Making an Argument

In recent theological discussions I have noticed that I and others fall into traps that are best avoided if we want to discover more truth. Here are my suggestion of arguing styles to be wary of.

1) Antithetical

This describes the tendency to imply that there are only two possible choices when discussing an issue.
This can be explicit like the response I once heard from a six day creationist who exclaimed that if I didn't believe in a literal six day creation then I was undermining salvation.
It can also be merely an implied argument like the Gospel Coalitions stance that being egalitarian was heading on a road to having a low view of scripture.
In both examples there are only two seemingly opposite options available when in fact the situation demands a more nuanced response.

2) Straw Man

This is when you hear someone's argument or reasoning then create a caricature of it. You then begin to argue against your own caricature rather than the other persons point of view.

We saw this a lot during the Rob Bell Love Wins situation. I heard one preacher take Rob's example of a single mum struggling to bring up her child. Rob had asked whether she might be one of the last who will be first. The preacher in question took Rob's single mum and constructed a whole backstory about her; listing things she had done wrong. Whilst he suggested to his audience that he was answering Rob's question he was in fact doing no such thing.

3) Thin end of wedge

This is where audiences are frightened into rejecting a particular view point by someone over stating where the said view might lead. For example suggesting that allowing for equal rights for gay people will lead to the dissolving of the institute of marriage. There is no real evidence of a link but the scare tactic means that people will reject the proposal and cease to engage from further dialogue.

4) Worst example as norm

This is where you find the most extreme example of an issue and bring it into the centre of the argument. Perhaps speaking about right wing issues and mentioning Hitler as his views are normative.

5) But he also says lots of good things

This is often used where people seem intent on supporting someone no matter what ridiculous ideas they are presenting.

6) We should all love each other.

This is the perceived Christian agape response - it is usually only used by those who don't have a strong opinion either way on the subject at hand.

7) Agree to disagree

This has the ring of openness about it but can often be said after a long discussion only to by a stinging parting shot.

It is like saying 'I don't wish to discuss this anymore, now take that and don't bother answering back'.

8) We need to be dispassionate.

This is used by the over analytical or rational types to seemingly silence those who are most affected by the subject matter. They talk in tones that try to undervalue the opinion of anyone who might passionately care about something and dare to show it.

What do you think?
Can you think of any other examples?

And before you think I am only speaking about other people, let me say that I challenge myself with these ideas too.

When taking the bible literally means NOT reading it literally

I have just listened to Mark Driscoll teaching from the book of Esther in a YouTube episode called 'Good leadership is demonstrating repentance' and I needed to exercise the therapy of blogging to get the frustration out of my system.

After a short pause during which I calmed down from my need to make a passionate response I realised that I still needed to blog about what I have just heard - so here it is.

If you listen to the clip you may notice that he makes a gigantic link between King Xerxes and 21st century marriage in a western context.

And herein lies the problem with those who take a literalist approach to the bible. Far from their stated goal of reading the plain text without adding meaning, he projects a whole host of ideas into a world that would know nothing of the ideas he is trying to prove.

It's as if the whole bible has become a personal parable to be used as a self-help resource to ensure we live as 'good' Christians.

In this episode Xerxes becomes an example of how those who are 'in power' (read husbands, bosses, patents, pastors, and presidents) should learn to repent when they get it wrong.

And this is why such an approach weakens the Bible as a sacred text:

1) His attempts to fuse current contexts with ancient texts means he is asking of it questions that mask any real truths that it might be saying. (we need to read the text and ask 'how am I like Xerxes')

2) He doesn't actually read the bible literally but imposes a pseudo-figurative framework on it. In his reading the main characters are recast: Xerxes the King becomes a complementarian husband, members of the harem become 21st century wives, courtly state events become 'a drunken night out with the guys'.

Somewhat counter-intuitively it seems that taking the bible literally means NOT reading it literally.

So can the book of Esther speak to us today: definitely - but only if we allow it to say what it originally said.

Why Mark Driscoll is bad for your sons

Mark Driscoll, the key leader of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is about to begin a series of teaching about the book of Esther and has released a teaser highlighting the reasons why we may be interested. (Here)


Pastor Mark, who seems to get his understanding of gender from a James Belushi sitcom rather than the bible set in its correct context, speaks about Esther in a way that you may well struggle to recognise if you have ever read the seventeenth book of the Old Testament.


According to Mark; Esther is one of  ‘only two books of the Bible in which the human hero is in fact a heroine’. We better not mention Mary the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene in case we are mistaken in thinking that their actions of complying with the will of God in bringing about the incarnation or being the first witness to the resurrection were in any way significant.


According to Mark; ‘Today, her story would be, a beautiful young woman living in a major city allows men to cater to her needs, undergoes lots of beauty treatment to look her best, and lands a really rich guy whom she meets on The Bachelor and wows with an amazing night in bed.’


Really? You have read the book of Esther and that is what it made you think!


In light of this episode and the many others that have emerged from the lips and keyboard of Pastor Driscoll I feel the need to issue a warning about his influence on your sons.


My wife, Beverley (we have four daughters together), is writing one in a similar vein aimed at the danger caused to having such nonsense influence your daughters. (Here)


1) According to Mark; he couldn’t worship a guy he could beat up. He presents this notion to convince us that Jesus wasn’t some ‘hippie, diaper,halo Christ’.


Such playground argumentation leaves little room for the broad sense of what it is to be a man. Being male is not represented by either one personality type nor a set of culturally loaded activity markers aimed at ensuring ‘real’ men like hunting, fighting, and motorbike riding.


If you want your sons to be truly who they are meant to be, and not try to conform to someone else’s stereotype then keep them away from Mar Driscoll.


2) According to Mark; women who are caught up in a male dominated system are to be blamed and not emancipated. He presumes that Esther had the same type of choices that someone in a twenty-first century, western democracy might have.


Whenever people in general, and women in particular, are abused there is a tendency within the prevailing system to blame the victims. Mark is guilty of this here.


If you want your sons to value and respect women then keep them away from Mark Driscoll.


These two factors alone lead me to believe that Mark Driscoll’s teaching is dangerous for our sons (and daughters).


The first suggests the broad, and completely mistaken, strokes with which he paints Jesus. There is no sense of context, nuance, or depth to what he does. He takes his own limited view of maleness and projects this upon Jesus to conclude that he must be made in Mark’s own image.


The second suggest that we can view the exploitation of women in a conditional way. His focus on Esther as being complicit in the circumstances of her inclusion in a male dominated system suggests that context means nothing. He reads the story and feels no horror about the shameful way that women are treated but projects his twenty-first century context onto her to condemn her behaviour. (it saddens me that some key leaders fail to call Mark out on such behaviour - I guess we all have a constituency)


So again I advise you to keep your sons away from Mark Driscoll’s teaching.


And if you don’t; then keep your sons away from my daughters.