Closed-mindedness. Is it a bad thing? Is it a good thing? As one t-shirt said, “If I kept an open mind, everything would fall out.” Joking aside, there are people who just seem to legitimately not want to even consider another person’s point of view. Maybe at a future time we’ll talk about how to deal with the claim of closed-minded being applied to you. There are some helpful ways to deal with.
Everyone has narrow views
Today I want to address how we should think about talking with people who seem very, very closed. The first thing I want to point out is that pretty much everyone is closed. Pretty much everyone has a narrow view. That’s the nature of truth. It is narrow. It is exclusive, and it does contradict other things. I think that should give us a little bit of patience with people.
By default, I don’t walk out of my house each day thinking, “Well I hope someone will convince me of something new today.” That doesn’t mean I’m closed to learning new things or closed to surveying evidence. I’m not, but it does mean that we all are pretty much comfortable where we are, and so is any person we’re going to talk to. From a spiritual perspective, certainly, people are not going to accept the truth of the Gospel without the work of the spirit.
Why are we tackling this question today? Over the last week I had 2 people each ask me, “What should I do with people who seem very closed-minded?” These people aren’t timid people. One’s in the military. Another is an outgoing individual, and they’re both wondering, “Is it even worth it? Could it be fruitful to talk with someone who just seems very closed to anything about Christianity.”
I gave this some thought, and here’s what I want to say. I think when we approach the issue this way, understandably, what often happens, is that we diminish our trust in the sovereignty of God. That sounds really spiritual and you might be thinking, “Why do you say that? Why do you think that?” Here’s the thing. We often think in terms of what we can do, right? If the floor needs to get cleaned in my house and I don’t clean it and I say, “I’m waiting on the sovereignty of God,” you’re going to laugh at me. If anything gets done in a physical sense, for the most part, it’s we that have to do it, but in a spiritual sense, and when we’re talking about spiritual matters, we’re not the only players in the game. As Greg Koukl has said in his book, “Tactics,” man is 100 percent responsible for his part, and God is also 100 percent responsible for his part, and we need to trust that when we are faithful with the opportunities we have, that God will be faithful to accomplish his purposes, which he always does.
More avenues of fruitfulness
There are actually several potential avenues of fruitfulness in this conversation in conversations with people who seem closed.
The first is in a real sense that most conversations occur around other people, so the person you’re talking with may very well come away not having their mind opened at all, not having even listened or countenanced anything you’ve said, but what about the people around you? There are 2 ways that you can affect them positively. One is obviously with the things you say. They’re listening to this conversation. They’re not in the conversation, so they’re not guarding turf. They’re not having to defend their point of view. They’re just able to sit back and listen to the exchange and hopefully you have a well-reasoned point of view that will be persuasive to this person who is perhaps more open than the direct person you’re talking with.
The second way you can hopefully have an influence on those observers to the conversation – Maybe it’s the break room, maybe it’s family dinner – is in your character and how you comport yourself. In these types of spiritual conversations it’s frequently true that people get tense. They get upset, and if you can conduct yourself with calmness – as 1 Peter says, “With gentleness and respect” – that will commend your message all the more. We can communicate and be effective in conversations with people we’re not even talking to. Isn’t that cool? That’s just a little way to think about talking with people who are seemingly closed-minded.
We need to realize that God will be working what we are doing in ways that we perhaps can’t even understand or even think about. The other way God might be doing that is in this person, who might seem like they’re guarding turf really well in this conversation, but you don’t know what they’re going to go home and think about that night. You don’t know how the Spirit’s going to work on their heart over the next week, month or year.
I have a friend who had an apologetics type conversation in high school and saw it come to fruition in part decades later. There are things people have said to me that have coalesced with other things, come together and over time, over years, and changed how I view an issue. It can be the same in your conversation, but you can’t see that when you’re sitting there, talking with a seemingly closed-minded individual. You just have to trust that when you’re faithful with your part, God will be faithful with his.
The other thing to point out here is without a trust in the sovereignty of God, every conversation is fruitless. Every conversation is not even worth having, because man apart from the spirit is spiritually dead. He has a heart of stone. We can’t make that come back to life. The dead can’t raise themselves. It is the sovereign God who raises the dead, and he has chosen to do that through what seems like foolishness to us, which is preaching, through the sharing of the Gospel, through the sharing of his truth.
We must trust in him in any conversation, that the only way anything is going to get accomplished at all is if God brings the dead to life, and we don’t have the obligation of having to share the truth to get it. We have the opportunity of being there, of being the chosen means God has ordained to accomplish his sovereign ends.
In these conversations you might have, realize that other people are listening. Realize that you could have an impact them, but also trust that God will accomplish what he wants and what he desires to happen through you when you are faithful with the opportunities he’s given you.
It’s kind of like if you want to plant the most trees and you’re walking down the street and you have unlimited seed, just start tossing it out. It might hit a driveway, it might hit a mailbox, but some will land in the grass, and some of the seed that landed on the mailbox might get picked up by a bird, and what seemed unfruitful might actually land in someone’s yard, and might sprout up and bear fruit. We just can’t know, but we must be faithful with the opportunities we’re given, when we’re given them and where we are.
First point, realize that everyone’s kind of narrow. Everyone’s kind of closed, including us. Apart from the spirit it’s going to stay that way, so we must trust in the sovereignty of God.
Don’t play hopscotch
The next point I want to give you is a very practical point. In these conversations, when you’re talking with someone who maybe is a little hostile, maybe is a little closed, there is this tendency to let the conversation hit a lot of different topics, so, literally in the course of a minute you might be talking about the age of the Earth, then the problem of evil, and then Noah and the flood, and then this evil that happened to them.
You’re not going to get anywhere with it. If you’re looking for a life story or maximum words in a minute maybe that’s the way to do it, but if you’re looking to actually discuss a topic and understand what that other person thinks, or have them have the hope of understanding what you think, you’ve got to keep it on topic.
One of the main ways these types of conversations come off the rails is that we don’t keep the conversation on a central point, so if the person asks you about, “Well how do you understand Genesis 1,” and you’re starting to explain and they say, “Yeah, well why is there so much evil in the world?” You could ask them, “Well, I’d like to, if it’s okay with you, give you a more complete answer, and then I’d like to hear what you think about it. Is that okay? Could we talk about this that way?”
It’s going to be hard for them to say no, and if they do say no, it becomes quite obvious that they’re not really interested in having a conversation.
That deals with the person who’s just kind of bouncing all around. There’s another type of person, and they’re called the steamroller, and they’re called that for a reason: because they’ll just run right over you. You can’t get an answer in edgewise. It’s one question after another. They don’t let you answer. They are certainly not interested, it seems, in what you have to say. In his book, “Tactics,” to quote Greg Koukl again, he proposes 3 ways to deal with this person.
The first is simply to stop him. When this person keeps running over you in conversation, do something similar to what I just said when we were addressing keeping the conversation on topic. Ask the person for permission to finish your answer. “I know you’ve got another question. I want to get to that too, but would it be okay with you if I answered this one right now? Would it be okay with you if I give a more complete answer? After that I would like to hear what you have to say about it. Would that be okay with you?” It’s going to be hard for them to say no, so there you go.
What if they start up again and they’re interrupting you again? The second step, after “stop him” is “shame him.” I don’t mean this in a very rude way, but, “Well wait a second, didn’t you say I could finish? I’m going to hold you to that.” Say it with a smile. We need to be kind and gentle and respectful in these conversations, but it’s also not too much to ask for that person to be respectful to us too. “If you’d like to talk about this type of thing,” you might say, “Well, please let me answer.”
That’s the second thing. What if he just continues? The third step, after “stop him,” “shame him,” is “leave him.” This is ultimately not a fruitful conversation. In fact, conversations that turn into fights or where both people get upset are failures (practically), even if it’s not your fault. We need to try and keep the conversation calm. We need to try and keep the conversation on topic, as much as it is up to us. Tactics can do that to a point, but some people are only interested in spouting off, and sadly a lot of times this happens in larger groups, so as I said, those can be an opportunity, but those can also be a liability.
Here’s the thing. If you refuse to engage in an argument that escalates, that also speaks well of your character. That’s a very simple way to commend what you have to say. It shows that you’re not willing to get into a fight to prove the truthfulness of your conviction, because one of your convictions is that we shouldn’t fight, that we should be respectful, that it’s not worth getting into an argument about those types of things.
Think on those things. Realize that, in summary, everyone’s going to be narrow. Everyone is going to be closed, including us, to a degree. We shouldn’t be closed-minded where we never listen to other evidence or never countenance what someone else has to say, but nonetheless truth is a narrow type of thing, and we need to have patience with people. The second point is to have faith, have trust, in the sovereignty of God, that we must be faithful with our opportunities, and we can’t understand, or even fathom, oftentimes, how God might be using what seems fruitless to us to be fruitful for his kingdom, because everyone is closed apart from his work anyways, and any conversation apart from the work of the spirit is ultimately going to be fruitless, so we must trust in God and his sovereignty.
The third point is a practical one. Keep the conversation on topic. Don’t let it hop around. You’re going to get more accomplished if you don’t hop around. The fourth point is how to deal with steamrollers. Stop them. Ask for permission to continue. “Is it okay with you?” The second point, shame him. “You said you would let me finish. I would like to. I’d like to have this conversation go well, and then I’d like to hear from you too, but can I finish my answer?” The last point is, “leave him.” It’s kind of a “casting pearls before swine” type of situation.
I hope all of this together has given you more confidence as you enter into conversations, as you think about maybe some people that are difficult to talk with. You’re able to get into those conversations or a little more equipped to deal with it, and you realize that hopefully you can give yourself permission to get out, if it’s not going well.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.