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How to Have Tough Conversations about Beliefs: Sean McDowell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
May 4, 2023 5:15 am

How to Have Tough Conversations about Beliefs: Sean McDowell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 4, 2023 5:15 am

What's it look like to have effective, tough conversations about beliefs? Author and professor Sean McDowell equips you for hard conversations that matter about faith.

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Purchase Sean's book A Rebel's Manifesto: Choosing Truth, Real Justice, and Love Amid the Noise of Today's World

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So, before we get started today, we have a pretty exciting campaign starting this week. It's the May Match Campaign with Family Life, where if people give a financial gift this month, and really through the whole year, it will be doubled. And we're really looking for you to become our partners. And what we mean by that is a monthly partner that you're giving monthly, and we want you to join our family, basically. Yeah, you will be joining our family, because we have a team of people that say, I believe in this ministry so much every month it's coming out of my checking account, just like my mortgage. I mean, that's big time. And I mean, there's a couple of incentives to do it. You get a free Weekend Remember gift card that you could go to the Weekend Remember, or give away to somebody else. You get insider emails of stuff nobody else knows about. You get a devotional from The Art of Marriage.

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Go to, read the information there, and then jump in and become a partner with us. Join us. Question for you. The number one thing you think non-believing, non-church people think about Christ-following people? What's the first thing that they would say, this is what I think? Judgmental. No, you're not supposed to get it right, right away. That's what you thought? How do you know that's right? Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking. That's just because you think it?

No, I mean, yeah, if I think it, it is right. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. No, I mean, the number of people I talk to, that is at least top three. Oh, totally. If it's not number one, they see the church, they see Christ-followers as very judgmental people.

And then the second one could be hypocritical. Yeah. Yeah.

I just know when I go on Twitter, that's what I see. Attacks by Christ-followers against other Christ-followers as well as anybody has a different opinion. I think it's pervasive. Are you judging them? Yeah, I'm judging them right now.

That's what I'm doing. And I think we should talk about that a little bit. We got Sean McDowell back in the studio. Sean, welcome back. Thanks for having me. And you've written so many things, 15 books, Professor at Biola, in really apologetics, which some people may not even understand what that means. What's that mean?

What do you do every day? So, 1 Peter 3.15 says, Sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart. Always be ready with an answer for the hope within.

Give it with gentleness and with respect. In the Greek, when it says give an answer or defense is apologia. So, we are, as Christians, called not just pastors, not just Bible teachers, not just radio show hosts.

We're all called to be ready with a reason. We think Jesus is God, heaven is real, God is a designer, why God allows evil, etc. So, apologetics is just simply offering answers for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I write, I speak, I teach, I'm a communicator of apologetics. I'm just going to say this.

Practically speaking, every parent listening should buy this book, because you can have these conversations with your kids that will be really helpful. Yeah, and the book, I love the title, A Rebel's Manifesto. So, we're sitting with a rebel today, is that what you are? But, I mean, yesterday you described a rebel as someone, say it again, so our audience, I mean, it's a beautiful understanding of what a rebel is in your mind. Yeah, so when a lot of people see the cover of this book, they think, wait a minute, Sean, you don't strike me as the rebel kind. And that's because we have a certain image of a rebel. Somebody who's just a contrarian and fighting against the system and loud, etc. Well, that's kind of a rebel from an era before social media.

Now that everybody has a microphone, everybody's trying to be louder, everybody's trying to shock. I actually think it's a little bit rebellious to just say, you know what, I'm going to care more about you, I'm going to reach across the political aisle, the religious aisle, the racial aisle, whatever differences are there, and try to hear somebody out and have a genuine spiritual conversation with them. So, in other words, forgive and show grace rather than cancel is actually a rebellious way to be today. Yeah, which is, I didn't even catch that in the title until I heard you talk about it and I started reading the book. And by the way, parents, you need to get this book, not just for yourself, for your kids, because it'll walk you through how to have conversations with your neighbors, as well as your boys and girls and older sons and daughters in your home.

It is a piece of wisdom. And we talked about it yesterday, how to have conversations with your children about these things, because the world is talking about these issues, gender, sexuality, racism, entertainment, mental health, you name it. We live in a world, like you said, everybody's got a microphone and they're talking about it. But when the Christian church often talks about it, we scream pretty loud and we are heard very judgmental.

You have a chapter on judging. Talk about this. How can we do better? Well, I would say, yes, the world is talking about this, but the world is actually discipling our kids. And I use that word intentionally, whether it's the educational system, whether it's Netflix, whether it's Disney Plus, whether it's TikTok, Twitter, you name it, through the medium and through the message, it is discipling our kids. So, that's what we have to first realize.

Second, how do we counter this? Well, all the research I've seen, going back to the 1970s, says that the number one influence in the life of a young person is the parents. So, if the parents, number one, we have to model a life that our kids want to emulate. Number two, build relationships with our kids.

And then number three, just have meaningful conversations with our kids about the issues that matter. That's what the book is meant to do. Now, the moment you start to have these kinds of conversations, you're going to hear people say, well, that's judgmental. You shouldn't judge. Now, with Christian kids, I want to take them to the scripture and say, what does this mean when Jesus says, do not judge lest you be judged in Matthew chapter 7?

Well, Jesus also gives another analogy where He says, take the plank out of your own eye before you find the speck in another. In other words, Jesus is not saying not to judge. He's saying don't judge hypocritically. And the standard by which you judge others will be used against you. Now, what I can't judge is somebody's heart. Only God knows somebody's heart. But in Matthew chapter 7, same passage, Jesus talks about recognizing false prophets. Well, you can only recognize a false prophet if you make a kind of judgment on right belief and wrong belief.

Real repentance, false repentance. So, we are to judge ideas. In one sense, we can judge certain actions, because the Bible says they will know us by our love, but we can't judge somebody's heart. So, I found when we engage people with that kind of spirit, they're often willing to engage and have a conversation. Not always, but often willing if we just have a humility about us, a willingness to listen to others, not being quick to judge because you're right, that's the perception so many people have about Christians, and we've earned that perception.

There's a lot of truth in it. I think if we take a step back, listen, find common ground, keep it on issues not attacking people, you can have a lot of meaningful conversations. Which we do, which we can do as a family, even sitting around the dinner table where somebody can have an idea about something, let's even say sexuality, it could be race, whatever it could be, but you can, as a parent, you could say, that person's an idiot, you know, that kind of thing instead of saying, oh, let's just talk about that issue. You know, you're taking it off of the person and saying, let's talk about the issue. That could be an easy way to have the discussion without judging the person's heart.

I think that's a great way to start, and I try to do that. The difficult part is, on so many issues today, people don't separate their beliefs from who they are, especially on issues of sexuality. So if you say to a young person today, not every young person, but many, that you think marriage is one man and one woman for life, that is making a statement about the kids they know and their parents who are in gay relationships.

I see. So I think you're right, that's what we aim to do, but we've got to realize in this generation, they're oftentimes combined together. And so lead with charity, lead with understanding, but realize at some point you're going to come up against a different worldview and have to navigate that.

Yeah, when you get to that truth part, and I agree, lead with grace, lead with love, then you get to a truth part. And maybe you don't, but at some point, I experience this often as a pastor, if you have different beliefs, if you're living a different lifestyle, you're welcome here. We love you.

We love you. Don't feel judgment. Come to our church. And then at some point, if that couple, let's say it's a married gay couple, wants to serve in our church, we're going to say, we don't let you do that, here's why. We believe marriage is this. And then the response from them would be, you don't love me, you bait and switched me. You said you love me, but now I want to really get involved with you in this community because I love this community.

I feel loved here, but now, so the truth part comes in, again, I'm just giving one example, and maybe it doesn't happen that way everywhere, but I've seen that and I felt like, oh my goodness, once the truth hit, it didn't feel loving. I think that's right. And especially with young people today, what they're told is if you don't use somebody's preferred pronoun, you don't recognize that person exists.

Right. Now, just put ourselves in the shoes of these kids who are just trying to navigate, do I get to class on time? Do I go to prom? Who am I?

Am I playing a sport? I get a good enough grade. And they're told, guy at home, my Christian faith says, your biological sex is a part of who you are.

That's the Genesis account. But I go to school and I go online. I'm told the opposite. These are the waters our kids are having to navigate. It's personal for them. And it's almost impossible to just kind of stand on the sidelines. So that's why we've got to start these conversations early, bring them back to the scripture, within relationship, rather than wait and tell. In some cases, it's almost too late. So early meaning from the time you can start having those discussions about any topic? As early as you can. And kids show interest in an age-appropriate way. So my son, he's 10 now. When he was eight, we're driving home from school. And when you're the youngest, you just hear stuff sooner than everybody, you know, your older siblings. And my daughter was saying something when she was 13 at the time about abortion in class. My eight-year-old goes, dad, what's abortion? And partly, you know, part of me wants to change the subject. But I thought, here's an opportunity. So as best I can remember, I said, hey, tell me why you ask.

Where did you hear that? He goes, oh, at school or something like that. And I said, well, buddy, sometimes a woman will get pregnant and choose that she doesn't want to keep the baby. Eight years old, he goes, why would she do that, dad? And in my mind, I'm just thinking, OK, what does he need to know at eight?

What's an appropriate way to explain it? I'm not going to freak out. Just have a conversation with him. And we had a great conversation.

I think within about two and a half minutes, at most, he's like, on to the next thing. But that's how I try to do it, as young as kids are. Because again, our culture is discipling them.

And it's coming young and it's coming early. When you said that earlier, I thought, as parents, that can tend to freak us out. And our automatic, my automatic feeling is, then we need to protect them. You know, a lot of parents will think, I need to homeschool them.

I need to keep them away from everything. I'm going to get rid of my TV. I'm going to get rid of all social media. No apps. Yeah, no, nothing.

What do you think? And what have you done with your kids? First off, I think homeschooling can be a wonderful option for a lot of families. But I don't know that it's a solution for every family.

Financially or practically, or wisdom-oriented. I don't care if you homeschool your kids, nonetheless. You cannot keep your kids from the things in the world. It's not going to happen. They're going to have friends. They're going to have babysitters.

They're going to have teammates. It's simply impossible. You can't do it. That didn't even really work in the 80s or 90s anyways.

It's certainly not going to work today with the technology that we have. So we've got to be proactive and equip our kids when they find themselves in that circumstance. I think Daniel in Daniel 180, it says Daniel determined not to defy himself.

That's past tense. Before that temptation came, he had built a certain kind of character. The question is, are we preparing our kids before they find themselves in that circumstance?

I think that's the biblical goal and model. Well, you cover a lot of topics in the Rebels Manifesto. One of them, we already mentioned a little bit, racism. I don't know if you want to go there, but let's talk about that issue. I was with a friend last week. He was talking about speaking at a conference and a guy he ran into in the hallway was an Asian descent. And this speaker, my buddy, had been to Japan. And so he thought, there's a connection here. And he said to this young man, he said, and again, they don't know each other, just he's the speaker.

So that's the only way this guy knew him. He said, hey, where are you from? And the guy said, I'm from here. Where are your parents from?

They're from here. And then he goes, that's very offensive. And my buddy said, I shouldn't ask that. He goes, no, you should ask, what's your ethnicity, not where are you from? And he was like, coach me on that. I did not understand it because he had been to Japan. He actually spoke Japanese back to him. And the guy was like, wow.

And they had a bond right away. But he did not understand that that was offensive to him and had to navigate what that looks like. So I think there's a lot of misunderstanding that we all have in different ways. Where do we start with this topic? That's a great question.

I think what makes this difficult is I wasn't there in this kind of scenario. You know, I think of my dad, he asked everybody, where are you from? Doesn't matter what your race is. Doesn't matter where you're from.

What do you do? And so there's a sense where both sides need to try to have some grace and understanding back and forth. But certainly you're right. This fellow's willingness to humble himself and say, coach me and help me do better is such a wonderful posture to take on this issue. You know, there's 25 issues in this book. I got the top 25 thorny issues I could come up with. This was one of the hardest chapters to write. Partly when I wrote the first book that this is an update from, I had 10 chapters. And that's only because books have 10 chapters. I had no deeper thoughts than that.

Now as a parent, I'm like, oh, what tool would actually help me? Shorter chapters, you know, et cetera. But I just wasn't a parent. And I didn't include a chapter on race. 2005?

So it came out 06, so wrote it in 05. It just didn't cross my mind. When I went to update this, a lot had changed culturally. But I remember pausing and thinking, oh my goodness, I didn't even talk about race. I talked about war. I talked about sexuality, other topics. And I thought, why not? Well, number one, the cultural conversation has shifted a little bit.

But second, I think honestly, it's not on my radar. If you are in the majority race in any country, you're probably not going to have to think about navigating your life in the same way if you are a minority. And it hit me. I thought, wow, I wonder what other blind spots I have from anything, not just my race from other issues. So I thought if I'm going to write on this, and I'm a middle-aged white guy, I'm going to just need to read a lot, have a lot of conversations, and get some wisdom and feedback from people on the content and on the tone.

So it was one of the hardest chapters to write. But as I've talked to a lot of my minority friends, I'll say, hey, what's one thing I can do? What I hear pretty much every time is just listen, just understand, just hear me out, don't get defensive. That's something all of us can do.

It's not that hard if we're willing to do so. One of the things I've appreciated about your book, too, is you have scripture under every single topic. And even with this one, you have James 1.19, which says, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I mean, I think that would be true of any topic we have, but I love that you have scripture in every single chapter about that topic. And by the way, I don't come up with a position and then throw scripture on top of it.

Good point. I start with asking the question, what does scripture say, if anything, on this issue? So, issues like race and diversity. I mean, there's diversity in the past. God creates man and woman, all the nations. There's diversity in the present, in the church, and there's diversity in the future, in heaven. So, it's built into the fabric of God's good creation. Now, the chapter on gun control, the Bible's not going to talk about gun control. You can't slap a verse on it, but it talks about human value.

It talks about when is it okay and not okay to take a human life and protecting. So, the Bible applies to all these issues. Some are just more direct than others. And in this case, I think that applies directly to conversations on race and beyond.

For sure. I mean, so much of what you've said yesterday and today is listen. Give grace and really listen to another person or another idea. Why are we so bad at this? Because when I hear that, I'm like, man, we meaning Christ followers. And I know non-Christ followers are bad at it as well.

But in terms of being known as really leaning in to hear another differing, opposing viewpoint, I don't think we in the church are known to be good listeners. Why? Dave, I love this question. And I'll tell you a few reasons that I've thought about this. Number one, it takes work and it takes effort to actually listen to somebody. But also, if you listen, you begin to realize you might be wrong. And it's painful to admit.

On big and small, wow, I got that issue wrong. Wow, I need to change my perspective. So, it takes time. It takes effort. I think it's in our quick culture. You know, I was just talking with students about this yesterday. If you look at most social media posts, people are thinking about communicating in a way that makes them feel better, not thinking about how is this actually going to be received? Is this going to be effective?

How is this going to be heard? In other words, we're thinking about ourselves rather than somebody else and how our words are going to land. Listening requires that, doesn't it? It requires being other focused rather than self-focused. So, I guess the third reason would be is that doesn't come natural to us, do we? We naturally love ourselves. We think about ourselves. Listening involves saying, you know what, I'm going to care about you and what's important to you first. Put myself second.

There's probably other reasons why, but those are a few to jump to. Yeah, I was on a Zoom. I got invited a couple months ago to a Zoom men's Bible study. Some guys in the Detroit area that I knew a couple of them, but didn't know most of the guys, and it was sort of a dialogue. And again, I'm sitting in my home looking at a camera and the question came up, like, how do you convince somebody that doesn't believe in Jesus to believe in Jesus? And I got to tell you, Sean, as I listened, most of the guys said, basically, you speak the truth in love.

You open the Word of God and you show them what's true, blah, blah, blah. And I just sat there. And finally, one of the guys that knew me well said, hey, Dave, you haven't said anything. You've been in ministry 40 plus years. Do you agree?

Would you say that's the way to go? And I said, here's what I think. Let them talk.

Everyone got just real quiet. They're like, what? I go, there's probably a reason they don't believe. And I might be intellectual, might be they don't believe the Bible. There might be something else, but how do you know if you don't just ask them some questions? So I said, I think I've learned to ask questions and really listen and hear what they think.

And I think they'll feel loved that you asked them and that will draw them closer to anything else you say. And all the guys just looked at me like, yeah, that's really good. And I'm like, if I've learned anything in 40 years, I have not done that well.

And maybe that's why I've learned it. Cause I was the guy saying, I have the truth here and here it is. I'd have my Bible and I'm going to convince you that it's true rather than, I think we do live in a culture that says, nobody's listening to me. Nobody sees me.

Nobody hears me. And one of the things I love about what you do, and even when I go to your YouTube channel, you're one of the best listeners I've seen in the Christian community to validate other people's image of God in them by listening well. And at the same time, speaking truth. But I mean, what you said is so, and if we, as parents did that in our homes, it changed everything. I love your response, by the way. I was sitting there thinking, what would I say in that situation?

And I think I would have said the same thing. I'd simply ask people, who do you think Jesus is? But if I'm going to try to make a case for who Jesus is, don't I want to understand if they're not a Jesus follower, what their faulty ideas are? I mean, do they think he's just a good moral teacher? Do you think he didn't exist? Do they think he's a social justice warrior?

I mean, who do they think Jesus is? So asking questions, the right questions, and just listening. And I'm an apologist, so I can listen in a way, if I'm not careful, where I'm listening to arguments, formulating responses as I go. But I try to, just in the back of my mind, think, am I really understanding, number one, and am I being charitable to what this person believes, number two? So on my YouTube channel, I say clarity and charity.

Those are the two values, I think, of a good listener. And then notice, 1 Peter 3.15 says, be ready with an answer when somebody asks, right? Jesus didn't force people to listen who didn't want to hear.

He let the rich, young ruler walk away. So we got to be ready with an answer. But I kind of want to know first, do you really want to know who Jesus is? I mean, why did Jesus teach in parables sometimes?

Partly, he was weeding out people who were just there for the show, there for the food, and then people who wanted to know came to him. So that's what asking questions do. Do you really want to know? Do you care who I think Jesus is? Do you care what the scriptures say? Let's figure out some of that before we launch in and start giving somebody a mini-sermon who might not want to hear it at that point anyways. Yeah, and even as you were saying that just a minute ago, when I think of 1 Peter 3.15, he didn't say you're answering a question. You're answering a person with a question. And I think that's really important because I think sometimes we think, oh, I got the answer to that question. Here's the three reasons that that's a false belief.

I'm going to nail every one of them. It's like, no, no, there's a person asking. It isn't just this question.

It's somebody made in the image of God is asking you a question, respond the way Jesus would. And I think as I say that, I'm thinking, man, do our kids feel that from us as parents? Do they feel like we are answering them rather than a belief that we don't want them to have because they grew up in our home?

And by the way, can I really jump in? What you said, do our kids feel that? You didn't say do our kids think that. You said do our kids feel that. My dad would often make a distinction between saying, son, what do you think?

And son, how does that make you feel? Very different questions. What are the kind of questions we should ask our kids? Let's say you guys, you have three kids, all different ages. What are the things that you're talking about at the dinner table that could get to their heart?

I want to ask my kids a couple questions. One is just stuff going on in the world and what they think about it, external. And then stuff going on in their world and what they think and they feel about it. I try to do both. So if something happens, maybe politically, maybe something happens culturally, I'll just throw it out there to my kids. Like, hey, this happened.

What do you guys think about it? I'm really curious and we'll just listen and we'll talk and we'll chat about it. The other thing is I'm just asking my kids, you know, the standard questions about, you know, how is school going and how's your friend going?

But I'm listening really carefully if there's something they say that gives me a hint at what's going on in their heart. Guy, this class should drive me nuts. Well, do you mind telling your dad about that? What's driving you nuts about it? And that might be an opportunity.

It might not be. A friend of mine, Kara Powell, she says questions she asks her kids, which is interesting as they get older, is what do you believe that your mom and dad don't believe? Great question.

And what do you not believe that we do? Isn't that an interesting question to ask? Yeah.

That's going to unlock... Now, you got to prepare yourself to not get defensive, angry, and just model listening and make sure they feel a certain way. So those are practical ones. But honestly, Jesus asked over 330 questions. At least we have recorded. Paul asked 263. Asking questions is an art and a science. That's one of the most important skills for parents to develop. I think that's my takeaway. What do you think about this topic or this issue?

What do you feel about this? That's a great takeaway for families. Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Sean McDowell on Family Life Today. You know, why don't we model honesty and listening with our children? Asking good questions will help bond you with your kids and get to the heart of what's truly going on with them and with us. And that's really where God can do some serious work to change us and unite us as families.

Sean McDowell has written a book called A Rebel's Manifesto, choosing truth, real justice, and love amid the noise of today's world. You can pick up a copy at, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You know, as a donor-supported ministry, we depend on generous supporters just like you. So would your home be able to give hope to help someone who feels hopeless today? This month, we're looking for 350 new partners to join Family Life as donors.

Would you be one of those partners? With your support during our matching campaign this month, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar. So that means if you make a $25 donation each month, it becomes a $50 donation to Family Life. And when you give $100, it becomes $200.

You get the math, right? Well, with Family Life Today, our radio and digital outreaches are expanding into new regions and audiences with our podcasts and increased streaming. Our podcasts are now being downloaded almost half a million times worldwide each month. So your gift will help reach new homes and new hearts to extend the gospel into new corners of the world. So you can go online to, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word Today. Coming up tomorrow, Sean McDowell is going to be in the studio again with David Ann Wilson to talk about loneliness, hurt, brokenness in the homes and families, and recognizing issues as a parent to help us build relationships with the heart of our kids. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-04 06:35:46 / 2023-05-04 06:49:26 / 14

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