Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Limits of Argument

Wise adage #1: Heinlein said that man is not a rational animal but a rationalizing animal. That's often true. So when we try to address a spiritual matter from an intellectual standpoint, we're likely to run into rationalizations. Argument assumes that the other person is roughly neutral, willing to change views if shown he's in error.

It doesn't work.

Most people are where they are by choice--even a negative choice like being too lazy to check their childhood beliefs carefully. So when you inform someone that's he's wrong, you're telling him to change. Hardly anyone welcomes that.

Wise adage #2: A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Even if you win the argument, you won't necessarily win the soul. Francis Schaeffer sought to avoid this problem by finding the "point of tension" in the other's beliefs: any time you disagree with God, you're out of synch with Reality. So there will always be a point where your stated beliefs and your actions conflict. And it won't be a case like the Christian who sins and admits it: it will be a fundamental disharmony.

It can get someone thinking when you topple his worldview like a house of cards. By God's grace he may even repent. But he's at least as likely to change to some other falsehood--less effort.

Wise adage #3: What you win someone with is what you win him to. If you win them with glitz, you win them over to a show-biz version of your view. If you win them with fear, dangling them over Hell, you'll win them to fear--and as soon as it's gone, they'll follow.

So with argument. All kidding aside, it's about proving that you're smarter than the other guy--even if you're only parroting someone else's argument.

Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5. It opens, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." And it concludes (2:1-5), "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

So what's the purpose of apologetics? We'll look at that next time.

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