Would we all agree that the argument is over about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the canon, and the nature of the Gospel?
Your instinct is probably to say "Yes"—but, since I'm asking it, you might hesitate, because you suspect a trick question. Your suspicion is both right, and not.
On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that the argument on those matters is over objectively. That is, it is over in the sense that the basic facts have been gone over, the Biblical evidence has been well-analyzed and well-sifted from a thousand angles, major opposing arguments have been considered and dealt with, and (at the very least) the broad outlines of an assured answer have been laid out. So the argument is "over" in the sense that the main questions have been asked, and sufficient evidence and answers have been given. Nobody has a good reason for being on the fence.
But on the other hand, is the argument "over" in the sense that nobody's arguing about it anymore?
Clearly not; wearisomely not. Even on these comment-threads, right here at Pyro, every now and then someone will appear, announcing breathlessly the need for a Reformation on that traditionalistic myth of the Trinity, or brand-new "discoveries" about the nature of the Gospel, or the like. Cults and sects still proclaim error on such subjects and many others.
Such as: Can truth be known? Francis Schaeffer pretty well slapped that down decades ago... but it's baaaaaack. Is the church necessary, can't we all just drink Coke and eat crackers in our tie-dyeds in the park, because "wherever two or three..."? Been there, did that in the sixties, pretty well grew out of it... yet it's back.
But even on a smaller scale, this is a constant issue for bloggers and other writers. When do you say "Enough"? How many carping little "Yeah-but's" are you obliged to respond to?
I admire the stuffing out of Phil Johnson's patience and persistence. I saw this pattern on a comment thread: after a well-written post, the Comments section furnished some challenges to Phil. Phil answered. Phil clarified. Then Phil re-answered, and he re-clarified... and then we got to the re-re-re's.
Now, I thought at one point that Phil had pretty well put "Finished" to it, and it was over. Objectively, I think it was. Except that it wasn't—in the sense that Phil's opposition kept talking.
So, if the opposition keeps talking, does that mean an argument isn't over?
If so, then has any argument about literally anything ever been over?
What is a reasonable goal for a blogger or author? Suppose a writer sets himself as his goal, "I will move on to another topic when everyone who disagreed with me either convinces me to change my mind, or admits his error and agrees with me." In that case, let's just say he'd better clear his calendar of family, church, work, appointments, eating, and sleeping—forever!
It can be worse when you're a Big Fish like Phil, or when you illegitimately share that status by association with him (as I do). You're the gunslinger, the fastest draw. You get to be a target for every punk and wanna-be with a sidearm. They swagger in, they misread you. On that basis, they slap down some lame (but billowy and thunderously-announced) non-sequiturs, or irrelevancies, or sillinesses. They may link to their web site, blog, or message board. They're desperate for attention, for notoriety, for traffic at their site. They want to be the Big Gun Who Stood Up to _____ about _____.
So what do you do?
To answer is to give them what they want, and begin an endless discussion. They've misread you from the start, and they won't admit it. Will they suddenly become better readers if you put another few hours into it? History says "Probably not." In fact, responding is likelier to generate a few more thousand words of vapid, acid response, and spin an endless cycle.
But if you don't answer, they will demand that you do. Then they may pout. They certainly will proclaim victory in the silence. In doing this, they prove that they read the Rules of this blog (yes, there are Rules, posted right on the front page) fully as well as they read your post. Which is to say, "Not." This validates your not
So what is the right thing to do? My conviction is that it's a Proverbs moment. It isn't a matter of moral-right/moral-wrong, it's a matter of wisdom. You're not morally obliged to slap leather every time some would-be tough guy says "Draw."
Sometimes indeed we should "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5). On the other hand, "If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet" (29:9). So sometimes, you have to decide not to "speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words" (23:9).
Paul certainly wasn't one for arguments that had no end. He warned Timothy not to "give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul told Titus that some people just needed to be shut down, because the more they talked, the more damage they did (Titus 1:11). When we direct traffic to such, beyond a certain point (--and where is that point?), are we furthering the damage? In the church context, Paul further told Titus to give two warnings, then show the man and his issues the door (Titus 3:10-11).
So you listen, you pray, you consider the audience, you weight the facts, you look at your calendar and priorities and "honey-do" list, you make a judgment call, you commit it to God—and you try not to go nuts. Your opponents will make large and damning accusations against you when you step off their merry-go-round. Do your best before God to be sure they're not true.
So how do I keep any semblance of sanity and cheerfulness? Two things chiefly comfort me:
1. The judgment of God. In the final analysis, this is the Final Analysis. This is the only verdict that ultimately matters. It's not a cop-out; it's a fact. The throne at which my stewardship will be finally and eternally judged will not be occupied by Pyro readers, dear as you are to me, nor any bloggers anywhere. It will be occupied by the only one who knows all the facts, and all the implications of all the facts. That is both terrifying, and comforting.
2. The public nature of the exchange. I make my case in public, my critics make their case in public. People can read us both. If—I say if—I make an excellent, compelling, airtight case, and if readers are nonetheless persuaded when someone does a blustery, lame hatchet job on it... then there's probably nothing I could have done about it. Nothing, except waste irreplaceable time. Hard but undeniable fact: some folks cannot humanly be persuaded. Period. "A man convinced against his will/Is of the same opinion still."
But in those situations, my case is out there for all to see. I just hope and pray they'll read and judge fairly.
But if not... oh well! For me, the argument is over when the facts have been laid out and established to the best of my ability, within my limitations of time and smarts.
And that's my answer to my question.
If that works for you—terrific!
If not... see above.
POSTSCRIPT: the bulk of this was written some time ago. It's a standalone, a topic I've often thought about for decades. You'd be mistaken to tie it to any particular... any particular anything.