Let's say you're leading a new group. You're just a couple months in and still getting to know your group members. During a group discussion about faith, one of them opens up: "For me, faith is about following what you believe. I don't think it really matters whether or not you have faith in God, Buddha, or Muhammad. I mean, I've met some really sincere people, some really good people, who were of the Bahá'í faith, and it worked for them. They were great people."
All eyes are on you. On the one hand, you don't want to leave error unaddressed. On the other hand, you don't want to shut down conversation. More important, you don't want to shut down relationships. So, what do you do?
Deciding how to respond in a situation like that is more art than science. A lot depends on the nature of the discussion and the relationships among the people in the group. But here are four things to consider when dealing with bad theology:
- You don't have to close the deal. People don't drop worldviews they've accumulated over the course of a lifetime as a result of a single discussion in group. Don't feel like you have to move them from a -5 to a +10 on the faith continuum in one eloquent and polished answer. That's not even your job. Only the Holy Spirit can change people's lives. You're there to partner with the Spirit, but life change is his responsibility . . . and he seems content to refine each of us over time, not all at once. The beauty of God's grace and our salvation through Jesus is that they give us some room to be wrong about a lot things as we grow in our relationship with God.
- Validate the person. Let the person know that you appreciate his or her point of view. Say something like, "I can see where you're coming from on that." This doesn't mean you're validating his or her statement. But by communicating understanding, you minimize the defensiveness that flows from having beliefs challenged.
- Ask clarifying questions.
Don't be quick to offer answers or rebuttals. Instead, ask clarifying questions. It demonstrates an interest in what is important to the person, reveals more about where he or she stands, and leads him or her to self-discovery. Here are some examples of good clarifying questions:
- "Of the faiths that you know about, which one appeals to you the most, and why?"
- "From what you know about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, do your think those belief systems view themselves as all the same? Why do you think they see themselves so differently?"
- "What have you experienced that led you to view all religions as being basically the same?"
- Draw the group back to Scripture. Pointing the discussion to Scripture re-orients the conversation away from a "what I believe" versus "what you believe" argument. It reinforces the idea that the Bible (not you) is the authority for matters of faith. It encourages group members to make mental connections between biblical truth and what they believe.
How have you navigated error in group discussion? How have you done it well and how have you done it not-so-well?