Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Defense of the Faith vs. Avoiding Empty Arguments

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...

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And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:13-17 (HCSB)

This passage is often cited as the basis for the area of theology called apologetics.  The word "defense" in "...ready to give a defense..." is the Greek word "apologia."  Often apologists feel compelled to go beyond a explanation of why they believe to an apologetic for God.  Let me say in no uncertain terms, "God does not need me or any other person to give a defense for His acts or inaction.

If a person asks me why I believe the Bible is clear that I must be ready to explain.  My faith must not be based on some whim, passion, or feeling.  It is to be understood.  "Reason" in this passage is the Greek word "logos."  This is a very important word.  In the secular philosophy at the time the 1 Peter 3:15 was written logos meant a reasoned discourse or mode of persuasion based on reason. 

Definition of rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not. The rhetorician finds the latter kind (viz. witnesses, contracts, and the like) ready to his hand. The former kind he must provide himself; and it has three divisions -- (1) the speaker's power of evincing a personal character which will make his speech credible (ethos ); (2) his power of stirring the emotions of his hearers (pathos ); (3) his power of proving a truth, or an apparent truth, by means of persuasive arguments (logos ).
Rhetoric -Aristotle

So then as Christians we ought to be able to provide a reasonable statement of what we believe. 

However, we begin to cross over to empty argument when we attempt to defend the actions of God. 

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the "knowledge" that falsely bears that name. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. Grace be with all of you.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 (HCSB)

Notice Paul admonishes Timothy to guard what is entrusted to him.  What has been entrusted to him?  The gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:11, 15).  How does one guard the gospel?  For the most part I believe that one guards the Gospel by being prepared to give a reasonable defense.  He adds to the admonition avoid irreverent, empty speech, and contradictions.  Most arguments that come from unbelievers usually can be classified as falling into one of these arguments. 

Irreverent Arguments

In other translations the word "bebelos" is irreverent, profane, and wrong.  Profane is a blatant disregard for things that are sacred.  It is often abusive, crude, and obscene.  These are to be avoided.  One reason I believe they are to be avoided is because it is difficult to come away from a mudslinging match and not get at least a little bit soiled.  Another reason is that it fails on the "logos" approach.  Irreverent arguments are emotional appeals ("pathos" arguments).  Emotional appeals can be persuasive to a person that is open to what you are saying.  However, a profane person is not likely at all to be moved no matter how emotionally appealing you make the Gospel.

Empty Arguments

"Kenodoxos" is translated empty speech, empty sounds, prattling, vain babbling, and foolish talk.  It comes from a compound word in the Greek meaning "vain-glory."  Vainglory is an old English word that describe being empty of honor or empty boasting.  There are some things that are unworthy of even a response.  I think these are the type of arguments that Paul is describing with this word.  This type of arguing has more to do with making the arguer puffed up with pride.  In some ways it relies on the credibility of the person making the argument ("ethos" argument). 

Another way to look at empty arguments is one that lacks substance and/or commits a logical fallacy.  I would say that the most common form would be an appeal to authority.  The assumption that because a person in authority believes something that it must be true.  Others would be sweeping generalizations, appeal to ignorance, affirming the consequent (very common with evolutionists), cherry picking, attacking the person (ad hominem), ad Hitlerium (making the case that Hitler was a Christian), ad Crusades (Making the crusades out to be normative Christianity), and others.  It is these empty arguments that we are to avoid because then do not present a reasonable argument for or against the Gospel (ie "logos" argument).

Contradiction Arguments

"Antithesis" is translated contradiction, antipathies, and oppositions.  These arguments were from the "'Knowledge' that falsely bears the name."  Some would point to the Gnostic Hersey as the ones that are opposing with a false knowledge.  Gnostics believed that "true knowledge" was process of internal intuitive knowing.  This true knowledge superseded all other forms of knowledge.  They also view the material world as evil and the spiritual world as good.  They stood in opposition to the Gospel because they said that Jesus (though a heavenly messenger) could not be God in the flesh because God being good could not take an evil material form. 

This phrase can also be taken in a broader form.  In my experience there are three dispositions that people have who do not believe in or know the Gospel.  One is of curiosity.  That is to say they do not know if it is true, but they are curious to find out if it is.  Second is disinterest.  They do not care one way or the other if it is true.  Third is opposition.  They are actively against the gospel as being true.  It is the last group that hold to a spirit of contradiction.  They are not looking to see if it is true.  They are looking to find reasons why it is not true.  Their position is to stand in opposition no matter what.  At times these people do get carried away in there opposition.  They will invent contradictions where there is no apparent contradiction.    They place their own understanding, their own knowledge ahead of the Gospel.  They are puffed up in knowledge.  It is these types of arguments that Paul is warning Timothy to avoid. 

By the way Christians can fall into irreverent, empty, and contradictory arguments.  I think one of the reasons Paul instructs Timothy to avoid such arguments is that they are so easy to fall into ourselves.  When we become irreverent, use empty rhetoric, or engage in a spirit of contradiction we do the Gospel a disservice.  People are more likely to look at us rather than the Savior we are attempting to share.  Humility, gentleness, kindness, thoughtfulness are certainly qualities that we want to uphold as we attempt to give a reasonable explanation for what we believe.   In short if someone has a genuine interest in learning about what you believe then be prepared to share what and why you believe.  On the other hand if a person is only seeking to rude, empty, or contradictory avoid these discussions. 


God Bless You

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