How to Disagree Agreeably

Eric Landry
Saturday, September 1st 2018
Sep/Oct 2018

It is one of the inevitable facts of life that at some point you’ll find yourself disagreeing with a friend, family member, authority figure, or institution. How you disagree is often more important than the actual disagreement itself. Unfortunately, too many of our disagreements have become disagreeable. Although we may want to blame all this on social media, the blame probably lies more in how quickly we can post our disagreements—thereby removing any serious time to reflect on our disagreement before going public!

The Bible describes our disagreeable nature as being “quarrelsome” (Prov. 26:21), and James tells us that it arises from desires that are in competition with Jesus (James 4:1). Quarreling is condemned repeatedly in the New Testament; for example, in 1 Timothy 3:3, Paul says that a quarrelsome person is not fit to serve the church. (If that’s the case, then how many current officers in our churches would qualify after a review of their online presence in the past week?) All of us will sometimes disagree with something or someone, so the question remains: How do we disagree agreeably?

First, be slow to anger (James 1:19). Not every disagreement is worth the time and effort. A Christian should be quick to overlook offenses, eager to put the best spin on another person’s words and deeds, to forgive when we have been sinned against, and to always remember that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).

If it is impossible to avoid the disagreement, then we must take a second step: Evaluate the seriousness of the disagreement (not how passionate you feel about it!). Instead, we need to ask how close we are to this situation, what influence we have, and what might be the lasting effects of expressing (or not expressing) our disagreement. At this point in my life and pastoral career, I am convinced that few disagreements actually require a personal response. They don’t rise to the level of importance that should compel any of us to express our disagreement. When we do, we can be seen as petty, wasting time and resources on insignificant issues, or trying the patience of those with whom we disagree.

Assuming our disagreements are serious enough to elicit a response, we must deal with them properly. That means going to the particular person with whom we disagree or expressing our disagreement with the proper authority figure. It means resisting every impulse to “try out” our arguments with others or to create a bloc of influence to lend credibility to our disagreements. Once expressed, our disagreement must rest in its own strength. If it’s rejected after various appeals, then we need to submit or leave in peace. The person who disagrees agreeably will have far more influence than the one who is a constant source of complaint. Our measured actions and demonstrated wisdom have a great opportunity to shape life around us—that is, when we disagree agreeably.

Eric Landry is executive editor of Modern Reformation.

Photo of Eric Landry
Eric Landry
Eric Landry is the chief content officer of Sola Media and former executive editor of Modern Reformation. He also serves as the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas.
Saturday, September 1st 2018

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology