Clear Thinking

From the Archives – Toward Arguing Better

Conservative Christianity needs more people who argue well. It does not need more people who quarrel well!

Scripture opposes quarreling, along with the behaviors the KJV renders as “strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings” and “tumults” (2 Cor. 12:20). But arguing is something else. Scripture calls us to argue and to do it well. Every Christian is obligated to develop and exercise the skill of thinking and communicating clearly with the goal of persuasion.

With that as a working definition of argue, let’s consider a few basics for arguing better.

Argue for the right reasons.

Why do people argue? Unflattering reasons come quickly to mind. As sinners, we often argue to gain the esteem of others, to defeat someone we don’t like, or to try to win an imagined (or real) competition for loyal supporters. Sometimes people argue because they have a contrarian disposition and enjoy the challenge and repartee. (For these, the question is not “Why argue?” but “Why not argue?”)

But for Christians, the proper goal of argument is to establish the truth or rightness of ideas or actions.

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (NKJV, 2 Tim. 2:24–25).

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Is the Bible Anti-Intellectual?

Viewed in isolation, some passages of Scripture seem to convey that there is a special danger in the human intellect—danger that is greater than the hazards of, for example, “the heart.” Sadly, these passages are often viewed “in isolation” in churches strongly influenced by revivalism, romanticism (see also IEP), or both.

Used as slogans, passages like the following seem solidly anti-intellectual:

Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. (1 Cor. 8:1)
God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. (1 Cor. 1:27)
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit. (Col. 2:8)
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 3:7)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. (Prov. 3:5-6)

Based on passages like these, anti-intellectuals teach that Christians should focus more energy on “matters of the heart” in contrast to the intellect. Study and analysis should be viewed with greater suspicion than impression and intuition (supposedly, the special domain of the Holy Spirit). The quality of worship should be gauged by what’s felt more than by what’s thought or learned.

But these are errors, and we can correct or avoid them by looking more comprehensively at what Scripture reveals about the inner man. What follows is intended as a start.

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Why Bad Arguments Are So Persuasive

"Sixteenth-century scholar Richard Hooker saw this problem unfold in his time over a question of governance for the Church of England. In his work, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker explains the kinds of arguments made by his contemporaries in this debate, while shedding light on why bad arguments manage to persuade large numbers of people." - Intellectual Takeout

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