Must We Choose between Winning the Argument and Winning the Person?

by Keith Plummer

Some people are uncomfortable with the third use of the Columbo Tactic (using questions to help people see flaws and inconsistencies in their thinking). They might see it as being necessarily contentious, aggressive, and driven by a prideful desire to best the person with whom they’re talking.

Once, after I had finished teaching on the subject, someone who I could tell was wary of the tactic came up to me and said, “I don’t really agree with this approach; I’d rather win the person than the argument.” As we talked, it became clear that according to her, we either aim to lovingly win a person to Christ, which means avoiding confronting (no matter how gently) their faulty thinking, or we inquire about apparent incoherence and lack of correspondence to life, in which case we’re not genuinely concerned about the person but only about creating a “Gotcha!” moment to make ourselves feel superior and our conversation partner feel bad. This way of thinking assumes we must either love the person or challenge their outlook on life, but we can’t do both because they’re mutually exclusive.

I understand what’s behind such a stance. The word “win” together with the word “argument” evokes, in the minds of many, images of an adversarial, hostile, and competitive encounter, a fight to the finish with a victor and a vanquished, a belittling gloater and one shamefully gloated over. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we…

Must We Choose between Winning the Argument and Winning the Person?