Well, it’s time to get back to my normal, left-brained, analytical self. It’s been interesting delving into the creative, artistic, musical side of life, but at last it’s time to talk logic and reasoning. (But not for too long). There won’t be any YouTube songs in this series.
Two years ago, one the first things I posted on this blog was a series by the same name. Of course, two years ago I had no readers. And so I’m going to recycle some of that material, adding some new stuff and re-editing some of the old stuff.
This will be a series of lessons on how to argue. Not “argue” in the sense of being angry or hateful, of course, but rather, “argue” in the sense of a mathematical proof or an attorney’s closing argument — “argue” in the sense of trying to persuade a fellow Christian of your doctrinal opinions.
We in the Churches of Christ have very nearly forgotten how to argue among ourselves as gentlemen and gentle-women. We are, after all, commanded to be gentle and not to quarrel —
(2 Tim. 2:24-25) And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth … .
And yet our internal disputes are often incredibly heated and even hateful. In fact, it’s not entirely unfair to say that our disputes are very often resentful. I’ve not seen very many kind articles. Indeed, we are typically quite unkind to each other.
Some defend their vitriol by pointing out how severely Jesus condemned the Pharisees and how harsh Paul was to those he opposed in Galatians. But we are not Paul, much less Jesus. We aren’t inspired. We don’t know the hearts of our opponents. And, in fact, as we aren’t inspired, we are all bad to make mistakes. Therefore, Paul quite plainly teaches us to disagree kindly and gently. I really see no choice in the matter.
Now, I struggle to be nice to people who just drive me nuts. I mean, I’ve been lied to, lied about, called names, and slandered — all because I have a different opinion of what the Bible says. It’s hard not to reply in kind, and I won’t pretend to have never messed up. But I am trying.
And being kind doesn’t mean not pointing out the flaws in your opponents arguments. That’s how you argue. But you can point out those flaws without being hateful or condescending (but it can really be hard).
Sometime we rationalize that the importance of the subject justifies our harshness. But we can hardly stand for the truth of Jesus while violating his plain commands. If the holy scriptures tell us to be kind and gentle with those we seek to persuade, well, that’s how it has to be. We don’t get to make up the rules.
Besides, Paul’s instructions are wise. Just look at the culture that comtemptuous speech has created among us! We can’t even get along with each other.
Even when we are arguing with the right attitude, we are sometimes guilty of mistakes in our logic that bring into doubt all we claim. We can’t persuade the world (or each other) of the truth of our claims through sloppy, lazy arguments, as though no one will notice. Nor can we rely on loose logic because of our correct conclusions. To effectively persuade and to be taken seriously in the community of thoughtful people, we have to discipline ourselves to reason carefully and truly, even when a looser, more casual approach to truth might be more persuasive to some.
This is because the truth is just too important to be treated otherwise. Our goal is not to win — and certainly not to win at any cost. Our goal is to be true to our calling as Christians. Our goal is to be righteous, holy, and Christlike — and this means that our “lips [may] speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10 KJV). Jesus often failed to persuade, and yet he never compromised the truth.
Worse yet, when we adopt faulty reasoning to prove a point, we open ourselves up to heresy down the road. Once a given argument is sold as being sound, then we have to accept the soundness of the argument when applied to other issues, and a flawed argument will inevitably lead to error at some point. Therefore, we have to carefully avoid the temptation to gain the cheap victory through flawed inference. The dangers of being wrong are far too great to speak otherwise.
If we tell our classes and congregations that such-and-such line of reasoning is true, it needs to be absolutely true — both the conclusion and the reasoning — because we are telling the people who rely on us that the conclusion and the reasoning are both true. The ends don’t justify the means; the conclusions don’t justify the reasoning.
In short, we all — progressive and conservative — need to do better. We need to give one another permission to call us to account when we fail to live by God’s standards.
(Col 4:6) Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
For our conversation to be “full of grace,” we must be generous to our opponent — giving him more than he deserves. For it to be “seasoned with salt,” it has to taste good. And it’s “salt” not “pepper.” We have to stop cheering on those who trade in invective and venom, calling them to account even though they just might turn their invective against us.