Make the Argument

Last weekend I spent a day as a selection judge for a public affairs fellowship program and met a lot of bright young people who want to find careers in law, politics and international relations. In the afternoon, each applicant had two interviews with panels of judges. The judges had a list of questions the program suggested asking, and when we couldn't think of original ones, we'd turn to the list.

One of the questions we asked most often was "Please make the opposite argument to the one you just shared with us." Candidates would look at us blankly for a moment and then try to convince us of the thing they had just spoken against. It was a really interesting exercise; all of the candidates came in passionate about some issue that we knew about from their resumes, and would wow us with their experience and emotion about that issue. When we asked them to make the opposite argument, most of them fell flat.

The value of being able to make the argument both for and against an issue is that you can learn to spot the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. When you practice this regularly, your speaking becomes more flexible and you are better able to anticipate questions the audience might ask.

I think this would be a truly valuable skill for Christians to have. So many of the Christian speakers I hear are completely convinced their beliefs are right, and that's good-- I like to hear conviction because that helps to convince me too. On the other hand, in discussion, I've also heard a lot of weak replies to good questions.

I've seen this skill most clearly in a group of 12- and 13-year olds one summer when Karl and I led a debate session in the afternoon. For each question we picked, one bench of campers took a positive approach, whatever their personal opinions, and the other bench took the negative. Then they switched. We were impressed because they were able to see both sides of the issues and pick up on things that helped their own beliefs to be clearer afterward. Beyond accepting the faith like little children, there's also a lot to be said for discussing it like them too.

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