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.
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.
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.