How should we approach friends we disagree with theologically?

Burk Parsons & 2 others
2 Min Read

FERGUSON: You must remember that you and they hold different doctrines and that it takes two to have a theological discussion.

There are many biblical considerations that speak to this issue. First, you must understand that you are speaking to another human being. Second, you must remember that you probably did not come to the doctrines you hold overnight. So, be careful about treating somebody who does not share them as stupid, because you once were in a similar position. Third, you need to discern the difference between people who are coming down the hill and people who are going up the hill. With people going down the hill, you need to think of ways to prevent them from rolling down any further. As for people going up the hill, you need to patiently help them because of how patient God was with you before it suddenly clicked, and you thought, “Now I understand.” This is why Paul told Timothy to instruct others with great patience (2 Tim. 4:2). So, those are a few principles that I use.

PARSONS: The emphasis on patience is important. We must remember that we are not the Holy Spirit in the lives of our friends and loved ones, that we need to trust the Holy Spirit to do the work that He will do, and that we need to spend time pointing them to Scripture. Over the years, when people have wanted to argue a point with me, I have said, “Let’s spend some time in Scripture together, not just reading it, but studying it and getting some good commentaries.” So, be patient, trust the Spirit, and pour over Scripture.

FERGUSON: I want to add to what I said before. I have often felt that in areas of doctrinal disagreement, one of the keys that helps resolve the issue is to ask, “What did Jesus believe about this?” If you can get into that, it helps dissolve some of the emotional hang-ups and distortions that people often have been taught by the tradition they were raised in and by the books they have read. One thing you have in common is that you are both Christians and are supposed to believe whatever Jesus taught. However, we tend to look for answers outside Jesus. So, thinking about Jesus as the master theologian, knowing the Gospels, and then understanding how the Apostles taught what Jesus had commanded them to teach is a great way to dissolve some of the emotional angst and antagonism that can be created.

THOMAS: This is an important question because Paul makes the point that some truths are of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). In other words, there are primary truths and, by implication, some truths are secondary and some are even tertiary. If the difference of opinion is over justification by faith alone in Christ alone, that’s one thing. But if it is over the mode of baptism, that’s another thing—not all of them are equal. So, our response to friends who have different opinions also depends on the doctrine we are defending.

This is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s, Burk Parsons’, and Derek Thomas’ answers during our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.