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How to Lose Your Influence in Theology

Here are a few ways that you increase your chances of diminishing your influence in the marketplace of ideas.

1. Be imbalanced: Militantly focus on a particular non-essential issue. Whether it be in defense of a particular Bible translation or a particular view of the end times, make it your purpose to push for the necessity of accepting something that is not part of the historic Christian faith. Oh, and be passionately relentless about it.

2. Overstate your case: Always use phrases such as, “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard” or, “Nothing could be clearer.” That way, your audience knows you have never really studied the issue. While your goal is to distance a false position from one that is true, you have really just separated yourself from having a true impact.

3. Misrepresent your opponents: Often called a “straw man argument,” this is the case in which you represent your opponent in the worst possible light, bringing up their worst arguments, thus making their point of view very easy to dismantle.  Using this tactic indicates your fear of addressing your opponent’s actual position on an issue.

4. Obscure the options: Act as if your belief is the only viable option out there. Don’t ever let those under you know that there are others who disagree, or that other positions even exist. If you do, make it sound as if they are flat-earthers and preemptively poison the well, making them look really stupid.

5. Get defensive: When someone challenges you or criticizes your position, become militantly defensive or demeaning.  Personally counterattack the individual who is challenging you. This is called an ad hominem (Latin for “to the man”). When you do this, you do not engage their arguments, but you become defensive and attack the person. Call the person a liar. Assert that he hasn’t merely come to an incorrect conclusion, but that he is, definitively, a liar.

6. Lack of grace: Surely, the Bible talks about gentleness and respect in defending your faith, but we can ignore that approach when the person holds to really bad doctrine. Respond immediately with the opposite of gentleness and grace: harshness and judgmentalism. It is the Christian thing to do. Act as if you are the way you are because of your own righteousness.

7. Be perpetually non-committal: Be in fear of what others will think. Be in fear of being offensive. Call it grace, call it tolerance, call it whatever, but don’t ever take any definite stand. In every situation be timid, walk on theological eggshells, and never, ever, ever act as if your view is the right view to the exclusion of others. Qualify everything you say with, “this is just my opinion” or, “to me…”

8. Define yourself by what you are against. Rejoice when someone goes astray, because now you have been provided with an unmistakable mission. Be an attack dog for God and the watchdog for the bride of Christ. Go on heresy hunts, ignoring your own failures; day and night, night and day, bring attention to the apostasy out there. Good news does not bring publicity, so focus exclusively on the bad. Has someone gone astray? Presto, you’re open for business!

26 Responses to “How to Lose Your Influence in Theology”

  1. Hi. My name is Mike and I’m a #7.

    Great post! Well, except for #7. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard! I think this is the part where I go all #6 on you.

    Just kidding, of course – Great post!

  2. Well, to me it is, anyway. But that’s just my opinion. :)

  3. #7 comes down to what you hold as essentials.

    As Keith Drury wrote, some beliefs you write in pencil, some in pen, and some in blood.

  4. Excellent post. #7 threw me for a loop there for a minute because it didn’t at first seem to fit with the rest of the post. It’s important to find a happy medium, and sometimes it takes years for us to get there. Let’s face it: some positions are just theologically wrong! How we respond to it is what’s critical. I don’t recall reading anywhere in Scripture that Paul ever went around flashing his ‘Apostle’s Badge.’ Lots of food for thought here.

  5. LOL good post Michael…especially after the recent brutal comments on your “Catholic doctrine” post…need a palate cleanser after that one…

  6. @R David – The key word in #7 is *everything.* You can’t write *everything* in pencil. You also can’t write *nothing* in pencil. That would be #1-6.

  7. Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I like that statement by Mr. Drury! The problem is, one often looses their pencil! Or as has been stated never uses it. ;)

    I often use number 1 & 2, and number 8 (all of us former military types use 8!)…wait maybe all but number 7? One thing I am never, and that is non-committal! I always have a theological opinion, even if I change it later? ;)

  9. Great stuff here, thanks for the reminder!

    I liked the quote, “As Keith Drury wrote, some beliefs you write in pencil, some in pen, and some in blood.”

    My only clarification to this quote is the blood needs to be Jesus’ blood and not the blood of our interlocutors. (But that’s just my opinion #7)

  10. This is a good list that could be applied to more disciplines than simply theology. Anyone involved in a discipline which involves an exchange of ideas would do well to heed these points.

    But you know, that’s just my opinion…haha….

  11. All of the above applies to prominent hard-line atheists like Richard Dawkins, but it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm, unfortunately.

  12. I take offense to this whole post because it is true… :)

  13. One tactic that bugs me is when I hear someone in the media say something like, “Yes, but the Bible also tells us not to eat shellfish, and that we should stone to death disobedient children . . . [blah, blah]”. I’m not sure what to call this: reductio ad absurdum, with out-of-context mixed in, perhaps. I mean, this sets my teeth on edge, sometimes, and that brings me to an important observation: do I allow myself to be offended because of my weak sensibilities? Should I not care more for the eternal security of others? Could it be that my response to adversity is a litmus test of how mature I am in the Spirit?
    My response is as much, if not more, about me than it is about the other guy; to seek honor in battle is to honor the God who calls us to it.

  14. Hans Zaepfel (zhansman) April 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    #9 Haven’t talked theology for so long with somebody, that when you do, you are so excited you bulldozer over them.

  15. Of course Jesus blood can also be a metonymy for the death of Christ. The blood of Christ as in reality has “released” us from our sins by/in His blood (death).” (Rev. 1:5)

  16. I love this! Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong! Lots of fun, thanks. But you forgot the A-bomb of argumentation: “that sounds like something Hitler would say!”

  17. I want to start my comment by focusing on the fact that you called this a list of just a “few” ways. The use of this term, given the actual number of ways you listed, jeopardises your entire post. It’s the most serious kind of error possible. What next, are you going to say that there are four members of the Trinity? Sorry, getting your terms exactly right is the only possible way to write seriously. If you think otherwise then how dare you challenge me, fool! It’s just my opinion, but I’m almost lad that you made this error so that we could all learn from it. Perhaps it’s my calling to point things like this out!

    How did I do? ;)

  18. Sorry mate, not your call, just a “few” can also be a hyperbole: an exaggeration for effect! ;)

  19. Sorry Fr. Robert — but, I think you missed the point of Glenn’s sarcastic post — responding the way the original post said not to.

  20. @Rick: Thanks, I got that, but I was covering all the bases also, ya never know on the blogs! ;)

  21. Michael,

    Thanks for a good post. I couldn’t agree more even though you know there are things we disagree on :), I think you have touched upon the main problem that sometimes we let our personal theology get in the way of real Christianity.
    Then it becomes a strictly knowledge oriented type thing thing.

  22. This is such a great post. I absolutely love it. Way too much good theological conversations and teaching gets completely sidelined by these problems. If people would just be aware of these pitfalls of theological conversation we could have so much better interactions. Here is to preserving theological influence.

  23. Hello, my name is Gary and I am a #1. And yes, it is lonely to be #1.

    So I shall not be #1 any longer. Lord, have mercy.

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