Sharing our faith is both exhilarating and frustrating. It is exhilarating because when we talk about the reasons why Jesus is the only name by which we are saved, we know lives can be changed and souls redeemed. However, it is frustrating because when people flee from God, they resort to all sorts of folly. And when they do, many of us feel inept as ambassadors of Christ because so many of us know what they are saying is off base, but cannot pinpoint why because we have not been taught to think critically. But if we are to effectively share and defend our faith, it is very helpful if we know something about the art of reasoning well. Here are three simple steps to assist us on our way.
Clearly define all terms. Meaningful conversations cannot take place if the terms being used have different meanings to the different parties involved. For instance, a Christian using the term “God” means a personal, spiritual being, who is immanent and transcendent, infinite, unchangeable and perfect. However, others may mean an impersonal force, an unfolding flower or the physical-material world. Therefore, to ensure people are not talking past each other, simply ask, “What do you mean by that?” when ambiguous or vague terms are used.
Become familiar with the three laws of thought. In order for intelligible exchanges to occur, basic rules must be employed to help guide our thinking and eliminate vague, contradictory or ambiguous ideas.
The Law of Identity says that if a statement is true, then it is true. The statement “Christianity might be true for you, but it’s not true for me” defies this law. If Christianity is true, then it is true for me and it is true for you.The Law of Non-Contradiction says that a statement cannot be true and false simultaneously. This means Jesus cannot be Lord and not Lord at the same time and in the same sense. The Law of the Excluded Middle says that a statement must be either true or false and therefore excludes the possibility of the truth falling somewhere in the middle. Thus, the statement “Jesus is Lord” is either true or false. Jesus is Lord or he is not. There is no middle option.
When having spiritual conversations, if the person with whom you are speaking ignores any of these laws, gently point out the problem. Politely tell the person why it is important that everybody plays by the same rules when trying to discover the truth about a matter.
Be able to spot fallacies people use in the course of a conversation. When people disagree with you on a point, rather than give logical reasons for why they disagree, they often give unsound reasons or bring up irrelevant information to divert attention away from the topic being discussed.
One such fallacy is called ad populum, which is an unhelpful appeal to the majority. The statement "Jesus didn’t do miracles because nobody believes the Bible" is an example. It is claiming that because most people do not believe the Bible, Jesus did not perform miracles. That most people do not believe the Bible, however, does not prove that Jesus did not do miracles.
Another fallacy you are likely to face is call ad hominem. This is a verbal attack on a person instead of his argument. The statement “Your reasons for God’s existence are wrong because you’re a moron” is an example because it resorts to name calling instead of stating why the person’s reasons for God’s existence are flawed. Other fallacies include:
- Chronological snobbery: The belief that the modern world is inherently superior to the ancient world.
- Ad ignorantiam: The assumption that something is true because it has not been proven false.
- Tu quoque: Dismissing an argument by pointing out discrepancies between the person’s argument and behavior.
- Bulverism: Addressing how a person came to hold a position instead of the position itself.
- Ipse dixit: Citing an unqualified authority in support of an issue.
- Ad baculum: An attempt to move a per- son’s position by using a threat.
In order to determine if someone has committed a fallacy, ask yourself, “What is this person trying to prove and how is he trying to prove it?” If you determine the reasons given do not actually prove or pertain to the issue at hand, gently point it out and ask your conversation partner to offer some valid reasons in their stead.
In his book How We Think, American philosopher John Dewey said, “Until the habit of thinking is well formed, facing the situation to discover the facts requires an effort.” Yes. The question is, “Are we willing to put forth the necessary effort to master the art of reasoning well so we can share and defend our faith in the most effective way?”
Patty Houser (M.A. ’11) is a writer, teacher, speaker and Christian apologist who has a passion to equip women to share and defend their faith in a culture hostile to Christianity. Find her at pattyhouser.com.