Detecting False Dichotomies that Hinder the Mission of the Church

Jesus excelled in reasoning and never committed a logical fallacy. Nor did he give his followers the option of intellectual slackness. The Holy Spirit would lead them into truth and give them the wisdom they needed. Studying with Jesus for three years meant learning to think on their feet.  But today, many Christians accept a logical fallacy that saps the church’s witness. It is called a false dichotomy.

Some affirm that the church should not engage in apologetics, but, rather, preach the gospel. They set up the relationship as “ether apologetics or gospel preaching” and affirm gospel preaching at the expense of apologetics. But this is a false dichotomy, since both preaching and apologetics have been staples of Christian practice in the early church and through the centuries. The relationship of these two ideas is both/and, not either/or. To hold this false dichotomy hobbles the mission of the church.

Consider another either/or mistake. Some write off apologetics by saying, “Rational arguments do no good in convincing an unbeliever of the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.” Thus, it comes down to the disjunction of rational arguments or the Holy Spirit. Since they want the Spirit’s work to prevail (and not the flesh), we deny apologetics. Yet what if the Holy Spirit works through rational arguments? If so, there is no disjunction. In the teachings of Jesus, the early church, and throughout the history of Christianity, we find sinners convinced of the truth of the Gospel through the use of apologetics of one kind or another. The best-selling author Lee Strobel was convinced to become a Christian by a careful investigation of the evidence. The fine film, “The Case for Christ” recounts this intellectual adventure. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26. Thus, it is not surprising that he often employs sound arguments to convince people of the truth of Christianity—although the hard-hearted can turn away from the best evidence for the Christian faith.

Finally, consider the nature of Christ. Heretics claim that Jesus is either God or human, not both God and human. Docetists say that Jesus was divine, but only appeared human. Muslims say that Jesus was human and not divine. On the contrary, the Bible affirms, and the creeds concur, that Jesus is both God and human. He is the God-man.

The divine Word became flesh in human history without ceasing to be divine (John 1:1-3, 14; Philippians 2:5-11). Orthodox Christian faith affirms that Jesus is one person with two natures; he is both divine and human. There is no either/or.

One of the most common errors in thinking is false dichotomy. Sadly, Christians are not immune to them. We must take seriously the commandment Jesus said was first and greatest—to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). We love God by consecrating our minds to him. We take his commandment seriously by avoiding false dichotomies and all errors in logic. We must scrupulously avoid all sloppy, lazy thinking. The stakes are high indeed. Affirming a false dichotomy regarding apologetics, social action, the Holy Spirit, or the nature of Christ has dire consequences.






4 thoughts on “Detecting False Dichotomies that Hinder the Mission of the Church

  1. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (6-13-2019) – 1 Peter 4:12-16

  2. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (7-18-2019) – 1 Peter 4:12-16

  3. I appreciate your writing, Douglas. With all due respect, I disagree. You mentioned avoiding “all errors in logic,” and that “we must scrupulously avoid all sloppy, lazy thinking.” This to me is the gaping hole in this post about false dichotomies. I think that simply declaring that one particular book – written some 2,000 years ago, with writings covering the course of thousands of years prior, written by over 70 different men – is the world’s guide to what form Jesus or God took, is not only illogical, it’s a little arrogant, in my opinion. There’s just no way to know for sure the things that you’re saying, no more than there’s a way to confirm the claims made in the religious books of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or any of the countless number of unique religions. And “the stakes are high indeed,” as you said, because we the Christians are not alone in believing in God. As I’m sure you know well, Hinduism, for example, pre-dates Christianity by 3,000 years; Judaism by 1,800 years; and Buddhism by nearly 500 years. And those are the just the major world religions. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient native religions before Hinduism. All I’m getting at is, there are a whole world of folks who believe in “God,” but to say that Jesus is one and the same as God, or that Jesus was God and man, is saying a whole lot without any sort of “logical” evidence, which, as you noted, is important to have. Generally speaking, logic and religion rarely ever belong in the same sentence. Believing in God and following world religion is about faith, not about logic. So, I believe if you’re going to attempt to have a discussion or a debate with a non-believer about the dichotomy of religious versus non-religious beliefs, not only will you never win that debate by using so-called “facts,” you will only win them over by conveying the comfort and value of having faith and spirituality, in my personal opinion. If a religious discussion is going to carry itself based on supposed “facts,” it can’t really progress very far. What actual “facts” can we as Christians actually present to anyone? Who can confirm any of the things we believe in as Christians? I believe these things, but that doesn’t make them fact. Now, I might say that it’s logical that God had to create humans because something as complicated as the human brain is just far too complex for it to be a random occurrence, or even the result of 4.5 billion years of evolution. Or, I could believe it’s logical that God exists for the same reason when considering the complexity of our 14 billion-year-old universe. But again, these are really just my opinions, not facts. And what God are we talking about in those instances? People have been thinking these sort of “logical” thoughts for thousands of years before Jesus walked the earth, because they, too, believed in a God and a creator. How can we as Christians now tell people that if they don’t believe that Jesus was both God and a man, and that he is the only way to a good life after death, when much of the earth has their owns religious beliefs about what leads to a good afterlife. Would you convert if a Buddhist missionary approached you and witnessed to you? Probably not. I wouldn’t either. That’s why it would be arrogant for Buddhists to go around declaring such singular ideas. I believe strongly in logic and evidence-based facts, but it seems to me that spirituality and religion is the only area in which these ways of thinking do not apply well. So, while I think you’re right in saying that you have to take multiple approaches in discussing these things with non-believers, I don’t believe one of those approaches is logic. Please don’t take my comments as an attack. I enjoy good debate, and I greatly appreciate what you’re trying to do. Keep fighting the good fight.

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