“The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one.” In Arguing With Friends: Keeping Your Friends and Your Convictions,Paul Buller (an engineer by training) tries to help us navigate between two errors when discussing our beliefs with those who disagree.
A member of Dalhousie Community (MB) Church, Calgary, Buller has a keen interest in Christian apologetics, and maintains the website www.whyjesus.ca (Network of Christian Apologists in Calgary).
Buller’s premise is that good conversations around disagreement don’t occur because as a culture we have lost the ability to assess the truth or falsehood of an idea. He lays the blame for this mostly on cultural postmodernism. We either attack the person presenting the idea (“losing our friends”), or stay silent to avoid offending (“losing our convictions”). A big part of the purpose of this book is to give Christians some basic tools of critical thinking and communication so we don’t have to fall into either trap.
Early on, the author makes it clear the “arguing” he is advocating for is not antagonistic, but rather making the case for an idea. He also states that although the principles laid out in this book can be applied to any discussion, he is specifically writing to encourage Christian to make the case for Christ.
Assuming most Canadians will have intellectual barriers to putting their faith in Christ, Buller sets out tools to help make the case for why belief in Jesus is reasonable. In terms of critical thinking, Buller gives a very brief overview of the use of logic, identifying some common mistakes people make in this area. In terms of communication, he gives some strategies around asking good questions, listening well, and sticking to the main issues.
But aside from these important tactics, one of the book’s best contributions is at the level of the heart. Success in conversations with people with whom we disagree is redefined as “when both people have clearly articulated and defended their beliefs with mutually respectful dialogue.” Buller urges Christians to have the goal to move beyond trying to “win an argument” to the point of actually caring for the person we are talking to: get to know the person better, be charitable, and acknowledge when the person has a good point.
In addition, Buller counsels readers to “Invite Jesus to actually modify your heart and your mind so that you do not merely behave kindly toward others from a sense of duty, but that you bear in your heart a sincere, deep desire for what is best for them, just like Jesus does!” For “whoever you are talking to is a person that has been carefully and lovingly crafted and sculpted by the Creator of the Universe. You are dealing with somebody about whom God cares very, VERY deeply.”
This underlying tone of love for the person with whom we are “arguing” was a highlight for me, and provides a good balance with the intellectual content of the book.
The last chapter of the book highlights some of the topics likely to come under discussion with non-Christians such as the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, the nature of God’s wrath. But the author expects the reader will delve into more detail on these topics, and to that end, he provides a resources section listing websites and a few books for those interested in pursuing this area further.
One distracting feature in the book was the categorizing of the sections as “phases” and “stations”, instead of the more standard chapter format. I found the structure awkward and hard to follow at times.
Arguing with Friends doesn’t spoon feed the “right answers” about Christian apologetics. At times, I was frustrated by the limited detail in this rather short (71-page) book. However, the author acknowledges from the outset that his book is only meant to be a brief introduction to these topics. There is the expectation that the reader will “do the homework” to prepare both heart and mind for conversations of significance with others.
As a layperson interested in apologetics, I’m encouraged by his efforts. I wholeheartedly agree that the art of thinking and speaking well is vitally important for Christians who want to engage the broader culture, something Christian leaders of previous generations understood. John Wesley told ministers in his day that knowledge of logic was second only to the knowledge of Scripture in importance: “For what is this, if rightly understood, but the art of good sense? of apprehending things clearly, judging truly, and reasoning conclusively? What is it, viewed in another light, but the art of learning and teaching; whether by convincing or persuading?”
In an irrational age, we need all the more to learn these skills in our conversations with others about Christ.
—Mark Friesen is a member at The Meeting Place (MB church), Winnipeg.