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Challenging Ideas, not Attacking People

Christians should expect our thinking to be increasingly challenged by the group-think of our age. Our holding to the body of biblical truth, and to an orthodox interpretation of those truths, will inevitably pit us against much of the thinking of the general populace. Sound familiar? I would hazard a guess that you, as a Christian reading this, are already nodding your head like a Justin Verlander bobblehead.

As we strive to challenge humanity’s thinking with Christ’s truth, we must do so in a way which gives us credibility. I have often agreed with the premises, and even the conclusions of other fire-breathing, Bible-thumping Baptists (or other fundamentalists), but I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and shrunk (shrank?) down in my seat at their argumentation. What do I mean? For the sake of brevity, I will mention only two issues:

Argumentum Ad Hominem

Main Entry: ad ho·mi·nem
Pronunciation:\(ˈ)ad-ˈhä-mə-ˌnem, -nəm\
Function:adjective Etymology:New Latin, literally, to the person
How many times have we been warned about this or that, and the basis for the warning used the method above? “This writer, singer, preacher, politician, etc. believes or does THIS–so how can we trust ANYTHING they say or do, it’s ALL dangerous because of that one thing.” Ultimately, that person may be untrustworthy about other issues, but generally they will not be so only because of that ONE thing their opponent is targeting.
This technique has been used in the Baptist world in ways like this: “Pastor Bob Pastor Bob does not use the King James Version of the Bible, or Professor Fred believes Baptists are connected to the Protestant Reformation. . . so how could we trust him on THIS?”
An Appeal to Authority
The fallacy of appealing to the testimony of an authority outside his special field. Anyone can give opinions or advice; the fallacy only occurs when the reason for agreeing to the conclusion is based on following the improper authority.
How many times have we heard arguments for or against a position because some luminary or important person held that opinion? Consider a statement like: “Jerry Falwell believed that one of the prime missions of the church (universal and local) was to transform the society for righteousness by legislative/political means.” OK, but what did Jesus the Nazarene, and His Apostles say about such matters? The aggregate NT evidence points in a different direction than Falwell’s.
Our goal should be to challenge and defend ideas. We may have to reference people, preachers, writers, etc. in order to do so, but our target should be the idea they are promulgating, not the person.
Nota bene: in our hypersensitive, politically correct, relativistic world, we have to expect to be called hateful, cruel, un-Christian, unloving, etc. even if we have done our best to deal with ideas. The foolish, self-centered thinking of this age essentially sees any kind of critique as personal, and sadly such folly has made it into the Church. We might discuss that more, with examples in future posts.
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul said that we are to attack anti-Christian thinking, and to keep our thoughts and argumentation within the guardrails of what the Scriptures command and allow.
May we strive to think God’s thoughts after Him.

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  1. […] But Christians would do well to do some <i>reading</i> also. Most worthwhile thought is not something spouted in the midst of a stormy, passionate ad-lib or quickly scripted broadcast portion. Rather, there is greater value in something that is systematically argued based on facts, and stated premises, with a traceable rhetorical stream. This is rare in radio/TV land. [It is hard enough to find in written work.] As much as I hearken with some of Glenn Beck’s sentiments, it is not hard sometimes to go back and show that he wasn’t thinking clearly or arguing logically. (I know, I know critiquing Glenn Beck is like saying “Sarah Palin <i>may not be</i> the best thing for America” to fans of Palin, or “the KJV is not the only true Bible in English” to a King James Only proponent. But, I’ll trust that you all can handle my thinking that Beck’s ideas and methods shouldn’t simply be accepted whole cloth, without thinking I am “a hater.”) I hope we can all learn the notion of  separating an attack on ideas & methodology from a personal attack. […]

  2. […] Side note: being critical of a person’s thoughts is not the same as criticizing the person. Many in our society use remarkably foolish terms to describe people who critique the ideas of […]

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