by Al Maxey

Issue #596 ------- November 1, 2013
Truth is the object of philosophy,
but not always of philosophers.

John Churton Collins (1848-1908)

A "This or That" Theology
Factional Fancy for False Dichotomy

John Milton (1608-1674), in his classic work "Paradise Lost," spoke of the "vain wisdom" that was poured out for human consumption by "false philosophy." One has to admit that much foolishness has been spread abroad by those professing to be wise, and many unsuspecting, gullible people have been led away from "the wisdom from above" to that which this world has to offer. The apostle Paul warned, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col. 2:8). One can easily be deceived by such philosophical foolishness. Or, to quote the Roman philosopher Cicero (106-43 B.C.), "There is nothing so ridiculous but some philosopher has said it." The French philosopher Descartes (1596-1650) made a very similar observation: "One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another." When even the great philosophers themselves caution us against listening with untrained and uncritical ears to their opinings, we would be well-advised to heed that warning. It was Paul's prayer for his brethren in Colossae that "no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments" (Col. 2:4). That should be our prayer for one another today as well.

There is nothing wrong with philosophy per se, as long as one understands both the benefits and limitations of this discipline. When properly perceived and practiced, "waxing philosophical" can be quite productive. As with any discipline, however, there are those who abuse it, thus resulting in various levels of harm to others. Most great disciplines, such as philosophy, require a disciplined mind if any significant benefit is to be realized. This requires critical thought -- bold assessment, rather than blind acceptance -- and not everyone is willing to expend that kind of energy and effort, which, sadly, is exactly what those who abuse such disciplines count on in order to further their personal or party agendas. In this manner, the unthinking and unenlightened are "taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition," as noted by the apostle Paul.

Over the past couple of weeks, in Reflections #594 and #595, I discussed one example of what is commonly known as a "logical fallacy." This is the practice of "straw man argumentation." These two studies generated a great deal of positive response from readers, and also generated some interest in other examples of philosophical abuse (often employed by religionists and factionists). A reader in Texas wrote: "A close cousin to the 'straw man' that I have witnessed during a lifetime of membership in conservative Churches of Christ is the 'false dichotomy.' I have heard this a lot: 'Either you accept the authority of the Scriptures, or you do not' (and other similar statements). I'm sure that you studied such rhetorical devices like this in your Greek studies in graduate school. I will send you an article where I believe the author uses 'false dichotomy' when he argues that those who challenge traditional thought are thereby 'ignorant' and 'belittlers' of truth. I would like your thoughts on his article. Thanks!" [NOTE -- The article sent by this brother was written by Dr. Doy Moyer and placed on the Mind Your Faith web site on Sept. 20, 2013. The title of the article is: "Against Traditional Teaching?" Dr. Moyer, who has been a preacher for almost 30 years, teaches apologetics, biblical studies and philosophy at Florida College, an institution affiliated (ironically) with the Non-Institutional ("Anti") Churches of Christ. It is a short article (only 6 paragraphs), and I would encourage you to go to this web site and read it before continuing with this issue of my Reflections.]

First, we should discuss the nature of what is known as a "false dichotomy" (also known as a "false dilemma"). For those of you who have graphics capabilities in your email provider, this concept may be seen in the clipart at the top of this current Reflections article. One person presents to another person two alternative, and usually disparate, points of view as if these were the only options available (when, in fact, other options exist). Usually one alternative is presented as so outrageous that the only "logical choice" is the one preferred by the presenter. If the arguer can convince his audience that there are only two choices, and the only logical one is his, when the reality is that there are many additional choices, then the arguer has put forth what is known as a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy." The Dictionary of Philosophy states: "A 'false dichotomy' or 'false dilemma' occurs when an argument presents two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives." Generally, such false dilemmas are posed as "either - or" declarations; everything is viewed as black or white, this or that -- which ignores the reality that in most scenarios there are many other alternatives. A false dichotomy is typically used in debates to portray one's opponent as an extremist. If you can convince the audience that there are only two possible positions that may be embraced (yours and your opponent's), and that only one is logical and beneficial, then the assumption, either stated or inferred, will be that your opponent's is neither (being extreme, illogical, irrational, harmful). Such argumentation, however, quickly falls apart when it is demonstrated that there are other options than the two presented.

In Dr. Doy Moyer's article (referenced above) we do indeed seem to perceive a somewhat subtle usage of "false dichotomy" in his argumentation. Indeed, I believe Moyer probably recognized some might challenge him on this, for in a brief afterword to his article he provides a bit of much needed clarification to his previous assertions. But first, notice the author's premise in his article: he is talking about our teaching, and whether it is "true" or "traditional" -- "new" or "old." He is especially bothered by some who "seem to thrive on teaching new things, introducing new ideas, and essentially trashing views held by previous generations." The contrast being presented to the viewer is between that which is "new" and that which is "traditional." Those who embrace the former are said to be "trashing" the latter. The "either - or" dichotomy suggests it is innovation versus tradition; new versus old -- and the implication left in the mind of the undiscerning reader is that one is true and the other is ipso facto false. In the second paragraph of his article he wrote, "Any teaching that is true will, necessarily, be traditional." Necessarily?! If it is true it HAS to be old? Nothing new can be true? Therefore, his conclusion is: "speaking against 'traditional' teaching is neither logical nor sound." He continues, "To call something 'traditional' is to make it sound bad and is really a form of the age fallacy (newer must be better). We should not be impressed." But, isn't it also part of the "age fallacy" to suggest the opposite (older must be better)? If not, why not?

In Dr. Moyer's final paragraph he states, "Either the teaching we are dealing with finds its authority in Scripture or it doesn't." Notice the "either - or" construction here. Also notice the inclusion of the concept of "authority," and how it is tied to the biblical text. This is a not so subtle reference to the establishing of "authority" by an appeal to "book, chapter, verse" (which essentially is the CENI/silence hermeneutic). The NT writings are silent on multiple cups in the observing of the Lord's Supper, so this "innovation" is clearly wrong! The NT writings are silent on praise teams, so this "innovation" is clearly wrong! Etc. Thus, if something is as "old" as the NT writings (i.e., traditional), then it is authorized; if it is "new," it is an innovation of those "change agents" who are intent upon trashing tradition. Oh, the games we play! The false dichotomy here is that the two choices before mankind are: (1) an act is acceptable before God if it can be substantiated by an appeal to "book, chapter, verse," and (2) an act is unacceptable before God if it cannot be substantiated by an appeal to "book, chapter, verse." But, are those the only two options? Of course not. Even the legalistic patternists get around this by appealing to "expediency" (a third option) when some act they like cannot be found "authorized" by "book, chapter, verse." If the practice of our Christian faith is intimately tied to LAW, then it does indeed become rather black and white. If it is tied to LOVE, however, it is free to express itself according to any number of social and cultural variables. Thus, acceptability is not determined by either "new" or "old," but rather by whether the act in question is motivated by love, honors the Creator, and benefits His creation. Both "old" and "new" (traditional and innovative) may be equally deemed appropriate and acceptable, even though they may differ vastly from one another in numerous ways.

Dr. Moyer assumes that "if we are teaching what has never been taught, and if we cannot find real biblical support for it, then something is wrong." Thus, it must be as "old" as the Scriptures (traditional), or "something is wrong." The unspoken implication is clear: "new" is wrong! The ultimate conclusion of such a philosophy, of course, is that tradition is soon equated with Truth. If that which is old is good, and if that which is traditional is right, then Tradition = Truth, and all that is not "old," and all that is not of tradition, is ipso facto false. The problem with this view is that we all have many traditions, even in Churches of Christ, that can't even remotely be traced back to the NT Scriptures. They just happen to be older innovations (as opposed to newer innovations). Unfortunately, they have been around long enough that they are now revered. Someone once quipped that the only difference between a treasured tradition and an insidious innovation is about a hundred years! In time, preferences have a tendency to become elevated to precepts, and thereby come to be viewed and cherished as TRUTH. As Dr. Moyer wrote in his "clarification" statement at the end, "To clarify, I am speaking from our vantage point. I know Jesus challenged traditions, but this is not a defense of traditions per se (as some can be wrong), but of tradition as truth." Yes, some traditions are wrong (i.e., yours), but if they are ours, then they are TRUTH. Again, we are presented with a false dichotomy. SAD!

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Wyoming:

Please send us your following audio CD sets: Study of the Epistle to the Galatians and The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. Also, we would like a signed copy of your new book Immersed By One Spirit. Our check is enclosed. May God continue to bless your ministry. You are such an encouragement to so many! By the way, your work is changing my life, the lives of my family, and the lives of my spiritual family. You've silently moved everyone in my life closer to Christ simply by following God's call to be an honest pursuer of Truth. May we all realize this potential in ourselves by God's grace. Thank You, Al.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Please send me a copy of your 2 CD set: Study of the Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty. My check is enclosed. I have been enjoying listening to your CD on Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ, and am really looking forward to your series of lessons on Galatians. Greet the brethren there for me. You and Shelly are in my prayers, as are your parents, on a regular basis!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Brother Maxey, please send me your new CD study on Galatians. My check is enclosed. This study sounds really interesting. I don't know how you find the time to do all that you do, but I am certainly thankful that you do! God bless you.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Thank you for your study on Law to Liberty. It was and is great, and I learned so much! Please send me your Study of the Epistle to the Galatians. I look forward to this new study. I pray for you daily to be able to continue your work. May God bless you for giving such wonderful information to the world about the love of Christ.

From a Reader in Alabama:

I have a check in the mailbox ready to be sent to you for your series of lessons on The Epistle to the Galatians on two audio CDs. I am really looking forward to that! The reason I'm writing to you right now is to show you "Church of Christism" at its "best" in the following article at this web site: Brotherhood News. I attend at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ (the congregation under attack). Our elders had been approached by some of the flock about adding instruments, so they posted a survey on our web site for our congregation to fill out, and now the area Churches of Christ are "thrilled" (not) by our decision! I thought our elders handled the criticism very well. Please keep them in your prayers!

From a New Reader in New Jersey:

I am a university student here in New Jersey, and not too long ago I met some other students who come from the Churches of Christ. We have been having an extensive ongoing discussion about baptism. They are very kind, loving people, but they insist that I am not saved because I was baptized "without the proper understanding of baptism." I have been doing very large amounts of study and research in this topic, and in the process stumbled upon your Reflections. It is amazing and inspiring to see how your understanding of baptism, through your own study and research, has grown over the years, and that you were not content to remain stagnant in your understanding, but rather to grow through continual digging into God's Word. In just a few short weeks I have learned a ton about the history of baptism and all the different points of view on its role in the Christian's life. Two of your articles especially (Reflections #470 -- "Is Baptism A Sacrament? Reflecting on a Doctrinal Devolution from Visible Sign to Vital Sacrament" and Reflections #503 -- "The 'Belief After Baptism' Doctrine: Sectarian Sacramentalism and the Philippian Jailer") provided serious breakthroughs in my understanding of baptism, and I am so grateful that you wrote them. The Church of Christ denomination is, as a whole, unfortunately very legalistic in their doctrine, and they don't seem to grasp the NT's overarching proclamation that we are saved By Grace Through Faith. Romans 4 is so amazing, and it essentially dismantles the claim that baptism is the precise point at which we are saved. Thank you again, Al Maxey!! Thank You for conforming your doctrine to the Word, and for not warping or ignoring parts of the Word to try and make it conform to your doctrine. You are a good man, and you have greatly helped out a young brother in Christ!! God bless you, and please add me to your Reflections mailing list!

From a New Reader in Alabama:

I am a retired minister in the Church of Christ and often heard your name mentioned, so began reading your Reflections online. I agree with all you've said, and would like to be added to your subscribers list. I am so glad to hear of a growing movement of common sense folks who obviously disagree with many of "our" traditions and resulting dogmas. I grew up in Nashville, TN during the forties and fifties, and I distinctly remember many of the "issues" that plagued us. I was taught that "we" were IT. "We" were right. "We" had book, chapter and verse for everything we believed. Thus, if you differed with US, you were just wrong, and we would not associate with you. For the past 35+ years I have been part of "a" Church of Christ that believes in salvation by grace, based upon what Jesus did, and not on what we do. Roughly 43 of the 45 "Churches of Christ" in our county would not agree with us! SAD!!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Al, I love this following statement that you wrote in your article "Speaking Out On Straw Men" (Reflections #595) -- "They are incapable of discerning a distinction between the universal One Body of Christ and the group found in the Yellow Pages under the heading 'Church of Christ.' They have been indoctrinated all their lives to believe that the two are, in reality, one and the same." Having grown up in that church found in the Yellow Pages, I couldn't agree more! We were indoctrinated (at a very early age) to believe that the Church of Christ is the ONLY "true church," and to be in another group meant that you were bound for hell. I'm ashamed to say that I swallowed that spoon-fed idiocy, taught it to our youth, and preached it from the pulpit. I left the Churches of Christ fifteen years ago, and haven't looked back. It cost me a lot of friends and some family, but I just can't swallow any more of that heresy! Thanks be to God for delivering me from that legalistic prison. Keep the faith, brother! I love your writings, and I love reading the responses from others about how things are slowly starting to change!

From a Reader in California:

When I read your last article ("Speaking Out On Straw Men") I was reminded of when my mother (God rest her soul) used to maintain (in all good faith and with a straight face) that anyone who didn't belong to "the one true church" (that is: our segment of the Church of Christ: the One Cup segment) was "just plain dishonest, refusing to see the very truth right before their eyes." In time, I came to know that this was not the truth (in fact, just the opposite). However, any time that our belief system was challenged, we would become angry. And an angry man or woman is hard to communicate with, since it is always his way or the highway! I know this from experience, after 75 years of trying. You cannot reason with the unreasonable, and you cannot placate the implacable. Thanks for your Reflections, Al, and for your fight against this insanity. HUGS from California!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

More than 40 years ago, when my wife and I were struggling with the very issues with which you are dealing in your Reflections, we were so alone! Not only our friends, but even our family, condemned us, both privately and publicly. Talk about "straw men." You wouldn't believe the lies that were told about us, and many of them from the pulpits! My mother and other family members died believing I was hopelessly lost unless I repented and returned to "THE church." The more pot shots that were fired at us the more we became convinced that we needed to distance ourselves from such unchristian attitudes. Although we left, we have never encouraged even one other person to leave. What a joy, however, to learn that we have brothers and sisters galore outside our walls about whom we did not previously know! Bro. Al, almost all of your Reflections I consider right on target, but your last two on "straw men" (Issue #594 and Issue #595) have been the most tremendous I have seen!! Thanks!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Have you seen the Sept/Oct, 2013 issue of Contending for the Faith magazine (Click Here)? The author of one of the articles ("Deviations From The Truth," page 14, by Roelf L. Ruffner, Sr.) blasted the "apostate brethren" at David Lipscomb University for allowing "apostates" to speak on campus. This was in reference to Dr. Scott McKnight, a Baptist seminary professor, who Ruffner called an "unbeliever" and a "non-Christian," even though he knew nothing about his spiritual, personal or moral life. In the article the author wrote, "If someone asks you if LU (Lipscomb University) is one of 'your schools' (Churches of Christ) just say, 'No, they left us and the Bible a long time ago!' If someone mentions that they have a relative contemplating attending LU, warn them to run from LU like Joseph fled from Potipher's wife." This attitude, and the downright ugliness in this Contending for the Faith publication, sickens me; it is so depressing! Their attitude exemplifies the "straw man" approach you discussed in your last two articles. I keep forwarding them your articles, but have never received a reply. I wonder why?! Keep up the good work, Al. I am so encouraged by the articles you share with us. God bless you and your ministry. You are a blessing to many!

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I really enjoyed your last two Reflections. I agree that we must continue to strive to help people find another way to serve God other than holding on to sectarian, dogmatic traditions. One of the reader responses reminded me of a great book that I recommend everyone dealing with these issues read. It is "Being Wrong" by Kathryn Schulz. It is a great study on the ways people are wrong and how we deal with this "wrongness." Ministers deal with these issues constantly as we often are called to challenge people's long-held beliefs. The idea that they could be wrong is often inconceivable to them. Schulz's work is a great study of how people react to wrongness, and I have found many sermon stories in it.

From an Elder in Florida:

Al, I am certainly sorry that you have had to deal, again, with this issue because some of our brethren cannot see past the denominationalism in which they are steeped unaware. The test of who are my fellow disciples is an easy one: "And they (the world) will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). Oh, that we could learn to look at what binds us together instead of looking for anything to tear us apart (Satan relishes us helping him to divide and conquer). If we loved one another as Jesus loves us, we would not be spitting vitriol at our brethren who may differ from us on some non-salvific issue. I long for the day when I can walk arm-in-arm with all my brethren, from all religious denominations, and fight the good fight together against the real enemy. God bless you, Al. From a Florida Elder who loves, but grieves for, his church family!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Another excellent article! I read about a woman calling a local "Church of Christ." When the preacher answered the phone, she asked, "Is this the United Church of Christ?" He responded, "We are the Church of Christ, but we aren't united." How true. We are denominated. In the eyes of some, "the one true church" just keeps getting smaller and smaller (with each new division or faction). Of course that "smallness" is justified (in their view), because Jesus said, "And few there be that find it." I can understand why there is confusion among members over the terms "universal" and "historical." We have been "brain washed." We deny it, but it is so. We even excuse our use of one name, and only one name, on our buildings!

From a Reader in Texas:

We in Churches of Christ were raised on being "Christians Only." Sadly, we never understood what that really means! Thank you, brother, for the great insight and understanding you are sharing. Glory to our Lord Jesus!

From a Reader in Tripoli, Libya:

Al, I just finished reading your last Reflections article. When I finished, my first thought was, "Finally! It is being said!" Now, maybe, with what you and others are teaching, we as Christians can teach what Christ died for: Liberty, Unity and Salvation. And He did it with LOVE. Continue praying for us over here, and know that you and your family are in our prayers, too.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I am trying to locate a video done by one of the prominent men in our progressive movement in which he appears alone on a stage with a row of empty chairs. He engages in conversations, taking both sides, as he moves from chair to chair. It has to do with fellowship. Can you help me find this?

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