C.S. Lewis once said, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”
The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are to be thoughtful, cogitative people. The apostle Paul carefully reasoned with others in presenting the gospel (Acts 17:2). The apostle Peter states that we should give a proper defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15). This includes (1) a knowledge of the subject matter, (2) knowing how to present it effectively, and (3) anticipating potential objections.
The desperate need for critical thinking can be illustrated in any five minutes of a news program. Interviewees often cannot give a straight answer to questions posed to them. At times, their arguments are weak or emotionally-driven. Unchallenged diversions, deflections, and equivocations are commonplace. People can make themselves look incredibly foolish simply by not paying attention to how they structure their arguments. Some–especially politicians, as we have seen in the last few years–cleverly dodge difficult questions and offer silky smooth answers that do not answer the questions posed to them. This may be true in politics, but it is especially true in the realm of religion.
There are many statements used against authentic Christianity–by unbelievers and religious non-Christians–that are pulled from the wasteland of the ridiculous. For instance:
- “Everything is relative.” Do you realize that’s an absolute statement?
- “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” Do you realize that’s another absolute statement?
- “All truth is relative.” Third time’s a charm.
- “We can’t know anything for certain.” Really? You seem quite certain.
- “Nothing can be known.” How do you know?
- “It is arrogant to think that you can know the truth with certainty.” You seem pretty confident in saying that.
- “Christianity might be true for you, but it isn’t true for everyone.” Is your relativism true only for you, or do you think it’s true for everyone?
- “God is indescribable.” Umm, that IS a description.
- “Only scientific arguments are valid.” That’s a philosophical statement.
- “There is no such thing as propositional truth.” You just gave an example of it.
- “Only knowledge that is empirically verifiable can be considered true.” Can you verify that statement empirically?
- “We have to doubt all truth claims.” Did you doubt that one?
- “You shouldn’t judge.” That sounds like a judgment.
- “That’s just your opinion.” No, it’s your opinion that this is my opinion.
- “It’s arrogant to tell someone else that they’re wrong.” Aren’t you doing exactly that?
- “You should be tolerant of all views.” You clearly aren’t tolerating mine.
- “You can’t force your views on others.” In other words, I can totally ignore you.
It isn’t always easy spotting errors in thinking when they appear. Sometimes they’re sneaky. And sometimes we hear something so often that it just “sounds right.” Since current educational models often value social skills over critical thinking skills, it isn’t a great surprise that many people routinely include blatant contradictions and self-refuting statements in everyday language.
As Christians, we have to be careful in not only what we believe, but how we present those beliefs. We have to do so with language that is clear, consistent, and coherent. Otherwise, we’ll be nothing more than the learned fool, who, according to Benjamin Franklin, “writes his nonsense in better language than the unlearned, but it is still nonsense.”
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