*Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series. Please note:there is intentional overstatement with the title for rhetorical effect. If you don’t like it, there is a good possibility that anything you say can and will be used against you in this blog and eventually turn into an “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” post of its own :)
Yes, I got another one of those emails calling me a liar. It comes with the territory. It was not that my particular view was wrong, misinformed, or even misguided. Nope. I was a liar. I was deliberately misleading people. I know the truth, but I withhold it so that I can consciously exchange it for something that is false. The old bait-and-switch.
I am often humored by extreme rhetoric that Christians will employ, but never more so than when people become so loose with the accusations about lying. Maybe humored is the wrong word: it’s a disturbed type of humor.
The presupposition is this: Whenever someone teaches something you disagree with, the rhetoric employed to combat such is accusations of lies. In other words, if someone does not teach the truth in your opinion, they are lying. Period. No question about it.
I have said this before, but let me give the list again: If I were to employ such rhetoric, here is how I might sound:
- Mormons are liars. They all seek to lead people to hell.
- Paul Copan (who is an Arminian) is a liar. His theology is full of misdirection.
- John MacArthur (who believes in ipsissima verba) is a liar. Don’t listen to his lies.
- Francis Beckwith (who is a Roman Catholic) is a turncoat liar. Don’t follow him in his attempts to undermine truth.
- Clark Pinnock (who is an Open Theist) is a liar. He is trying to pull everyone into his deception.
- I. Howard Marshall (who does not believe in inerrancy) is a liar. He seeks to distort God’s authority.
- William Lane Craig (who is a Molinist) is a liar. He has been at the misleading game for some time.
You see the reasoning. All of these people are those with whom I would have some theological disagreements, major and minor. Since I am right and they are wrong about the issues, they must be liars. That is the only solution, right?
Be careful with such rhetoric. Better, just stop it.
I read it on blogs and hear these accusations in debates. It is the default position in the media. Christians—well-meaning Christians—use such rhetoric in blogs, sermons, books, articles, and on Facebook. All the while proclaiming to defend the faith.
According to the dictionary, a lie is “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.”
There are a couple of things to note here. A lie is intentional and deceptive. It is not simply something that is untrue. There is the supposition of intent with deception to make someone believe something that they know is false.
I believe that there are indeed many times when people teach something that could truly be called a lie. I could give many examples. But when our default position is that when someone else teaches something we believe to be wrong that they are lying, we have big problems.
Four come to mind immediately.
1. Most of the time, people who teach wrongly about something are not lying, they are just convinced of a wrong position. It is that simple. No need to implicate the person’s morality. There are many things that I believe and teach that are wrong (if I knew what they were, I would change). I am not lying when I teach them. I may be deceived by a lie, but my deception is genuine. In other words, people who teach something that is not true usually truly believe that it is true. Therefore, they are not lying.
2. Extreme rhetoric such as this can often be a sign of personal insecurity about our own position and our ability to defend it. I see it all the time. If you are ignorant but passionate about your own position, things are often more black and white than they would otherwise be. I just tweeted this today, “Often, the more militant you are, the less confident you are. Calm down. Be cool. Excessive combativeness can evidence insecurity.”
3. Using such rhetoric is emotional manipulation. The one who uses it is normally attempting to play on people’s emotions in order to heighten the sense of urgency for them to reject the opposing beliefs. While defending what we believe to be true is mandated in Scripture, we are to do it with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Calling someone a liar as the default method of engagement and evaluation of their teaching is not gentle and shows no respect.
4. It does not really work. Our generation is already suspicious of people’s ability to come to know truth to the exclusion of other alternatives. Rhetoric such as this is a clear sign of hostile ignorance and will quickly only serve to disperse your audience. A few loose accusations such as this and they won’t trust anything you say (or you will have to resort to only preaching to your choir).
Truth, doctrine, belief, and the Gospel are too important to spice up with emotionally charged rhetoric that is easily dismissed. I do believe Mormons are wrong—seriously wrong. But I don’t think that they are necessarily being intentionally deceptive. I do believe that Arminianism is wrong with regards to election, but I don’t think that Arminians are liars. They simply are personally convinced of something that I am not. (This is not meant to say that I believe that the error of Arminians is equally as wrong as the error of Mormons—don’t go there!).
Main Point: People, including myself, may be deceived, but it does not mean that we are deceiving.
People believe things for a reason. The best way to engage the issue is not to assume intentional deception, but to be willing to study and learn in order to find out why people believe what they believe. You may end up discovering that they have good reasons for believing the way they do, even if you remain personally unconvinced.
If you want to represent your position well, don’t attack the opposition with such rhetoric. The key is to be cool. Passionate, but cool. Then, when and if you do feel it necessary to employ such rhetoric, it will be seen as intentional and serious. People will take you seriously.
Whether you are a pastor, teacher, blogger, poster on this blog or a breathing person (that covers everyone), be careful. This is simply an ad hominem (attacking the person rather than the position) argument. You should be confident enough in your position not to have to resort to such childish maneuvers. Anything else dishonors God as much as you believe the opposing belief is dishonoring God.
1 Pet 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Don’t forget the last part. Be cool.