Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Polemic Theology: Slippery Slope & Unavoidable Reality

D. A. Carson's latest article on Polemic Theology was extremely helpful to me this morning, in the wake of processing my interactions with another Christian group that our church is exhibiting with at the local fair.

The group next to us is unapologetically apologetic for their own non-denominational brand of Christianity. And I have a weakness that when challenged, I'm more of a "fight" rather than "flight" kind of person on topics about which I feel passionately. Within the sweep of a few mere sentences, I found myself readily on defense, answering a barage of charges being waged against Calvinism and reformed theology.

This where it gets 'dangerous' for me, because I often find I can't help myself when our faith is so gravely mischaracterized. I want desparately to set the other side straight on where they have misunderstood or miscast the reformed view, such as:
  • The opposite of free will isn't no will, it's a slave will (slave to sin/slave to righteousness)
  • That predestination isn't wrong because it means that people are sent to hell who have never had a chance to respond to the gospel. People are condemned to eternal damnation, to suffer the Wrath of God, because they have knowingly sinned against a Holy God. They have broken the law, which has been revealed to everyone - to the religious through the law of God found in Holy Scripture, and to the irreligious through creation, nature and what has been written on their hearts. Everyone has sinned and everyone is without excuse.
  • That it's not fair that some people go to hell, even though everyone deserves hell because they have sinned. God's Grace is that He calls and saves people who do not deserve it.
  • That it's not fair that places where missionaries have not gone yet would still have people there that will go to hell. But God's sovereignty doesn't depend on man's choices. It is God who calls and equips His missionaries, preachers and even all Christians to share the Good News. And He foreordains the particular times, particular places, and particular people.
But here's an excellent twist that D.A. Carson writes about and might be a helpful starting point in learning how we might love our neighbors (and enemies), even as we try to engage them:

I had always loved argument, and over the years I had become quite good at identifying weak points in an opponent’s defense and bringing concentrated fire
to bear on them. This is what virtually all polemicists have sought to do since ancient times, even the most famous of them. But Popper did the opposite. He sought out his opponents’ case at its strongest and attacked that. Indeed, he would improve it, if he possibly could, before attacking it. . . . Over several pages of prior discussion he would remove avoidable contradictions or weaknesses, close loopholes, pass over minor deficiencies, let his opponents’ case have the benefit of every possible doubt, and reformulate the most appealing parts of it in the most rigorous, powerful and effective arguments he could find—and then direct his onslaught against it. The outcome, when successful, was devastating. At the end there would be nothing left to say in favor of the opposing case except for tributes and concessions that Popper had
himself already made. It was incredibly exciting intellectually.

Bryan Magee's experience in polemics that he learned from Popper and writes about in: Confessions of a Philosopher: A Personal Journey through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper [New York: Modern Library, 1999, (152–53)]

Rather than "attacking" and "devastating" them as one might do in a trial case or a formal debating platform, I could see using this technique to have a constructive conversation that:

1 - Seeks to understand the other's position, motivations, and strongest points of belief

2- Once grasping their position and gaining their respect by demonstrating that understanding, gently suggesting the alternate point of view which is either antithetical to the strongest reason for adopting their belief or antithetical to the core presupposition that is holding their framework together.

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