A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
—Proverbs 9:8

"Is this the room for an argument?" asks Michael Palin's character in a classic Monty Python skit.

"I told you once," John Cleese tells him.

"No, you didn't!"

"I most certainly did."

They continue in this vein to Palin's mounting frustration. Cleese simply contradicts everything Palin says. Back and forth the nonsense goes until finally Palin shouts, "This isn't an argument! An argument is a series of propositions laid out in order to establish a central point. It's not the mere gainsaying of whatever the other person says!"

To which Cleese loftily replies, "Can be."

This is a bad argument, of which there are too many examples in our evangelical world. Still, I don't think the problem we face as a community is that we have too many arguments of poor quality, but that we have too few of any kind.

We need more arguments. We need them in our churches, in our families, in our marriages, in our schools, in our country, in our lives.

Let me rush to say that we don't need more bickering. We all have plenty of that already. We certainly don't need more contention, more backbiting, more disrespect, more pompous pronouncements.

What we do need instead is more proper argument. Proper argument sets out as clearly as possible just why someone has come to the conclusion he or she has. It exposes the evidence for this conclusion to clear view and shows all of the steps by which someone has arrived at this opinion. Proper argument then invites the listener or reader to scrutinize both the warrants and the logic of the argument. Perhaps the warrants are weak at step B: The Bible tells the truth (step A); the Bible says that God helps those who help ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: