In 1739, church forefather John Wesley announced serious disagreements with another church forefather (and his best friend) George Whitefield, after which two notable things happened.
First, their ministry broke up – one kept control over the Methodist denomination and the other started the Welsh Presbyterian church.
Second, they still remained very close friends. In fact, decades later, when Whitefield passed away, it was Wesley who preached his funeral.
Such was life back in the days when “I disagree” was not commensurate to, “I cancel you.” On the one hand, today’s “cancel culture” has mitigated offensive behavior that’s historically gone unchecked. On the other hand, it has been wielded to broadly crush a kid/tween even when it comes to the awkward experience of just disagreeing with the people around us.
Disagreements have never been easy. Consider the apostle Paul, who took it upon himself to meet people where they were intellectually and spiritually (Acts 17:2, 18:4, 19:8). He went into synagogues disputing, discussing and having dialogue or dialegomai – a Greek word that meant a lot of things but shoving one’s opinions in someone else’s face and shaming them if they disagreed was not one of them. That doesn’t mean Paul agreed, but he also did not dismiss out of hand.
Paul did the harder third option – Paul engaged. This leaves us, the parents of this generation, to train up our tween with the chops to tackle the fairly complicated task of dialegomai while steering clear of a cancel culture mentality.
A good brick we might lay as a foundation? Humility.
Our tween knows by now that we all have a lot to be humble about. Christians as much as anybody knows that we’ve historically gotten arguments a little right and a little wrong, depending on the day.
For example, we locked up Galileo even though he was right about the earth circling the sun. We endorsed badly motivated politics like the late 1800’s “Know Nothings” who made sure only folks from their church affiliation were voted into any local, city, or state government positions of power, ever. When asked, they replied, “We know nothing about that.” (See Honest Answers, pg. 186)
We, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, have gotten some arguments wrong.
We also come from the likes of Corrie ten Boom, the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland in 1922 who, because of her Christian ideals, risked life and limb to rescue her Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. And Denis Mukwege, who is a Christian doctor who demanded care for victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for making that happen.
We, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, have gotten some arguments right.
Which circles us back to Whitefield and Wesley. Both loved God. Both believed in Jesus. Each was biblically sound in their theology and revered the Word as God-breathed and inspired and the final word on all things.
And yet, even with sound biblical principles all around, they still disagreed.
What’s a Christian tween to do with that? Or, namely, what can we parents do to equip them to sift through such disagreements that they will face themselves and as Whitefield and Wesley did, to dialegomai well?
There is plenty of research on how one argues well, from resisting tribalism to rephrasing old jargon. However, all of that falls on deaf ears if we fail to first humbly acknowledge the person standing before us deserves our respect as a human being, a child created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). Like Whitefield and Wesley demonstrate, arguing itself can be civil (although they weren’t, always), productive (although this didn’t happen every time), and can contribute to God’s kingdom in meaningful ways, even when the two parties do not concede on the point at hand.
So while our tween is bombarded by opposing ideologies that groom this generation to use subjectivity, personalities, name-calling, and dismissive attitudes with people who disagree, let’s start by…just not doing that. It’s a habit that takes a lot of practice. We parents might need all the years we have our kids with us to drive this point home. We should probably get started.
He wishes we would.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has written for Christianity Today and RELEVANT online pubs. Her first book, Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions With Your Tween, preps parents on how to tackle hard questions with their tweens using pithy Q&A’s and can be found on Amazon.