18 August 2006

When is an argument over?

by Dan Phillips

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 wasting taking the time to answer—a point that will as surely elude them as did the point of your original post.

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.

Dan Phillips's signature


Taliesin said...

Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!

donsands said...

Those were some good thoughts.

I wonder how many bystanders, or "bybloggers", learn and actually benefit from listening in to some of these arguments.
I would think that there are surely those who are encouraged and even enlightened.

"Come now and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow" Isa. 1:18

DJP said...

Well, Don, you've put your finger on what is to me maybe the least-calculable aspect of it: lurkers. I've gotten lots of email through the years from folks who don't want to step onto the field of battle, but are glad I'm there, and say that they benefit. So sometimes you do say to yourself, "This guy/gal is clearly not listening except to see which canned response I trigger. But others are. So, for them...."

But even then, there's a point where you have to say, "Okay, we're done here. Moving on now." That's what the post is about.

Taliesin -- thanks for the first chuckle of the day.

Daniel Portela said...


You still have not proven that Pecadillo is a real person, or just an invented persona.

I think we should argue about this in the meta.


Jonathan Moorhead said...

Dan, I've recently been struggling with this issue at the Moor. In particular, when do you delete someone's comments when they just go too far? Or, when do you ban someone from your blog when they just keep going on and on and on with the same vitriol? Good thoughts.

bygrace said...

pyro man,
Thank you so much! My husband is a pastor and I am a leader in the women's ministry. Because of that I seem to get a lot of people who want to discuss the very issues you listed (oh, and more...ever try to address 1Cor11?!?). Needless to say I've been dealing with this issue for some time. I guess it's an on going process as one considers Ephesians 4:29, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

donsands said...

Yeah it's tough to know when to shake the dust from the coat.

I had an argument with a person over the subject of sanctification.

After a couple of exchanges of sharing my heart and some quotes,
the other person didn't want to hear my opinions, or the puritans opinions anymore, but only what the Bible says.

So I went to the Scriptures. And simply quoted verses, and put together those passages that taught how we as regenerated followers of Christ are sanctified the best I could.

After this the argument was over. The other person stopped e-mailing.
I believe it ended well, and hopefully the other beliver learned, and grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Carrie said...

Don’s point is a good one. Reading along with a debate in the meta can be very helpful to those not in the middle of the debate. Especially when the opposition is stating arguments you hear in your offline life. It helps me to have answers ready because I have already watched a similar conversation unravel.

In fact, I have learned just as much in the comments section here as I have from the posts at times. So there is value there even when it appears totally frustrating.

But yes, there is a point where you just have to walk away. I have struggled with that myself and found this post very helpful. Thanks!

DJP said...

Yeah, then there are the relatively rare reversals that make your day. One good brother read a post a bit hastily and faulted me for what he read. But at someone else's urging, before I said anything myself, he re-read, saw what he missed, apologized very graciously.

Doesn't happen often, but when it does -- it's, er, Martinelli time!


(Then another person on another blog did the same thing with the same post; and I did direct this person to some missed aspects. The person chose not to check those out, and repeated the criticism. Oh, well!)

That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

Post-Modernism considers all previous knowledge as flawed. This is the basis from which the adherants of Post-Modernist thought begin from on any argument.

However they encounter a serious problem when they begin to debate those who hold to absolute truth, they find out that Post-Modernism and its offshoot relativism is so shot full of contradictions that it can never be defended using a logical argument, as Logic depends on there being absolutes.

But this does not stop the adherants of Post Modernism and Relatvism.

The tactic I have seen being utilized in this Information overload age. Is they think if they just keep repeating the same argument over an over an over, that the absolute weight or volume of their arguments will: drown out the glaring problems with ther premises, they will wear down their oponents to a point where their oponents will eventually give up. or the actual weight or volume of their opinions will transform reality to fit their "Truth"

Much of this constant repeating of their tired and false ideology stems from the fact that people now have the power to utilize their Computer to day after day after day hammer their message at people. Its almost as if by having a computer and access to the world via the internet has somehow made what they believe as being just as valid and somehow as true or more true than that which they disagree with.

In this internet age, factual truth has somehow lost its validity. Absolutes are no longer valid. The mantra now is: I have a blog, I have an opinion and I am going to make that opnion Truth no matter what evidence exists to refute it. Because today all evidence is somehow "subjective"

This tactic is now being used in arguments for practically everything.

James Kubecki said...

I second (third?) Don and Carrie's comments... There is a great deal of value for us lurkers, of which I have been one for a long time (and still am more often than not). Seeing how people we respect respond to arguments (both in content and tone) is a constant encouragement.

As far as when an argument is over, it can only be over when two people agree or, at the very least, agree to disagree. And about the only way to do that is if there is some objective authority to which they can appeal and say "oh, this is what the authority says, therefore one of us is wrong" OR say "oh, the authority does not address this (or does not address this clearly) so we must agree to disagree."

For Christians, the objective authority is the Bible. But so many these days deny its authority, that it leads to the kind of "Yeah, but..." argumentation that Dan describes. So the point for me where the argument ends is where we either say "let's go check the scriptures like good Bereans," OR when we recognize that there is insufficient common ground for resolution (i.e., mutual agreement on the authority of scripture).

Incidentally, when I say "these days" I mean to include the modern era, the postmodern era, and the double decaf halfmodern era with extra foam. Pretty much everything since around 1656.

DJP said...

Great observations, jb. One indication, I think, is the absurd proliferation of polls for everything. Polls are presented as if they were (A) news, and (B) significant. But what they often signify is simply that there are a lot of really stupid people about -- and that isn't news.

I've long said that polls should be weighted. For instance, it's interesting (but not much) to know that XX% of people believe "women should have the right to choose." But what I want to know is, of that percentage, how many think that abortion access is restricted in any way -- say, to the first three months, or to rape and incest? How many know that 9+/10 abortions are elective? How many know that all methods of abortion are available for all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason, or for none at all?

Stuff like that.

But our cultural climate is that to have an opinion is to have a valid opinion. Opinions are self-validating.

But in Christendom, instead of saying "I think," we say, "I feel," and that takes on a more sanctimonious air. Facts be damned.

Matt Gumm said...

DJP: thanks. I needed to hear this. Where was it a couple of weeks ago when I really needed to hear it!? Oh, well.

I also appreciated the reminder that lurkers are edified at times by reading that stuff. It's quite encouraging to hear that, since it never quite feels that way when you're in the thick of things in the meta.

Your post is particularly germane, it seems, for dealing with the post-modern mindset, where nothing can ever be stated as objective fact. I don't think I've felt like I had to do so many "proofs" since Geometry class. But, as you rightly point out, once you've made your case, and the other side has made their's, it's all out there in pixilated B&W, for any and all to read. Probably better to move on.

The only issue that you didn't deal with here is the tendency to have the same arguments with the same people no matter what the actual content of the post. But I think you probably covered that sufficiently on your blog talking about different types of commenters.

Solameanie said...


We recently had an issue here in our ministry that illustrates what you are saying perfectly. A colleague of mine holds a Bible study at his house on Friday nights, and someone invited a couple in their daughter last week. Turns out that they were in The Way International cult of the late Victor Wierwille. (of "Jesus Christ is not God" fame)

The father belligerently kept interrupting the teacher even though all were told that questions and comments should be reserved until after the presentation on the deity of Christ. No dice. It didn't matter how handily his arguments from Greek and Hebrew were shredded. He kept insisting that he knew this "truth" and everyone else there was ignorant of it. Finally, when he saw he wasn't getting anywhere, he stormed out with his family. The only discussion he was interested in was a monologue.

The deity of Christ is an issue you'd think was settled, but there are still those who will fight about it. Obviously, a cultist such as the man I am describing is expected to have issues, but when people within mainstream evangelicalism begin re-questioning settled doctrine, it is worrisome.

And when you correct them, you get called arrogant and rude. Sigh.

Solameanie said...


BINGO! Pass go and collect $200!

You hit the nail squarely on the head.

Chuck said...

To all the folks at Pyro and especially you Dan: I am a new guy at this stuff...within the last three months. I have taken so much away from reading the discussions that have been posted here. Your pursuit and stand for truth is unquenchable and refreshing. Keep discussing and stating facts as the Bible has laid them out. God is The Judge and will reward you accordingly. By the way, I have my own blog but will not post it lest I be one of those who want the noteriety. God Bless and keep up the good work!

donsands said...

Another thought I had, as I read through the comments, was when I was arguing with another brother about the "L" in tulip, and as we argued and I hit the books, and especially the Scriptures, I was being enlightened by my own study.

So it can be an incentive to dig into the Holy Writ, which is always good, if we are doing it prayerfully and with humility.

Steve said...

First time I've ever read anything that deals with this very real problem. Tremendously practical wisdom indeed, and I know others who will benefit from it.

It's good to be reminded that when you've clearly hit the ball in the other person's court and your opponent has whacked it out of bounds, there's no need for you to go after it.

Neil said...

Gummby: You're sowing seeds, and maybe not the seeds you think, and maybe not in the ground you think. Perhaps the seed won't sprout for decades. It's not necessarily our job to reap. It is our job to be firm proclaimers of truth, in whatever language our listeners speak, as long as it really is God's truth we're proclaiming.

Steve said...

By the way, I know TeamPyro attracts a disproportionate number of the shoot-'em-up gunslingers you described in your post.

Know that you've also got a lot more lurkers than you realize-- though they are silent, are greatly appreciative of what they learn from both your posts and the way y'all handle the subsequent comments.

Matt Gumm said...

Buggy: All I know is, I wanna be more like donsands when I grow up.

Sharon said...

In supposedly dead-end arguments such as these, I draw great comfort from Isaiah 55:10-11.

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

Steve said...

Great passage, Sharon. Thanks for mentioning it.

danny2 said...

thanks dan. it's been bouncing around in your head for a while, but the timing was perfect.

i recently faced this situation in my church, with a person i believe grossly misuderstands me and what i say, yet i realize i cannot convince the person otherwise.

this post helps remind me of how to handle these kind of situations.

FX Turk said...

What's up with that sword in the new blogger pic? Have you gone mad with blogging?

DJP said...

Frank, reading you razzing my picture, next to your picture... well, it's sublime.

FX Turk said...

Dan --

(btw, "Dam" was a typo, not a cussword)

Ya, OK. So what's up with the sword? Santa come early or something?

DJP said...


LeeC said...

Great post Dan, especially for those of us who might struggle with being pugnacious...not that *I* would know anyone who might fit that bill, but I have heard of some who did....

It's alwys so easy in my hubris to think that if I talk enough that I could convince someone to my way of thinking.

Glamdring eh?
Heh, I'm reading The Lord of the Rings to my daughter right now, she is eating it up. All her friends have seen the movies, but I wont let her (shes only five) but I offered to read it to her.

She loved The Hobbit too.

If you're fond of European styled swords with your martial arts background you would probably really enjoy some of the more reputable Western Martial Arts schools like the Schola St. George.

LeeC said...

My personal favorite:


4given said...

This was a very timely post for me to read...

Hayden said...

Good job Dan. I rarely comment on blogs (I guess that makes me a lurker) As I read your post though 2 Tim 2:24-26 came to mind. Keep up the good work!!

Rick Potter said...


Many times in the past (and sometimes still) I have leaned heavily on presuppositional truths(?). And, many times those truths were deconstructed by people who loved me enough to show me the real truth (Francis Schaffer & others....including yourself). But, sometimes it's hard to let go - Pride, vanity and a host of other would be gunslingers stand in the way. But process and progress (read sanctification)in search of THE truth has always prevailed in my life. Not that I'm where I need to be but I am getting there. I think Phil. 1:6 fits this bill. It's not up to me. All this to say how much I have appreciated your input from my time spent here.

Don Sands - Excellent points.

4given said...

I hope the readers are hovering their little pointer thingy's (techno-challenged terminology) over the pics in this post. The little comments on them will make you laugh so hard you'll fall out of your chair... or maybe that's just me.

DJP said...

Thanks, Lisa! Sometimes I think nobody notices!

Savage Baptist said...

Speaking for just me, of course, I finally just flat gave up arguing with people via the comments on my blog. Either they got mad or I got mad, and finally, I just said, "What I intended to say is in the post, make your comments and don't expect a reply."

Now I just argue with people via the comments columns on other people's blogs. But not much.

Steve said...

Thanks, Lisa, for the tip. The cowboy's caption is a real hoot.

Steve said...

Cent, how can you pay attention to the sword in Dan's hand with all those books in the backdrop?

The Borg said...

Not sure if TeamPyro takes requests, but...

I was wondering if we could have more theology and the like, because I love reading what TeamPyro has to say.

And I was wondering if there could be a little less meta-argument? (like I understand why it's there and all that, but it just seems a little tangential)

But that's just my opinion. :)

Tess said...

Hey, first time on your site and new to blogging and such. I am also preety new in faith, not so much faith but I guess new in learning about my faith. Anyway what I have always known is that when you are up against the "gunslingers" God will put the words there, He is also going to either open their ears and heart or not. Really it is not in our hands at all, right? I feel it is not a waste of time at all because maybe one day they will look back and say "man I should have listened to him a long time ago." I will be back to your site. I already enjoy it. Thanks.

Carla Rolfe said...

Incredibly timely for me this morning (yes I know you posted yesterday, I'm on new-baby-time, not real-time).

Lots to think over here.

Thank you!


That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

This was an excellent article and I am heartened to see Carla and others open and accepting of it. It shows a true Spirit led humility and willingness to accept good council when they recognize it.

However I think Slice was let off far too easily. And I think everyone should take notice and be troubled by their lack of response on this thread or even on their web site.

As Christians we must always admonish in Love. And always seek as Paul encouraged, to bring brothers and sisters back into good fellowship.

There is a way in which to inform people of the dangers of the Emergent Church that uses Wisdom. And I believe that True Discernment knows Wisdom. It is not wisdom to use degrading, humiliating and down right disrespectful language towards people, no matter how much in error you think they are or how rude they become to you. We are to practice the fruits of the spirit at all times.

And in the internet blogging arena it is doubly so more needed. It is easy in this medium to lose all decorum. It gives a certain unrestrained frankness that can destroy a person’s witness.

I have found that Slice seems to consider itself above reproof. And this is a very dangerous place to be. None of us are above reproof. It seems to think that its job of "discernment" has to be above reproof. And this is downright wrong.

For this reason I do not believe that they have been unjustly criticized, or too heavily criticized by others.

To give an example, they had the horrible lack of wisdom to use the word Pedophile as part of a title in one of their articles. Do they not know how explosive that word is in today’s society and what it insinuates. This is not wisdom. This is arrogance.

Additionally they treat anyone who questions anything on their site as at the very least of being an unknowing sympathizer of the Emergent Church Movement.

Discernment with Wisdom should always lean towards Compassion.

Our Legal system was based on the assumption that it was better to let a guilty person go free rather than have one innocent person convicted. This was based on Christian albeit Enlightenment principles.

Shouldn’t Discernment Web Sites abide by this principle?

God Bless you Carla and DJP, you have recognized that God should always be given the glory and you have recognized when writings were moving away from doing that. humbled yourselves and repointed everyone to him.

Lance Roberts said...

That was a great post, and should be put on the sidebar for future visitors to your blog.

DJP said...

jb -- thanks, but I think you put your comment under the wrong post.

Even So... said...

When is an argument over?

When we stop arguing...

Sorry, it just felt good, ha ha...

Suziannr said...

:) I never knew the pictures talked, thanks for the tip. They are funny! I had to point to the cowboy twice to finish what he's spouting. I want to add my thanks to Team Pyro. I mostly lurk but I am almost always taught something valuable in your posts and in the meta of your posts.

That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

woops I did put it under the wrong post.

Kay said...

*strokes beard knowingly*

Steve Sensenig said...

Libbie: ???????

Kay said...

It's my patented DJP fangirl novelty beard. I also do the Turkish eyebrow, but that's just natural talent.

Steve said...

Frank must've produced the fangirl novelty beard as a one-time specialty item. I don't see it available on the PyroGear page.

philness said...

I hovered over the wrench pic and got nothing. I just knew it would say,"If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball". But then yal might be too spiritual to watch that movie, or even admit you had.