As our culture is increasingly resistant to Christian perspectives, it is more important than ever that we be able to communicate effectively with those who disagree with us. It also seems harder than ever to do so. How can we effectively challenge the beliefs of others with grace and truth? What does it look like to be persuasive and civil at the same time?
Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, professor of communication at Biola University, offers a model for effective communication that incorporates communication theory, theology, and Scripture.
“I think when it comes to being persuasive, what Paul says in Ephesians 4:15 needs to be remembered, ‘I want you to speak the truth, but I want you to do it in love.’ If you go back to 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says, ‘Listen, I want you to be ready to talk about this Christian perspective, but do it with all gentleness and respect.’”
When it comes to communicating with those who don’t agree with us, Dr. Muehlhoff believes we are missing the mark.
“We’ve got the content part down, but we’re missing what we call the relational level. That’s the amount of respect, compassion, and concern people have for each other. We know from communication theory that if you mess up the relational level, the content level doesn’t work; nobody cares about your content.”
“We need to be good neighbors; we need to go back to neighborly love which Jesus himself said is the second greatest commandment. If we go back to good neighbor love, I think we’re going to open the door to be persuasive to talk about the Christian perspective.”
How then should we respond to those who challenge our beliefs? Dr. Muehlhoff shares a general principle to follow from the book of Proverbs.
“I want you to ignore an insult. ‘A wise man overlooks an insult’ (Proverbs 19:11). There’s another Proverb that says, ‘A word spoken in the right circumstance, is compared to fine jewelry'” (Proverbs 25:11).
“If the communication climate isn’t strong enough, and you don’t have the credibility, then I wouldn’t bite on the insults or stereotypes. I would pass on that until I gain the credibility so that we can actually have a productive conversation.”
It’s more important to gain credibility than it is to enter into a conversation prematurely.
“Credibility is gained as you do common social projects together. Non-Christians care about the homeless. Great! Your church cares about the homeless as well. We care about the transgender community, and there’s people within our non-Christian community that cares about it just as much.”
By loving our neighbors and working together, it can give us the platform and the credibility to communicate the gospel message in our post-Christian society.
Dr. Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, apologetics, gender, and conflict resolution. He is author of several books including Winsome Persuasion.