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Letting go of the defend and conquer mentality

The problem is simple - the church has developed a defend and conquer mentality, rather than a dialogue and conversation mentality. How do I know this? After years of working within the Church and writing about and for the Church. My perspective is not from someone on the outside, but from the inside. Someone who genuinely cares for and loves the Church.

The scene normally looks something like this -

Anytime someone makes any sort of theological claim, whether it is provocative or otherwise, the first instinct so many of us have in response to the claim is to ‘defend and conquer’; to tell the person who wrote the claim how bad their idea is, how incredibly unchristian it is, and how big of a heretic they are for entertaining the idea to begin with.

How often have I witnessed this. It's almost like the moment Christians are confronted with anything new, something we may not immediately understand or something that may catch us off guard, we feel the need to defend our own view by attempting to conquer the opposing idea first.

Rather than seek to better understand the other person's viewpoint, however different it may be, it seems we would rather fight for our own cause, even if our idea is flawed, than to entertain someone else's perspective.

The whole idea of war and battle is so entrenched in our psyche that it has become our default, go-to method of choice, when confronted with a viewpoint different from our own.

Discussion, dialogue and conversation seem to have little place in Christian circles. Why? For a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the defend and conquer approach has become so deeply ingrained in our collective conscience.

We're often not the least bit interested in what someone else has to say, particularly if it goes against what we've come to believe about a certain topic. Rather than seek clarity and ask questions, we would rather engage in a debate and argue about why they're wrong and we’re right.

Media-induced mentality

We see this scenario played out in the media everyday.

Politicians debate the merits of their idea by ridiculing the ideas of their colleagues on the other side of the room.

Environmentalists espouse why their ideas to save the planet are superior by pointing out how ridiculous all other opposing views are by comparison.

Economists believe they have the answer to repair the economy and bolster their claims, not by pointing out reasons why they believe their idea can work, but by pointing out the reasons why all other ideas will fail.

Time and time again we witness this unending back and forth rhetoric that seeks to do little more than dominate and control others through fear and intimidation. And, while this may be an acceptable method of debate in society, the Church must pave a better way forward.

Changing our language

Maybe the best place to begin is to change the language we use to describe where we want to go.

The word debate, by its very nature, screams argumentation. Presenting arguments, or reasons why you believe a plan or idea will work, is a good thing. But, more often than not, we enter into a debate with a highly defensive posture, preparing ourselves to fight, belittle and mock, rather than take the necessary time to truly listen to one another. Debate isn't an entirely bad word, but if we want to retain its use we need to redefine it.

What other possibilities do we have?

I like the terms conversation, dialogue and discussion. However, in order for these terms to have meaning we must employ the concept of active listening.

Active listening

Active listening means what it implies. Rather than giving space for someone else to speak only so we can have time to formulate our response, active listening actually listens to the other.

We don't position ourselves in order to unleash a counter-attack. No, we listen to others, reflecting on their words, asking questions when clarity is required, while seeking for the good, rather than the bad, in what they have to say.

The last sentence is instructive.

Our typical default posture, whether in conversation, reading a book, or watching a television program, is to seek out what we believe to be the bad, not the good points, of what is in front of us.

Questions like -

Where are the fault-lines in their presentation?
What are the problems? and
How are they wrong?
seem to dominate our thought process when someone else is doing the talking.

However, we fail to remember that when our time is up, when we are giving our presentations, we hope people will listen to us, ask questions and seek for common ground, rather than just look for reasons why they believe we're wrong and they’re right.

Practicing the Golden Rule

Maybe we should do to others the way we would have them do to us.

We won't always agree with each other and that's ok. However, we need to create and cultivate a posture of conversation, where we actively listen to one another, seek clarity, point out the good, while dialoguing in the areas where we disagree.

We need to create and cultivate an environment where respect, dignity and honor inform the basis of our conversations, rather than allow disrespect, distrust and dishonor to take the lead.

And, you never know, it just might work.

Rather than default into seeking only the bad in a person's ideas, let's form a new habit of pointing out the good.

Rather than seek only the bad in an idea, let’s form a new habit of pointing out the good. Click To Tweet

Certainly there will be areas where we differ, and sometimes differ greatly, but let us choose applause as our first response, while carving out time to discuss the areas of development.

And, you never know, it just might work.

Moving forward together

In the end, all I know is this - the way we've been doing it will never work to bring about the results we know we all need.

The hope and answers we all crave for will be found in the midst of a community of equals who understand that in order to move forward in healthy and constructive ways, we will have to move forward together, walking upon the foundation of respect and conversation, not war and condescension.

There is a better way forward and the Church should lead the way as we point to the One who demonstrated that respect, not ridicule, is the only way to the path of reconciliation.

I'm listening. Please speak.


"Pilgrimage is a metaphor for humility. Pilgrimage encourages us to let go of the need to have final certainty on how we understand the Bible and be less prone to put up walls of division, because we are more willing to discuss, explore, and change rather than proclaim, conquer, and defend." - Peter Enns

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jeff is a columnist with ChristianWeek, a public speaker, blogger, and award-winning published writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. He also blogs at

About the author