay on the subject of creation and evolution. It was posted by a pastor I highly respect. But in this case, I sensed what I thought was a needlessly confrontational tone. It bothered me, so I posted a response. Others chimed in, representing many different opinions.

In the end, what was remarkable, was not the debating points won by different viewpoints, but the many ways in which the conversation turned from confrontational debate, to constructive dialogue. (On the Internet, no less!) I had to agree with many of the participants, including the original author of the essay, that this was something of a miracle. It was an illustration of what can happen when we choose to dialogue, rather than debate.

While not every participant changed their tone, many did. I was privileged to be part of that conversation, and invite you to read it for yourself (the link is posted below). Notice the different approaches, and pay attention to how people are consistently pushed away by debate, but drawn in and changed by dialogue. You’re not likely to change your opinion on creationism or evolution by reading this conversation, but I hope you will at least pick up some pointers about how to turn a discussion of a “hot button” topic into meaningful dialogue.

Jesus called us to be “fishers of men”, not hunters.

And if you want to fish, you first have to cut debate.

Here is the link to the conversation:


  1. I started with your article, then read the referenced post. It took me more than 2 hours and now my head hurts. Thanks a lot! But now your title makes sense -- great line.

  2. I totally agree with you, Phil. Several years back, I got addicted to an atheist debate forum. I realized I was becoming argumentative in my posts and I ended up posting a final apology and quitting. I like the way Ray Comfort deals with debate in his street ministry - he doesn't, and yet he makes people think about Jesus. No "debatable issues" really matter in light of the grace of the gospel.
    - AK

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and the referenced conversation. Wow, two hours! You must have been trying to read and think at the same time, DB!

    I'm not sure if Ray Comfort is the example I’d use, AK, especially in light of his attack (the annotated and censored version of 'Origin of the Species' he’s distributing) on matters of science that really have nothing to do with the gospel message.

    I don't know about his other ministries, but in this particular case, his making an issue of science is precisely what I warn against: adopting a confrontational attitude on a peripheral issue, that serves no purpose but to push people away from God.

    As a scientist, I don’t understand why some Christians think they can successfully evangelize by trying to disprove scientific evidence accepted by over 99% of scientists (INCLUDING the two-thirds that believe in God). Whenever they attempt it (as one of the participants in the referenced conversation pointed out), there is only one result: "for scientists on the fence about Christianity, their choice becomes easy: THEY'RE OUT."

    Dialog looks for areas of agreement, and builds bridges (see my contributions to the referenced conversation for more on this topic). Opening with an “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude, especially on such a peripheral issue, can only erect barriers.