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A Plea for a Ban on Guerilla Logic in Theological conversations. Promoting Conversation among Evangelicals in Postmodernity

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Over the years I have had many theological discussions at evangelical seminaries with fellow pastors, professors, students and theologians. Of these, there are conversations that are dialogical and then there are others that are solely for the purpose of declaring a winner. Often conversations of the latter are based in what I would call guerilla logic, the use of classical (symbolic) logic to not further a conversation, or even show internal inconsistencies in one’s argument, but rather an attempt to use some of these tools to simply thwart the contribution of the other without an attempt to understanding what the other is trying to put forward. This I would like to call “guerilla logic. I would like to propose we discourage all such moves in conversation by declaring these moves in conversation “guerilla logic.” Allow me to describe a few moves made in guerilla logic that I would like to cry “foul” on.

One favorite move in guerilla logic is the “law of non-contradiction” often referred to as the “law of the excluded middle.” Here the interlocutor attempts to find a contradiction internal to other’s argument. You cannot say both A and -A. What some of my evangelical interlocutors fail to see when they use this tool is that it can be used violently to take another’s argument and cast it in a way that cannot make sense in the argument’s original sense. For example, when a Christian says to a Buddhist, you cannot both say there is a God and there is not a God, he or she has cast what the Buddhist is saying in a way that neither faithfully represents what the Buddhist means nor the internal logic of the Buddhist way of thought. The concept of absolute nothingness seems to resist easy translation into anything we Christians might understand and most Buddhist thought resists translation into a form of the law of non-contradiction. Issues of incommensurability are run rough shod by evangelicals who insist on using the law of non-contradiction as a weapon. It’s a conversation stopper.

There are various other versions of this law of excluded middle – non-contradiction which when used end conversation. These versions of guerilla logic don’t seem to take into account what the other is saying, intending or trying to accomplish. Like the use of false dichotomy. Here my friendly evangelical interlocutor engages me on an argument where I describe two approaches to a particular problem or theological issue. I argue the strengths and weaknesses of each one. My conversation partner then says “false dichotomy.” In other words, it is not necessary that a solution or approach be either/or, it could be both/and.
For example, in my book the Great Giveaway, I suggest that evangelicals typically preach either through expository sermons or topical sermons. There are strengths and weaknesses to both. This is a heuristic device, a typology to further understand what we are doing and why in our approaches to preaching. In talking to a professor about this, I was confronted with “false dichotomy,” i.e. preaching does not need to be either one or the other. He defended expository preaching against its internal weaknesses by closing off the conversation. It is of course true that preaching can be both topical and expository but I was using the types as heuristic devices to discuss and uncover weaknesses and strengths and reasons why and how we do things when we preach. The preaching professor may have won the argument, but we did not learn anything about preaching and where we must go to be more faithful preachers in our time. Using typologies has heuristic value as a line of argument. It is a method, since Weber and Troelsch (and their follower’s H Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture) that ought not to be highjacked easily without careful thought to the intent of the author’s use. I do however like Yoder’s criticism of typologies in his critique of H. Richard Niebuhr in Yoder’s Authentic Transformation).

Lastly, there is the all too easy conversation stopper, which seeks to devoid a generalization because it internally contradicts its own statement by generalizing itself. For example, Lyotard makes a statement about the incredulity of meta-narratives, “there can be no meta narratives.” The Christian (evangelical) says, this internally contradicts itself because it is self makes a metanarrative claim. The problem here is that the guerilla logic does not successfully describe the complexity by which Lyotard defines and describes meta narrative. Likewise, it does not take into account the manner in which Lyotard speaks having already discarded universalizing. He does not pretend to speak outsides of history and its limitations. In the same way, A McIntyre talked about how all moral accounts are born out of a social history in which they make sense. He said, there can be no knowledge that is not narrative in its structure. Stout tried to argue in modernist fashion that McIntyre had internally contradicted himself. But this in my estimation does put a burden on McIntyre to narrate his own account of knowledge explicitly and perhaps outnarrate Stout, but this does not make McIntyre’s arguments by itself illegitimate.

In summary, guerilla logic moves are conversation stoppers. They are the use of logic to win instead of further conversation. My evangelical comrades often use them in ways that commit their own fallacy of fitting other people’s statements into another form which changes the content and meaning. If we evangelicals are going to move forward into the issues of modernity/postmodernity for the furtherance of Christ’s church, we must give up guerilla logic.

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