When we engage in controversy, understanding is the first thing we owe our opponents. Only a fool would argue with someone he hasn’t understood. We’re all fools, and repentance and an apology are the first steps down the path to wisdom.
Once we’ve understood our opponents, loving them means applying the golden rule to them. Do as you would be done by. Present another’s view as you would want your own view presented. Don’t distort. Don’t cheat. Don’t misrepresent. Don’t caricature and don’t set up straw men. Be a man. Take on a real opponent. Take on the best opponent you can find. Don’t pick the lunatic fringe representative of the view you’re attacking. Pick the best advocate. Let the best advocate make his best argument. Let them say that you have accurately presented their position, then launch your offensive with a smile and a sincere desire to do good for both your opponent and the watching multitude.
If you love truth and you love people, be prepared to let the truth correct you where you’re wrong. You’re not Jesus. The world’s salvation does not depend on you being right about everything. If you love the truth you’ll want the truth to have its way more than you want to be thought right. If you love people you’ll want them to think what is true more than you want them to think you’ve won the argument.
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24).
James Hamilton serves as associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written revelation: the spirit speaks to the churches (Crossway) god's glory in salvation through judgement: a biblical theology (Crossway) and god's indwelling presence: the ministry of the holy spirit in the old and new testaments (B&H). He blogs regularly at for his renown. You can follow Dr. Hamilton on Twitter @drjimhamilton