5 Suggestions for Thinking through Controversial and Difficult Issues

5 Suggestions for Thinking through Controversial and Difficult Issues

Like Christians who have gone before us, we have a variety of controversial issues to think through in our day. Abortion, race, gender, sexuality, artificial intelligence, the metaverse—and that’s just a start. We should begin by recognizing that there are multiple reasons an issue may be considered controversial or difficult.

Reasons for Disagreement

In some cases, Scripture’s teaching about an issue may be clear, but the way to apply that teaching may be less clear. In other cases, Scripture may not speak directly to an issue, which means we’re required to synthesize a variety of relevant truths and then discern how best to apply them. Finally, certain controversial issues are by nature complex. They may involve new technologies or technical fields of knowledge we’re not familiar with.

Given our limited understanding, as well as the ongoing effects of sin, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are differences of opinion among God’s people. However, we should want to grow in our ability to think through and respond to these issues in a more biblical way. That’s what the five suggestions below are all about.

Five Basic Suggestions to Think Through Controversial Issues

These suggestions are far from exhaustive, and they certainly don’t guarantee that we’ll arrive at the right position. But hopefully, they can help keep us on the right path as we seek to apply God’s Word wisely to difficult and controversial issues.

Trust God’s wisdom (not your own).

As we think through any issue, we should ask ourselves, “Do I really trust God’s wisdom?” Now, that doesn’t mean every issue has a simple answer, nor does it mean there’s a specific Bible verse that answers our question. Sometimes we genuinely struggle to see which option is more aligned with Scripture.

Nevertheless, there’s always a temptation to trust our own wisdom or the wisdom of those who are influential. Therefore, we need to settle it in our minds ahead of time that God’s wisdom is greater than ours—infinitely greater (Romans 11:33)—and he knows what’s best for us. His Word is our final authority, and we can trust it (2 Timothy 3:16–17). This should always be our starting point.

Continue to pray, meditate on God’s Word, and learn.

We should not overlook the role of the Holy Spirit in opening our minds and hearts to the truth. Through prayer and meditation on God’s Word, the Spirit really does give us understanding (Colossians 1:9). We should not expect to hear a voice from the sky, nor should we assume that God will immediately give us a definitive answer. Prayer doesn’t absolve us from continuing to think carefully about an issue.

At the same time, we can pray knowing that God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to renew our minds (Romans 12:2). Regardless of whether a clear answer emerges, we’ll be in a better posture to think and act as faithful disciples. Before making bold pronouncements about our position, we may need to continue to learn from Scripture and, as we’ll see in the next point, from others.

Seek counsel from other Christians.

God never intended for us to figure out difficult and controversial issues, or any aspect of the Christian life, on our own. Through the church, he has given us fellow believers who possess the same Holy Spirit we do—and potentially greater wisdom in certain areas. Therefore, talk to a pastor, a fellow church member, or a mature Christian friend as you process difficult questions. And don’t limit yourself to the wisdom of those you know or those who happen to be alive.

Find out what Christians from a variety of backgrounds have said and written on the topic over the last two thousand years. Even if the issue involves new technology, it’s likely that other Christians have dealt with similar questions. Listening to wise voices from church history is a good way to identify blind spots. It’s the fool who refuses good counsel (Proverbs 12:15).

Don’t reject a truth simply because it’s unpopular or difficult to apply.

We shouldn’t be surprised that God’s wisdom sounds foolish to the world. We are, after all, staking our eternity on the message of a crucified Messiah (1 Corinthians 1:18)! That doesn’t mean we should always gravitate toward the most unpopular position on a given issue. We may find ourselves in agreement with unbelievers on certain questions, and we can certainly learn from them. All truth is God’s truth.

However, we shouldn’t settle on a position just because it seems right according to the world’s standards. True love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), even when truth meets resistance. Remember, unbelievers suppress the truth (Romans 1:18) and their understanding is darkened due to sin (Ephesians 4:18). Therefore, we shouldn’t base our decisions on polling or on the current consensus of so-called thought leaders. The most important question is, “What has God said?”

Pursue love, humility, and unity in the gospel.

As believers, there are certainly truths worth dividing over (2 Corinthians 11:18–19; 1 John 2:19). For example, those who deny the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, or other foundational doctrines of the Christian faith cannot be called brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, there are many issues that faithful, Bible-believing Christians should be able to disagree on while still loving each other.

We need to be able to distinguish between first, second, and third-tier issues of the faith. Of course, some second and third-tier issues may be extremely important, and they may even affect the ways we partner with other Christians. But there’s a problem if we can’t strongly disagree without seeking to tear each other down.

Maintaining the unity of the Spirit is more important than “owning” a fellow believer in an argument (Ephesians 4:3). If the person is wrong and unwilling to listen, trust the Lord to give them understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). Regardless of where we land on any issue, we should always express our position with humility. Right understanding is ultimately a gift of God’s grace.

David Burnette serves as the Chief Editor for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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