Clear Thinking

Gospel Coalition to launch Good Faith Debates video series

"Starting May 4, we’re releasing a five-part video debate series featuring prominent Christian thinkers discussing some of the most divisive issues facing the church today. . . .  we hope to model this—showing that it’s possible for two Christians, united around the gospel, to engage in charitable conversation even amid substantive disagreement." - TGC

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Book Review of Logic and the Way of Jesus: Thinking Critically and Christianly, by Travis Dickinson

Catastrophic Consequences

Something has changed. Christianity no longer shapes society. Culture-shifting Christian thinkers, artists, musicians, and writers have all but disappeared. The church is no longer able to meet the intellectual challenges it now faces. Why has this happened and what can be done about it? These are the questions Travis Dickinson, professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, seeks to answer in his new book, Logic and the Way of Jesus: Thinking Critically and Christianly (B&H Academic, 2022).

Dickinson begins his book by asserting that the Christian faith has become less reflective and intellectual and more emotional and experience-based. Instead of valuing a Christian intellect, many Christians have detached their faith from reason and have embraced a growing anti-intellectualism within the church. Because of this intellectual decay, the church has become irrelevant and impotent in shaping the culture for Christ. To reverse this intellectual famine in the church, Christians must once again obey Jesus’ command to pursue God intellectually (Matt. 22:36–38). This intellectual pursuit involves learning to think critically and think Christianly about all of life (p. 8).

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How Do You Decide Who’s Right?

One of the ways the Greek rhetors of old used to classify arguments was under the headings of ethos, pathos, and logos.1 Ethos referred to character and credibility: arguments appealing to one’s reputation, standing, experience, expertise, and trustworthiness. 2 Pathos referred to longings, drives, appetites—and what we today call emotions. Logos had to do mainly with facts and reasoning.

Those skilled in rhetoric were able to use all three in the work of persuasion, emphasizing one or the other depending on the situation.

The three categories of rhetorical argument also work pretty well for analyzing how we tend to approach conflicting views—and how we decide who’s right. In turn, that can help us better understand one another and better discipline our own thinking toward wise discernment.

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Intellectual Dishonesty and Houseplants

Intellectual dishonesty takes many forms. One of the most common occurs when we look at the collection of arguments someone is making to support a claim, select the weakest among them, ignore the rest, and respond as though the weakest support is the only support.

Often, mockery follows. We heap scorn on the whole claim, emphasizing the absurdity of the one weak supporting idea.

I’m saying “we” here because it’s a common human failing. Some do it because the situation is emotionally charged and they haven’t learned to use analytical distance and other structured thinking skills.

That’s really not an excuse. That kind of interaction isn’t the way any lover of truth should behave. Upholding truth is more important than winning the fight.

An Emotionally Neutral (Hopefully) Example

Imagine someone gives a speech to a national audience promoting houseplants. The main idea of the speech is that every American should buy houseplants immediately. In support of his claim, the speaker uses the following arguments.

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The Cracks in Our Debates: Lessons from Lewis on Disagreement

"In the essay, Lewis does eventually explain the reasoning behind his position. Before he does, however, he spends the first part of the essay explaining what moral reasoning is and how it works. In other words, he puts on a Moral Reasoning Clinic" - DesiringGod

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