How to Argue Like a Christian: Unsupported Accusations

Many of our authors make startling accusations against their opponents without giving any basis for the charge — and certainly nothing that allows their facts to be checked. Sometimes the charges are true. Sometimes they are not. But you just can’t tell from what’s been written.

In the February 2009 issue of the Gospel Advocate, Neil Anderson, the editor, states,

Frequently I hear of foreign fields where mission creep is blending the church into the local society or culture. Blending church and culture goes too far when it compromises the mission of the church. Missionaries who teach a gospel of “Jesus only” without regard to the apostles’ doctrine do not fulfill the Great Commission.

Now, there are just not enough facts there to tell whether you should agree with Anderson’s charge. Does he know something wicked about the missionaries my church supports? Should I suspect all missionaries? Is he even acting on firsthand information, or is he passing along rumor? Surely as venerable an institution as the Gospel Advocate would not stoop to rumor mongering. I can’t even tell for sure what error he’s accusing the missionaries of committing.

There are, of course, several serious problems with such accusations.

First, they may be true. But if they’re true, we don’t know what missionaries or mission fields have this problem. The information is, therefore, at best useless. And even if I suspect the information is true, I can’t act on it because I have no evidence — just a vague accusation manifestly based on second-hand information.

Second, they may be false. He may have been given bad information by a source he considers trustworthy. How do we rectify the injustice?

Third, they may be false but true in his mind. If he shared with us the details of the alleged sin, we could judge for ourselves whether we agree. We might be able to correct him. As it is, we’re left being suspicious of missionaries in general, and he’s given comfort to those who oppose foreign missions for selfish reasons.

A similar approach to Christian discourse is found in Bert Thompson’s Theistic Evolution (Lambert Book House 1977). The book is heavily footnoted and relies on numerous sources to challenge the view that evolution occurred but was guided by God. However, not a single quotation or footnote refers to a writing by a theistic evolutionist. It’s quite impossible to learn what theistic evolutionists claim from the lips of an actual theistic evolutionist. As we lawyers say, it’s all hearsay.

The problem, of course, is not the rules of evidence. It’s the fact that the readers are not allowed to determine the facts for themselves. They never hear from the other side nor even learn who the other side is. It’s all too easy for Thompson to win a debate to which the other side isn’t even invited.

It’s quite beside the point whether Thompson is right. If we only bother to check our facts and cite the works of our opponents when we’re wrong, well, we’ll never do it. Rather, we must discipline ourselves to cite to our opponents’ work especially when we are certain.

If we’re right, we have nothing to lose by letting our readers hear the other side. And if we’re wrong, perhaps someone will be kind enough to correct us. And I’d far rather suffer the embarassment of being corrected than teach error.

Christians should hold themselves to the same standards as scholars everywhere — support your accusation with verifiable facts. Cite the source. If possible, in an internet article, link to the source. Submit your facts and reasoning to the readers’ judgment. Don’t ask them to take your word for it.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Unsupported Accusations

  1. Robert Baty says:

    Wouldn't you know it!

    It was Bert Thompson, Ph.D. who came to my local church about 1992 with his seminar and "favorite story" about how Maury heard Psalm 8:8 on his sick-bed one day and up and decided to go out and discover that the oceans had currents. Then they built this wonderful statue of Maury, Bert said, at the Naval Academy, depicting Maury with a bible in "one outstretched hand".

    Where did he get that?

    Well, as I recall, the best he came up with was that he had "unquestionable sources" and he worked so very hard to salvage Maury for his cause.

    And so, as I previously mentioned, the myths continue to this day!

    "Take my word for it"!

    Robert Baty

  2. Alan says:

    The statue is actually in Richmond, VA. on Monument Ave. I have seen it. Whether the image in the statue is holding a Bible in the statue is debatable. It is a book, but too hard to determine what kind from the statue.

  3. Robert Baty says:


    You again help make my point!

    Different folks claim the bible-in-hand statue is here, or there, or somewhere else.

    The statue in Richmond does NOT depict Maury with a bible in one hand; despite the many reports to the contrary. In that Richmond depiction, the bible is on the floor.

    Thanks again, Alan!

    Robert Baty

  4. Robert Baty says:

    It might be noted here, by Jay, why it is that even eyewitnesses like Alan are, at times, not the best witnesses. When this issue came up on the Marslist a number of years ago, it was claimed there that someone had contacted a Richmond librarian who had seen the bible-in-hand statue on monument row!

    The Marslist folks really took it hard when one of their icons, the Maury myth and bogus statue claim, was impeached.

    And they took hard after me for being the one to impeach it.

    And so is it any wonder that on the more difficult matters "we" have trouble resolving things.

    Robert Baty

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is the thing. I continue to lose respect for our so called brotherhood leaders. Neil Anderson says that missionaries are now teaching just Jesus and not the Apostles doctrine. Here is another false dichotomy. If the so called apostle’s doctrine is not consistent with the character of Jesus then there is a problem. Now I think what Neil is really trying to say whether he knows it or not. It is that missionaries now are not trying to plant an American church of Christ, disregarding institutional loyalties traditions and failed theology; rather they are focusing on the nature and character of the God (Jesus) who is trying to reveal himself through scripture. This bothers Neil and all other institutions loyalists. So they resort to all things you mention Jay: over generalizations, false accusations, rumors all without foundational basis and context. The truth is they (institutional loyalists) like Neil Anderson and Phil Sanders are scared and want congregations in other countries to closely resemble the operational format, meeting times, dress codes and traditions of a typical traditional church of Christ.

  6. Robert Baty says:

    > …they resort to all things you
    > mention Jay…

    > The truth is they…want…

    I think that one of the points Jay was trying to get across is that "they" is "us" as well as "them" and we ought to be all the more careful.

    Matthew 7:1,2 & James 3:1!

    Robert Baty

  7. Too often we want to convert people to how we see things rather than to Jesus. "My understanding" is always the correct view. "My view" becomes the standard rather than Scripture being the standard. If you don't agree as I see it then in my eyes you are disagreeing with God. Afterall you are disagreeing with me. "My view" and God's always match perfectly.

    We need a big dose of humility. Let's preach Jesus!

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