Dealing with “Apatheism” & Understanding the Joy of New Creation (Book Reviews)

Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care by Kyle Beshears (B & H Academic)

Kyle Beshears’ book tackles an extremely problematic question that is often overlooked in discussions on evangelism: How do you share your faith with those who simply don’t care about God? Even if you share your faith, how do you get the person to care enough to consider what you said?

When you get down to it, it’s actually easy to get into conversations with ardent atheists. Ardent atheists have strong beliefs and they want to talk—or at least debate—about those beliefs. In the same way, it’s easy to get into a spiritual conversation with a religious non-Christian because they care about spiritual things. But how do we engage the “apatheist”—someone who believes God is irrelevant? 

Beshears lays out the symptoms in a society that lead to apatheism: secular, comfortable, and distracted—all aspects of American culture. Further, radical individualism feeds it, where it’s believed we can create our own meaning to life. Additionally, mix in pluralism and the internet age of too many options. Not that exposure to other beliefs is bad within itself, but too many options leads to many experiencing a mental fatigue, so they don’t hold to any belief all that strongly or simply don’t wish to engage with anyone about them. Keep in mind, even a professed Christian can still be an apatheist. This is the “practical atheist” (or what I often call a “functional atheist”) in your pews whose Christian identity has no impact on their lives.

Since the “apatheist” is one who both “believes God is irrelevant and feels apathetic towards him,” Beshears proposes that we have to hit them first emotionally to wake them up. How do we do this? We go after their idols. We make them aware that anything other than God that they find their happiness in can be taken away; it will ultimately let them down. Then, once we jolt them enough to listen, we point them to Christ as the only lasting source of joy. Augustine wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it comes to rest in you.”

Beshears points out another important point many would overlook: Before doing this effectively, we can’t be apatheists ourselves! We have to ask ourselves, Have I lost my joy in Christ? What must I do to recapture it? Does my life display the joy and hope I have in Christ? After all, we don’t just want them to know Christianity is true, but we want them to want it to be true. Anselm once stated that an emotional desire for Christianity to be true is a necessary step before someone could be intellectually convinced of the gospel.

At barely 100 pages, Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care is certainly worth the read. Whenever I read a book like this, I always end by wishing it had more practical advice and real-world examples, but Beshears has written a book with both those things that is a great help to anyone hoping to share their faith. Beshears has written a much-needed book that is a welcomed gift to the church. I hope this book will start a conversation and lead to more Christian thinkers tackling this topic.

*B & H provided me with a free copy for review.

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture by Frank Thielman (Crossway)

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture is the third book I’ve read (and reviewed) from the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series by Crossway. So far, I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the books tracing an important theme throughout the Bible. That would include this book, which follows the prominent biblical theme of new creation. Of the three Short Studies books I’ve read, this is the most basic; new creation is a biblical theme many Christians are aware of already. If you are already familiar with the big story of the Bible, it’s a theme that’s not hard to see. So, I would recommend this book to someone as an introduction to biblical theology, someone who doesn’t have a good grasp of the overall storyline of the Bible.

This is by no means a negative thing; tracing the theme is both essential to the Christian worldview and beautiful to see in Scripture. From the moment the new creation fell under the destruction of sin, God put his plan into effect to restore it, from the proclamation of the coming one who would crush Satan’s head, to the establishment of the nation of Israel, to the prophecies of the prophets, to the miracles of Jesus, to the born-again followers of Jesus becoming “new creations,” to the vision of the New Heaven and New Earth in the Book of Revelation. As I said, it’s a beautiful and essential thing for Christians to understand, showing us how we can have both hope and joy in the face of current turmoil and suffering.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy for review.

Is Jesus “a god”? Revisiting John 1:1 & the Jehovah’s Witness Translation

KNOCK, KNOCK. WHO’S THERE? J.W., WHO?

John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (ESV)

But not so fast! These astonishing statements at the beginning of John’s gospel are traditionally understood to tell us two key, unique aspects of orthodox Christian belief: Jesus is God, and God is at least two persons, bringing into view the Trinity. Yet, our friends at the local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall say two thousand years of Christianity has gotten it all wrong. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ version of the Bible, the New World Translation, has John 1:1 as follows: 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” (New World Translation) 

Alright, which translation of John 1:1 is correct? The Greek word for “God” or “god” is theos. Ancient Greek didn’t use capitalization like we do today with English, so looking at the original Greek to see if “theos” is capitalized won’t help us. So, let’s focus on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation “the Word was a god” because there’s “a” big problem with this. Actually, a few of them. 

WHO’S TRANSLATING?

To start, I once made the mistake of boldly stating in a blog that no scholar of New Testament era Greek has ever translated John 1:1 in this way. (For the record, this article covers much of the same info, but adds to it as well.) I should’ve known better than to make such an absolute statement unless I had absolute knowledge that the statement I was making was absolutely correct. Pushback came swiftly, accompanied by a list of translations where John 1:1 reads “a god.” Lesson learned. I repent. But please allow me to humbly cross-examine these translations. After all, just because something is found on the internet doesn’t mean it’s good information. (I realize that may come as a shock to some of you. That was sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell.)

First, were all these translations made by scholars of New Testament (Koine) Greek? After all, I wasn’t claiming no other translations out there read “a god”; I specifically claimed none were made by New Testament Greek scholars. Does the translator have a PhD in Koine Greek? Hold a position at a reputable university? Publish Greek grammar articles in peer-reviewed journals? Also—and this is important—was the translation made by a committee of Greek scholars? I’m sure you understand how easily a single person making a translation can make errors or smuggle in personal preferences without the checks and balances of working within a group of professionals. (And we should ask these same exact questions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation! To start: Who, exactly, translated it?)

Let me point out, even if the translations that read “a god” come from qualified and credible sources, they’re still in the vast minority. I can say with complete confidence that “a god” is plainly rejected by the great multitude of legitimate scholars. 

NOT DEFINITE ABOUT THE DEFINITE ARTICLE

Secondly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses justify this translation by pointing out that the original Greek literally reads, “the Word was with the theos, and the Word was theos.” This is accurate. But their argument is that since the second use of theos doesn’t have “the” (the definite article, for you grammar nerds), then the first use of theos is speaking of the one and only God (“the God”) and Jesus, the Word, is something like God but lesser. He’s “a god.” 

This isn’t how Greek grammar works. For one, the definite article (“the”) is used differently in Greek than in English, so it’s often not even translated into English. As we see, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World version doesn’t translate the “the” either, but where on earth do they get the idea that the lack of “the” means adding an “a”?

Most of us aren’t Greek scholars to know one way or another, but this next reason why the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ version fails is very telling: The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even follow their own unorthodox grammar rule! To be consistent, every time theos appears without the definite article (“the”) in the Greek, they should translate it as “a god” or, at least, as a lowercase “g” god. Yet, theos appears many, many times in the New Testament without “the” and their own translation doesn’t insert “a” or interpret theos as a lowercase “god” elsewhere. Their own New World Translation breaks their own odd grammar rule again and again. 

In fact, we don’t even have to leave John 1 to see this. None of the following include “the” with theos in the original Greek:

  • John 1:6: “There came a man who was sent as a representative of God.” (New World Translation)

Why isn’t this translated, “who was sent as a representative of a god”?

  • John 1:12-13: “he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name. And they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.” (New World Translation)

Why isn’t this translated, “he gave authority to become a god’s children” and “they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from a god”?

  • John 1:18: “No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is at the Father’s side is the one who has explained Him.” (New World Translation)

Why not, “No man has seen a god at any time” or “an only-begotten god who is at the Father’s side”? (I tackle the term “only-begotten” in another article.)

Many more examples exist throughout the New Testament, yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation doesn’t insert an “a” before God or demote God to a lowercase status. (Also see Matthew 3:9; 6:24; Luke 1:35, 78; 2:40; Romans 1:7, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 15:10; Philippians 2:11–13; Titus 1:1.)

Likewise, what do all of the following verses have in common? I’ll include bold to help out:

  1. “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1) (New World Translation)
  1. The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ…” (Mark 1:1) (New World Translation)
  1. The book of the history of Jesus Christ…” (Matthew 1:1) (New World Translation)
  1. “… just as these were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and attendants of the message…” (Luke 1:2) (New World Translation)

All four of these verses are missing “the” in the original Greek. As I said, the definite article (“the”) doesn’t work the same in Greek as it does in English. Again, it doesn’t appear the Jehovah’s Witnesses are holding too tightly to their own grammar rule! Why is “the” being inserted into the English instead of “a” in all of these verses? Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses follow standard Greek grammar rules everywhere, it seems, but in John 1:1? If the “translators” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible are going to make up a grammar rule to wiggle around a clear teaching about Jesus, they could at least follow their own made-up grammar rule consistently.

SOME FINAL ISSUES

Thirdly, John 1:1 isn’t the only passage in the New Testament to declare Jesus as God. I’ve never met a mean Jehovah’s Witness, so when they come to my door I often get my Bible and give them some friendly push-back. This led to me meeting up for coffee with a local Jehovah’s Witness elder to discuss Jesus. Of course, John 1:1 came up in our discussion. Despite me pointing out the above issues to him, we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I said, “Neither of us are Greek scholars, so let’s put John 1:1 aside for now and look at other verses.” The whole of the Christian belief that Jesus is God isn’t based on a single verse! 

Fourthly and finally, even if we accept “the Word was a god” as a legitimate alternative translation, this would make Jehovah’s Witnesses polytheists (as well as the apostle John)! The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation dodges the Trinity in John 1:1 but still declares two gods! Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, deny this. Their own official literature explains the wording in John 1:1 as “because of his high position among Jehovah’s creatures, the Word is referred to as ‘a god.’ Here the term ‘god’ means ‘mighty one.’” [1] Well, that seems rather arbitrary! The sharp distinction Jehovah’s Witnesses make between Jehovah as “Almighty God” and Jesus as “mighty god” isn’t biblical. See Isaiah 10:20–21 and Jeremiah 32:16–18, where “Jehovah” (Yahweh/The LORD) is called gibbor el (Hebrew), “mighty God.”

  John and almost every writer of the New Testament were first century Jews. This idea of Jesus being a lowercase “g” god would’ve been alien to them. To a first century Jew, you were either God or you weren’t. No third option existed. Ironically, Jehovah’s Witnesses have accused traditional Christians of adopting pagan Roman ideas by believing Jesus is a divine person of the Trinity, yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ idea of Jesus being “a god” is certainly closer to Roman paganism than Judaism. For the monotheistic Jews, there were no partial gods and no near-gods. Jehovah’s Witnesses have invented a category to put Jesus in not found in the Bible. [2] By trying to avoid the plain grammar of John 1:1, they’ve dug themselves into a deep hole.

[1]  What Does the Bible Really Teach?, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, December 2014 printing.

[2] In the Bible, there are cases where “god” (theos, elohim) is a title applied to beings that aren’t the LORD (Yahweh/“Jehovah”), but they’re false gods or beings inferior to the one true God of Israel. Even by Jehovah’s Witness thinking, Jesus is a different type of “god” than these “gods.” 2 Corinthians 4:4; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 82:1, 6–7 (John 10:34–36). 

RELATED GFTM ARTICLES:

If Jesus is “Only-Begotten,” How is He Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 3:16 (& 1:18)

How Can Jesus be “Firstborn of All Creation” yet Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Colossians 1:15-19

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) & the Titles of God: Almighty God, mighty god, Jehovah, Elohim

Understanding Divine Blessing: Does the Prosperity Gospel Get It Right? (w/ Book Review)

The biblical concept of “blessing”—as in being blessed and blessing others—is not a topic any church I’ve attended focused on, so when I had the opportunity to read and review Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God by William R. Osborne, I took it. This is the second book I’ve read from Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, where in relatively short, readable books a certain theme is explored throughout the Bible. As a former high school English teacher, I have a bit of a thing for themes, and I found both books helpful, accessible introductions to important subjects of biblical theology. Biblical theology is the practice of tracing a particular theme or idea throughout the entire biblical story and connecting the dots.

Divine blessing isn’t a topic I’ve explored before, but being familiar with the Bible I knew “blessing” is a word that comes up quite a bit. As both an apologist and pastor, this was a topic I needed to grasp because of the prevalence of the “prosperity gospel” and “health and wealth gospel.” Even if a Christian doesn’t subscribe to the false prosperity gospel, understanding biblical blessings is essential to addressing a sort of prosperity gospel thinking that intersects with the problem of evil and suffering. This is the thinking that expects God to always intervene in times of trouble. This is the person who asks when they hit a rough patch in life, “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” with the underlying idea that God should never let anything bad happen to his people.

Let’s be honest, a lot of evidence exists both in and out of the Bible that doesn’t support the idea that if you’re a “good” Christian you get blessings and if you’re “bad” you’re cursed. If the apostle Paul can ask God three times to remove the “thorn” in his flesh and God refuses (2 Cor. 12:1–10), then that destroys the whole health and wealth gospel thesis right there. So, as Osborne asks, “What about when God’s covenant people live faithfully, trusting in his word, and still experience tragedy and sorrow?” Further, there appears to be “a theological rift” between the Old and New Testaments’ portrayals of divine blessing. The Old “seems focused on the material wealth, health, and success of the faithful,” while the New “portrays the most faithful as martyred and imprisoned.” 

In addressing all of these issues, Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God is a welcomed (and much-needed) help.

THE BASICS OF BIBLICAL BLESSING

In the rest of this blog, let me give you some insights into what the Bible says about divine blessing. To start, here are some basics:

  • “God’s blessings for his people are relational, spiritual, material, present, and eschatological [future].”
  • Like when exploring any biblical concept, we need to differentiate between the Old Covenant (exclusive to ancient Israel) and the New Covenant (for Christ’s people) when talking about divine blessings.
  • Where blessings under the Old Covenant is exclusive to ancient Israel, not Christians, and “the material wealth, health, and success of the faithful” appears to be part of that covenant, the Bible also often portrays these blessings as stumbling blocks. 
  • Both the Old and New Covenants have a spiritual and physical aspect of blessing. “[D]ivine blessing was always intended to be material, spiritual, [but also] relational.” That it, based on a relationship with God, which is the ultimate blessing within itself.
  • All biblical blessing is “fixed upon the reality of the fullness of life in the presence of God,” which includes being in a right relationship with God and God dwelling with his people. “True blessing, no matter the form, always leads us near to God.” “Unlike what is commonly heard in prosperity [gospel] circles, you don’t go through God to get his blessings. Conversely, we might say you go through his blessings to get to God! God is the end to be pursued because his blessing is experienced only by living in his presence.” 
  • Divine blessing coincides with obedience to God’s will, which include his divine directives and commands. Living according to God’s wisdom brings consequential blessings, which is rooted also in a proper fear or respect of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). 
  • God always intended to bless his people and for his people to be a blessing to others.
  • God is under no obligation to bless or guarantee a certain fullness of life. We have privileges as Christians as God’s children, but these aren’t rights. As I like to say, we can’t sum up God’s ways in a mathematical formula. In other words, we can’t put God in a box.
  • In one sense, the delay of God’s wrath is a blessing!

BLESSING IN THE BIBLICAL STORY

God created to bless. We see three blessings found in the creation narrative. Before the fall, humankind was to “experience the fullness of life in God’s presence in the garden.” Humankind was to walk in the presence of God (quite literally before the fall). Humankind was also to be a blessing to creation by fulfilling God’s “creation/cultural mandate” to be fruitful and fill the earth and be stewards of creation. But the first man and woman screwed this all up. In the post-fall world, God put another plan into effect to bless the world:

Now the Lord said to Abram [Abraham], “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1–3)

So, God chooses a person to bless, and through that person he will bless the whole world. Through Abraham, God will build a people—Israel—to be a blessing to the world. Of course, the biblical story shows the Messiah—Jesus of Nazareth—is a descendant of Abraham. The “promise land” God will give Abraham’s people will serve as a light—a blessing—foreshadowing the new creation (“the new heaven and new earth”) ushered in by Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, which is specific to Israel, God makes a covenant of blessing and cursing. Material blessing is part of this, including health and fertility/procreation. Under the Old Covenant this is conditional, based on Israel’s upholding their side of the covenant; they must obey and be loyal to their God. But at the same time, God has made an unconditional commitment to bless his people regardless. In the fallen world, whether under the Old Covenant or New Covenant, this will only ever see partial fulfillment. Those bemoaning a lack of blessings are too shortsighted and need to keep focused on the future new creation where God’s people will live with him.

Further, “in a fallen world, the way to divine blessing always involves suffering.” See Luke 9:23–26 and Romans 8:17, but this is seen in the Old Testament as well. For instance, “Jacob’s life challenges our simplistic categories of ‘do good things and be blessed’ or ‘you are blessed so nothing hurts.’ In Jacob’s limp we see God’s severe mercy going to great lengths to produce the transformation and blessing in our lives, but not always in the way we wanted.”

As we leave the Old Testament and enter the New Testament era under the New Covenant, “For all the promises [and, thus, blessings] of God find their Yes in him [in Christ]” (2 Cor 1:20). “[I]n the New Testament, blessing is always specifically in Christ” and Christ’s blessings can’t be disconnected from eternal life and the Kingdom of God. With this, the Holy Spirit is another blessing to Jesus’ people, who also empowers them to bless others. The indwelling Holy Spirit, along with Jesus’ resurrection (and even the church itself), are down-payments—assurances—of the coming fulfillment of divine blessing in the future new creation, ushered in by Christ. In the New Testament—under the New Covenant (Luke 22:20)—we experience the “partial fulfillment” (the “already/not yet” nature) of God’s blessing, which will be fulfilled when Christ returns. Even the Old Covenant’s physical blessings are a foreshadowing of the material blessing in the new creation, where there will be no more hunger, sickness, or death, and every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21). Again, those bemoaning a lack of blessings are too shortsighted.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). 

So, Christ’s people already have “every spiritual blessing” in heaven at this very moment, yet full experience of God’s blessings won’t be obtained until the New Heaven and New Earth. As Osborne puts it: Cross, then Crown (for both Christ, and Christ’s people). But Christ’s people are also blessed because God will use all their suffering for our good (Rom 8:32). “If our notions of divine blessing require freedom from suffering or persecution, then our hope is grounded in the wrong thing, or maybe the wrong age.”

Osborne proposes a great test for the believer: “Does this ‘blessing’ draw me closer to the triune God? Does this need being met bring me nearer to the giver, or is it a distraction? No perceived ‘good gift’ will ever drive you away from the Lord.” 

(Crossway provided a free copy of this book for me to review.)

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media: False Dichotomy, the Bane of Modern Debate

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 1: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 2: 5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

Logical Fallacy: False Dichotomy

Picking up right where we left off…

A false dichotomy is another logical fallacy that I see regularly used in online debates. It’s to offer only two possible options even though a broad range of possibilities are available. These often can be summed up in “either/or” statements.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say someone asks me, “For coffee, do you like Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks?” This is a false dichotomy because the implied idea (whether purposely or not) is that these are the only two options: Dunkin or Starbucks. Essentially, the person is saying, You can either like Dunkin Dounut coffee or Starbucks coffee — and there’s not other option. But what if I don’t like either? What if I like both? What if I like the local coffee shop down on the corner? Or Tim Hortons? (My northern friends know what I’m taking about.) What if my favorite coffee is the coffee I make at home? Or how about this: What if I don’t drink coffee at all? 

To give a theological example, one of the biggest debates in Christian history is Arminianism versus Calvinism. But Molinism is a perfectly acceptable, biblical alternative. Another big issue with this “only-two-options” way of thinking is that it tends to ignore nuance and details. In other words, the two options are generalized; specificity is overlooked or ignored. When false dichotomy is going on, often stereotyping is going right along with it. For instance, there are different “degrees” or flavors of Calvinism. Someone may agree with most of the tenets of Calvinism while not subscribing to them all. We can fairly say there is “soft” Calvinism, “hard” Calvinism, and even “hyper-Calvinism.” I don’t care what John Piper said; it doesn’t mean the Calvinist you’re talking to holds that same exact belief.

I don’t know what it is about human beings, but we love creating false dichotomies. Is it because we love a good rivalry? Or are we just too lazy to think harder? And I think it’s even worse with us Americans, likely because of our two-party system.

You’re either liberal or conservative. (Can’t some of my views be “conservative” and some “liberal,” depending on the topic?) You either affirm everything about group X or you hate all of group X. (Can’t one disagree with views of people X but still respect and value them?) You either love whatever president is in office or hate him. (Can’t I criticize where it’s due and praise where it’s due?) 

For some reason, we Americans can’t help but think that there are two — and only two — options. You’re either on “the Left” or on “the Right.” You’re either Democrat or Republican. There’s no nuance. No middle-ground. No moderation. No compromise. This way of thinking is a false dichotomy. And it’s illogical. (And this is why the U.S. is in big trouble.)

False dichotomy is what I call the great fallacy of American thinking today, and sadly it’s negatively affecting the thinking of Christians as well.

Faith VS. Politics

It is my strong opinion that if you are truly living consistently to the biblical guidelines you claim to live by as a follower of Christ, then you fall outside of the false dichotomy of modern U.S. politics. A Christian cannot align him- or herself to the Democratic or Republican parties (or even with what is generally called “the Left” and “the Right”) without compromising biblical values. Yes, plenty of Christians align with one or the other, but they do so by raising certain biblical values over others. I’m not here to try to tell anyone how to vote; that’s something all Christians need to wrestle with, as I do each election cycle. But what I am declaring is that biblical Christians should be uncomfortable with the current false dichotomy of U.S. politics. If you’re a Christian and you find yourself sitting comfortably within one of those political tribes, I think you need to study your Bible more closely or pay better attention to the world around you.

It has been my experience that Christians who pledge undying allegiance to one of the parties have their judgment clouded when having moral discussions. To give an example, I was having a online debate about a certain moral issue that is easy to know where to stand morally based on Scripture and God’s moral law as well as logical thinking and science. This is the issue of abortion. During this moral debate — well, that’s what I thought it was — my opponent (a self-proclaimed Christian) suddenly made a statement about me voting for a certain political candidate. I asked, “When did I ever say I was voting for him?” — rendering my debate opponent totally befuddled. So, what was a moral debate for me appears to have been a political debate for my opponent. In her mind, I was making an argument about who to vote for, not whether the murder of the unborn is something we should stand against. Clearly, the false dichotomy of U.S. politics is damaging the clear thinking (and clear witness) of the Church.

I realize giving any sort of specific example of a politicized issue is asking for trouble. I’m not trying to start any sort of political debate. (I can hear some of you clicking away on your keyboards already…) So, before anyone pipes up, let me be clear that this is certainly an issue with Christians that align themselves with both parties. Don’t believe me, just point out President Trump’s unChristian behavior and watch right-wing Christians fall over each other trying to defend him.

If you’re a Christian dedicated to a certain party, let me point out to you, that this doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept all of the party’s views. What better way to make a party more godly than to have biblical Christians as part of that party changing it from the inside?

My point is Jesus defied the false political, cultural, and even religious dichotomies of his day, and so should Jesus’ people. (And, yes, sometime Jesus even confirmed true dichotomies. See Matthew 12:30.) I often run into the false dichotomy that pits biblical truth versus compassion; the underlining attitude is we need to downplay truth so not to hurt any feelings. Now, this could be a whole blog by itself because there is a load of issues with this thinking, but let me point out that Jesus was both compassionate and truthful. He never compromised God’s truth, but he also spoke and acted in love.

Say it with me: It’s both/and, not either/or.

NEXT: Some biblical concepts to assist in online interaction and debate.

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 1: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media, PART 2: 5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

Stop Being an %$#@& on Social Media: 5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

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PART 1: Stop Being a %$#&@ Online: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Not everyone is motivated by logic. And when that’s the case, all communication breaks down. Just like there are laws of physics that are undeniable, there are also laws of logic. The Christian worldview believes there’s a divine intelligence behind creation, so it makes sense in the Christian worldview that these immaterial, universal laws of logic exist. Even those opposed to the Christian worldview can’t escape these laws of thinking any more than they can escape the laws of physics. And, thus, when we abandon logic, things fall apart.

There are common logical mistakes people make when in debate  — whether politicians, journalists, or keyboard warriors — and these are called logical fallacies. If you’re truly hoping to have meaningful conversations, avoid these. (And, let’s be honest, people often make these “mistakes” on purpose!) Sadly, all of these have become so common in online interactions, people just accept them as the norm. By being aware of them, you can avoid making them yourself as well as be equipped to point out the faulty arguments of others.

 

1. Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is to give an inaccurate or ridiculous portrayal of an opponent’s argument so to easily dismantle it. The idea is to build a man of straw, so then it’s easy to knock him down.

For example, I once posted an article about how daughters who grow up with their biological fathers in their home are safer, less likely to get pregnant before marriage, and less likely to get into abusive relationships. A feminist, who took issue with the article (despite it being backed by data), summed up the article as, “All girls who grow up without a father will be raped.” Well, that’s not what the article said! And, so, I’m under no obligation to defend that view. As you can see in this example, often the straw man fallacy plays out as the person taking the stated view to an unreasonable extreme.

Another straw man I have often come across online is when atheists portray Christianity as “believing in an old, bearded man in the sky.” If that’s what they really think Christians believe, they have no grasp of the most basics of Christian theology. Even Christian children’s books I read to my kids don’t teach this idea of the God of the Bible. Now, if Christians did believe an old man in the sky — have at it, atheists! But Christians are not ancient pagans; Christians worship an immaterial, timeless, self-existent being who exists apart from the universe and brought all of creation into existence — the Uncaused First Cause, the Unmoved Mover. As you can see from this example, often those making the straw man argument are trying to make their opponent look foolish. In many cases like this, they’re just looking to mock someone, not have a reasonable discussion. So, don’t waste your time. Move on.

Represent your opponents’ opinions accurately and engage with that, not some caricature you created.

 

2. Ad Hominem

Ad hominem is Latin for “to the person.” This is to attack the person and not the argument. 

This is the internet atheist who goes on and on about how dumb you are to be a Christian, yet he doesn’t give one relevant argument against Christianity or for atheism. This is the person who labels you as a bigot or hate-monger because you reasonably disagree with a lifestyle or behavior. This is the person that dismisses you by stereotyping you as a member of a group rather than addressing what you’re saying.

Let me point out something else: As a Christian, I have moral, logical, and practical reasons for being against hypocrisy, but even if a person is the biggest hypocrite in the world, it doesn’t necessarily mean their argument is invalid. For example, a person could give a perfectly valid argument for vegetarianism while eating a hamburger. Is the person a hypocrite? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the argument is any less valid. 

Attack arguments, not people.

 

3. Red Herring

A red herring is an attempt to distract from what is being debated by bringing up an unrelated — and usually emotionally loaded — topic. Apparently, the saying comes from when criminals would drag stinky fish across a trail to throw off the scent of the hound dogs hunting them. 

Recently, my friend was leading a reading group on a Zoom meeting for our ministry at Rutgers, Ratio Christi. The topic of discussion was a book on scientific evidence for the existence of God. A husband of one of the women, an angry atheist that clearly didn’t like her participating in the group, jumped into the meeting and started ranting about Christians who believe humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. He kept bringing up the young earth view of creation, but nothing in the book had anything to do with this. Furthermore, the young earth view isn’t an essential Christian belief. It was irrelevant to the conversation! He was just trying to derail the discussion. (There was a fair amount of Ad Hominem and Straw Man fallacies spewing from his mouth too.)

One of the clearest examples I’ve personally experienced with a red herring fallacy is when I posted an article I wrote about the eugenic origins and racist history of Planned Parenthood. Someone responded by bringing up how certain churches hold to a view that doesn’t allow women to be elders. What does that have to do with Planned Parenthood’s racist history?! This was so random it’s hard for me to imagine the thinking behind it, but it was clearly an attempt to distract from the real issue. 

 

4. Snow Job

Similar to a red herring, this is an attempt to overwhelm an opponent with mountains of information and facts — but the problem is they’re irrelevant to the debate. 

I’ve experienced this most often when a person responds in a LONG paragraph. My first reaction (before reading it) is to feel intimidated and think, “Man, this person must really know what they’re talking about!” But, once I read it with a critical eye, I realize that much of the paragraph is not about the specific topic being debated. Sure, the person is bringing up a lot of related stuff, but it’s not addressing the specific component of debate.

Recently, someone matter-of-factly mentioned racist doctrines in the modern church. I asked for examples. The person wrote a long paragraph giving examples of racism and even some places where modern Christians could do a better job addressing racism with solid theology, but none of this was racist doctrine that was held by any church. For the record, I’m not denying racism committed by self-proclaimed Christians either in the past or present, but I do deny there is any doctrine based on biblical grounds to justify this evil — though there have been attempts (and they all fail miserably under biblical scrutiny). My point is, I asked for examples of racist church doctrine and he provided a long paragraph on racism and the church, but he didn’t answer my request.

 

5. False Dichotomy

OK, there’s one last big one that needs to be addressed, but it’s such a big one, it needs it’s own article…

 

PART 1: Stop Being a %$#&@ Online: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

 

Stop Being a %$#&@ Online: 14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

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OK, I get it. You have opinions and you want everyone to know them. I get it. You look at what’s going on in the world and you don’t like it. I get it. The things people are posting in your feed are alarming. I get it. 

But I also can’t help noticing that no one is listening to you either. Yeah, your peers who hold the same exact opinion are cheering you on, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you got it. They are listening to you. But I don’t see you bringing anyone over to your team.

Where I like to occasionally post things about my kids or hobbies or something that made me laugh on social media, I also occasionally feel the need to jump into what I call the Online Mosh Pit. For those of you who’ve never been to a punk or metal show, a mosh pit is a swirling mass of violent dancing in a crowd at a concert. Just like when I was in my twenties at a punk show, standing on the edge of the chaos that is “The Pit,” I’m watching the violence online — the flailing fists, the bodies running into each other, the big guy jumping off the stage and knocking everyone over like bowling pins. Sometimes I watch as simply an observer, sometimes I watch too intimidated to jump in, and sometimes I jump right into the fray.

In the glory days of the mosh pit, an old school guy like me will tell you, there were rules of etiquette. It wasn’t all senseless violence. So, let me suggest some rules so you can be less of a %$#@& when the band breaks into your favorite chunky breakdown and you start swinging your fists around online.

 

1. Try Asking Some Questions Before Jumping Into “Battle Mode”

There’s a lot of miscommunication (and badly communicated posts) on social media. The nature of social media pretty much guaranties this. So, take some time to try to understand what the other person is actually saying. Even general questions like “Can you explain to me what you mean by that?” and “How did you reach that conclusion?” can move the conversation along. Practice active listening skills too. Repeat back to the person what he or she said in your own words: “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying… Do I have that right?”

 

2. Give a Compliment

Hey, give credit where credit is due! Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s a good point.” Or, at least, “I understand what you’re saying, but I think you’re mistaken because…” You could even say something like, “I appreciate your passion for an important issue like X, but I don’t know if what you’re saying are the best way to address it…” Such comments let your opponents know that you’re considering what he or she is saying and not just looking to smash him or her into bits. 

 

3. Seek Common Ground

I’ve had interactions before where someone is going at me in full battle mode and I’ll point out, “You and I agree on a lot more than we don’t…” That usually changes the tone of the conversation. Point out where you agree. I find this makes the conversation more specific — more focused on working out the differences rather than just slugging it out. Try saying things like, “You and I agree on X, but we disagree on the best way to address X, so how do we work that out?” 

 

4. Don’t Respond Emotionally

That should be obvious, but, well… Spend seven seconds on social media and you’ll see most people don’t do this. If you feel yourself get heated, wait until you’re feeling more level-headed to respond. That’s one of the advantages to having a discussion online versus in person.

 

5. Prepare

Yeah, someone always wants to throw out “That’s just your opinion” to dismiss what you wrote, but there’s a difference between having a weak opinion (often based on emotion) and a strong opinion (based on research and backed by facts and logic). If you’re going to jump into a debate, do the hard work of reading and thinking first. (BTW, anyone saying “That’s just your opinion” is telling you they can’t come up with a good counter argument to what you wrote.)

 

6. Read Opposing Opinions

There is wisdom in the saying, “Know your enemy.” Where I certainly hope you don’t consider those you’re debating as your enemies, knowing the arguments your opponent would use before engaging them is wise. Not only will it better prepare you to respond to their arguments, but maybe — just maybe — you’ll be exposed to an idea you never thought about before. 

 

7. Be Ridiculously Polite

Work to have a discussion, not an argument. Once it becomes an argument, no one is listening anymore. It’s very easy to read the wrong things into people’s words online because we can’t pick up on social cues, body language, tone of voice, etc. (With this, people feel more emboldened to be rude online.) Thus, I sometimes go out of my way to be extremely polite and make it clear my intentions are good when engaging with someone. When you’re interacting online, do whatever you would consider “overly-polite” and then be even more polite than that.

 

8. Don’t Assume

You know what they say about assuming, right? “To assume (ass-u-me) makes an ‘as*’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” Don’t assume you know everything the other person believes just because they express a certain opinion. Unfortunately, we are infected with this “either/or” mindset when it comes to the political issues people debate today and we want to dump everyone into the “liberal” or “conservative” camp. This is just lazy. (For example, I could be a conservative who criticizes President Trump. I could be a liberal but against abortion.) People are a lot more reasonable and moderate than you think. Plus, every opinion has nuance. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are the most extreme, and we have the bad habit of lumping everyone into categories. I’ve had people assume things about me because I’m Christian. I’ve also had people lump me into both “liberal” and “conservative” camps because of views I’ve expressed, only to have them baffled when I express another view they consider to be part of the opposite camp. 

 

9. Don’t Post Memes

Think you found that perfect meme to stick it to your opponents? Don’t post it. Memes are great for laughs, but they do nothing to move along a debate. Most memes are just cheap shots at the other side and they often commit a slew of logical fallacies. If you want to have a serious discussion, don’t post a meme. Just don’t.

 

10. Don’t React to a Headline

Read the whole article before you respond to it. There’s been many times I’ll be getting pushback for an article and it becomes clear to me that the person didn’t even read it, whether it’s an article I’m reposting or an article I wrote for my blog. (Also, if a person reposts an article without comment, don’t assume you know their motivation behind posting it.)

 

11. Address What the Person Actually Wrote

As the saying goes, “If I only had a dollar” every time I’ve had someone give pushback to something I’ve posted only to read his or her comments and realize the person is not addressing anything I wrote. Usually, they’re arguing about something someone else (such as a politician, journalist, etc.) said about the topic. I’ve responded to comments like these with something like, “OK, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote.” Please respond to what a person actually writes, not what you think he or she thinks. 

 

12. Pick Your battles

If you’re going to go after everyone with a differing opinion than you, eventually people will just roll their eyes when they see your tiny picture and just scroll past your comments. Those who do respond will not be responding to what you write as much as responding to your personality because you’re annoying. 

 

13. You Don’t Have to An Opinion About Everything

Hey, it’s alright to admit to yourself that you don’t know enough about a topic to have a strong opinion and to decide to sit this one out. When it comes to the vast amount of things that we can discuss and debate, we all don’t know a lot more than we do know. Most people are just regurgitating stuff someone in their “tribe” has said without doing the hard, honest work of researching and thinking to form their own, independent opinion. So, be humble. Be teachable. Spend some time reading and thinking before becoming a keyboard warrior.

 

14. Get A Life

Consider that you have more important things to do than pick fights online. Take a walk with a friend. Plant a garden. Write an elected official. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Read a book with your kids. Invite that person you disagree with over for dinner and have a real conversation.

Also, ask yourself: Other than screaming online and voting once a year, what am I really doing to live out my convictions?

This is a good start, but coming up: Common logical fallacies to avoid on social media and — since this is a Christian blog — biblical guidelines for Christians for online interaction.