I received the following question:

I was reading through Mere Christianity the other day and in the preface C.S. Lewis strongly argued that Christians should not debate theological ideas in front of non-Christians or new Christians unless it is a major theological part that would exclude someone from salvation.  I believe he wrote this because he doesn’t want new Christians overwhelmed or confused at the beginning.  Do you agree with his statement?  I think that many people confuse new Christians and they get very discouraged and are not as motivated or excited about their faith.  Just curious on your view.

That is a very interesting question, and very different from the questions I usually receive. It is kind of more a philosophy question than anything.

I suppose it would depend for me on several things. First of all, what is meant by “debate.” Some believers do not have a very good attitude when it comes to those who disagree with them. As Otis Sellers once said, it seems that some view any wrong done to anyone who disagrees with them theologically as the highest form of good. This sort of person is not going to be very pleasant in a debate. To argue theology in that kind of manner before a non-believer or a new believer would not be remotely beneficial to that person.

On the other hand, a friendly debate over varying ideas with the goal of seeking the truth would, I think, if it was entered into with the right attitude and a sincere desire to get at the truth of Scripture, be very beneficial to any new believer to see. Watching more mature believers who seek after truth disagreeing but seeking to come to an understanding of their varying viewpoints could be nothing but beneficial to a new believer. I don’t know if it would be all that beneficial to an unbeliever, though. They need the gospel. Short of that, these other things do not really benefit them at all.

Ultimately, new believers need to learn what the issues are. They need to be exposed to different viewpoints, and they need to realize the need to study Scripture in order to find what It truly teaches. I do not think it benefits new believers to be led to believe that Christians have all the answers, and that they can just listen to the older, more experienced believers. We all need to come to the place where we realize that men don’t have all the answers, and the one place we all need to look for truth is the Word of God.

Without reading Mr. Lewis’ comments myself, I don’t know that I can say much more. Ultimately, the kind of hateful, bitter debate that some indulge in benefits no one. A lively, but friendly, debate based on both parties seeking the truth could benefit the new believer, and is maybe even an important thing for a new believer to see, but probably is not all that beneficial for the unbeliever. If it did the unbeliever any good, it would just be seeing the attitude that two believers who disagree can have when they disagree in love.

You mentioned your own thoughts then, that many confuse or overwhelm new believers. What new believers need, more than anything, is good, healthy food. That is, they need to start to feed on the Word of God. A new believer who hears nothing of the Word but what is preached in a sermon on Sunday morning is severely malnourished. They are trying to learn what it means to be a believer from men, rather than learning it from the source of belief, the Word of God. As such, they will be weak and sickly children, and will be easily confused or overwhelmed when they come in contact with those who have fed on the Word of God, and are discussing the deep things of it.

On the other hand, even one who is feeding on the Word can start to get overwhelmed or feel confused. I remember my first time reading through the Bible was pretty easy, because it was all new, and thus was exciting to read. The second time through, though, I had already read everything, and now I was just realizing how much of it I didn’t understand. The sheer number of issues to deal with, and the difficulties associated with discovering the truth, can seem overwhelming. But one who is a healthy young believer, that is, who is feeding well on the Word, will start to grow into these difficulties, and they can be a motivation to search the Scriptures to seek the answers to the difficult questions. Those who do this may not find these answers right away, but they are at least going to be much more stable, since their feet are on the firm foundation.

The bottom line is that one who is a new believer and is trying to discover what a Christian is, what to do, and what to believe, simply from observing the believers around him, will be confused and upset by disagreements among believers. A more healthy new believer, though, who is impressed with the need to feed on the Word and has started to do so, will not necessarily like to see disagreement, but will be much more able to handle it. Lack of healthy nutrition is what causes so many believers to become stunted, immature adult believers in the long run, and it has a bad effect on new believers as well. What new believers need, what old believers need, what we all need is the Word of God.

Thanks for your question. I hope my comments help you think about it.