How to engage in debate and controversy

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3: 15-17 (ESV)

Sometimes it’s hard to bite one’s lip in academic discussion. With entrenched and often deeply divisive positions pitted on either side, it is easy for Christians to get caught up in the proverbial mudslinging that all too often we see meted out by our colleagues and fellow students. In Peter’s letter to persecuted churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, however, he calls us to make our defence with gentleness and respect. How do we do this as Christians in an academic context?

One useful approach is put forward by Professor of Human Factors and Philosophy in Information Systems at Salford University, Dr Andrew Basden. It's called the LACE approach. This dead-easy-to-understand acronym involves four imperatives to help Christians to engage in literary and academic debates that can allow us to have the ‘good conscience’ that Peter talks about.

The first letter of the acronym elicits the most important imperative: listen. We must be attentive to what others around us have to say about a particular scientific, economic, social or political problem and be prepared to understand the case that they are making. This involves understanding the ground-motives, assumptions and worldview that form it so that we arrive at a full appreciation of their position.

The next action is to affirm what is good and crucial about what they are saying. We must be prepared to seek out the positive aspects of someone's theory, study or piece of research such that we feel sympathy and empathy for their position. This involves focusing on things like originality, significance and rigour. How can we encourage our colleagues and thus inspire them on to Christ-worthy good works?

The third imperative in the LACE approach is critique. In my experience, this comes all too easily in academic discussion. Indeed, we are trained in critical thinking from the time we start at university right to the end of our careers. But 'critique' here does not mean criticism for criticism’s sake but to point out any deficiencies in an approach that might be holding it back from making a great (or better) paper, presentation or argument. Is there something they’ve missed or were not aware of, or an impediment that might need addressing?

The final letter of the LACE approach calls us to enrich. This involves suggesting how you yourself or they can improve on the work such that it is of greater standing and potential. As with Peter’s injunction in verse 3 above, we should not do this from a haughty position but with gentleness and respect. We should put in the time and hard work to help a fellow human being. Creative thinking may be required!

In sum, then, Peter’s letter is quite prophetic for Christians in the secular university of today. And by using the LACE approach, we can hope to emulate the gentleness and respect that he was calling the persecuted church at that time to exercise. I heartily advise anyone reading this post to try Professor Basden’s approach out.  You never know: it might even get you your next co-authored paper!

Will Allchorn leads the Leeds Postgraduate Christian Fellowship and recently completed his PhD in political science at the University of Leeds, where he now has teaching responsibilities. You can read his previous post here.

Tags: 

Add new comment