Psychologizing Opponents

What happens when your arguments are not dealt with? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This kind of thing happens way too often. Yesterday, I’m in a group making a post on Orthodox Preterism and my interpretation of Matthew 16:28 and I get told something like, “You just hold that position because you hold to inerrancy and you have to make the Bible fit with that.” This kind of thing happens more often than you realize.

Let’s be fair. It also goes the other way. Plenty of Christians can accuse atheists of unbelief for various reasons as well. Christians can accuse other Christians of levels of some unbelief as well.

This kind of argument really doesn’t work. Let’s go with Richard Carrier for example, and if you don’t know who Richard Carrier is, I mean the unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from SkeptiCon. Years ago when he left his wife and embraced a polyamorous lifestyle, many of us were sure we saw the motivation for atheism there.

Amongst ourselves, that could be fine, but no one should have ever approached Carrier with this argument, and I hope they never did. Why? Because while I think Carrier’s theories on the existence of Jesus are completely ridiculous, saying why we think he holds to them doesn’t convince anyone and it doesn’t answer the data.

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument Carrier holds to his position because he really doesn’t want to be accountable to a god and he really does want to sleep with a bunch of women. How does that answer his arguments? His claims are not wrong because of illicit motives to hold to them. You have to deal with the arguments themselves.

This also happens in the political sphere. It’s argued that if you don’t support or oppose position X, then you don’t really care about Y. I saw in a thread today someone saying about abortion that some people think it’s wrong in all circumstances. The immediate reply was “Oh? You think women should be considered as property?” Nowhere was that said, but that was jumped on and before too long, the debate becomes not about the subject but about the persons having the debate.

Psychologizing your opponent, as I call it, is a failed tactic every time. It doesn’t deal with the data and tries to bypass it by going after the person instead, a form of ad hominem. Only under very rare circumstances should the reasons why a person holds to a belief be brought up.

This is why my consistent reply to this kind of statement is to not take it seriously. Saying someone is just not as committed to Scripture or needs to listen to God more or someone wants to be godless or someone is committed to Christianity so they can’t conceive anything else doesn’t convince. Even if it is true, it doesn’t deal with the data. That’s always what needs to be dealt with.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: A Serrated Edge

Is there a role for sarcasm and satire in the spreading of the Gospel? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.


The age of the internet has helped to bring a tough approach to dialogue. Go to any blog and you can find a side of people that you might not normally see in public. Go watch debates between atheists and Christians on YouTube or Facebook and you’ll see the same thing.

Now Christians today will often have none of that. There’s no need to have any sarcasm or satire whatsoever in your witness! You are to walk like Jesus walked after all. Jesus was gentle Jesus meek and mild and there’s no justification for any negativity or mocking or anything of that sort.

It seems we’ve forgotten this is the same Jesus who cleaned out the temple and lambasted the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in Matthew 23 and Luke 11.

Douglas Wilson is in charge of a magazine that has several parts with satire and sarcasm, many of them poking fun at various parts of the evangelical world. After several instances of people asking about him and the justification, he decided to write the Serrated Edge.

This is a book that has several good points that are thoroughly worth discussing in our ministry today. Wilson shows that it is not his position that is the anomaly when it comes to the Bible. It is in fact the modern position that is the anomaly. His technique is used all throughout the Bible.

Go to 1 Kings and what will you see? Elijah saying to the prophets of Baal when they’re cutting themselves trying to get fire to fall “Maybe your god is on the toilet!” Go to Amos 4 and see Amos talk to the women of his day and refer to them as cows. Go to Isaiah and see how he laughs about a man who goes out and cuts down a tree, uses some of the wood to get a fire to make a meal, and then makes an idol with the rest and says “You are my god!” He even has to properly place the idol so that it doesn’t topple over. Isaiah just thought that was hysterical.

Wilson definitely shows the passages like Matthew 23 and Luke 11. Luke 11 is a favorite of mine in this regard. Jesus in this one is railing on the Pharisees and then the teachers of the Law say “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us as well.” Jesus then immediately turns to them and says “Okay. Your turn!” He doesn’t stop! He just keeps going!

Wilson does distinguish between two types of satire. One is a more tongue in cheek kind of satire that is not direct but can still be caught on. The other one is a more “in your face” approach and doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade.

Now there are some who will say that we are not to do this because we don’t know the hearts of people so we can’t walk as Jesus did here. Wilson says that if we don’t know the hearts, then we can’t love as Jesus did either. After all, we can’t guarantee that the person we’re trying to do good for is indeed a good person who deserves it. Perhaps that person we’re rescuing from an oncoming car is really someone who is on the way to murder another person. We don’t know.

Actually, there is no exception made. We are told to walk as Jesus did. That would mean we treat the sheep of the flock the way that Jesus treated them and treat the wolves that want to devour the flock the way that Jesus would. It won’t help to come to a compromise with the wolves. You’ll just end up with happy wolves and fewer sheep.

Wilson in this work also seeks to return us to the holiness of God and that our attitudes even in worship can often be flippant. The Christian marketing culture often just takes any concept, attaches something Christian on to it, and considers it being a witness to the world.

Also, Wilson explains that those who use this kind of methodology are not necessarily prideful and arrogant and bigoted people. Some of them can be extremely kind. Wilson says that at the magazine people are genuinely kind and caring to one another. Too many times if you have a tough word for an opponent of the Gospel, it’s assumed you must be a jerk and have pride.

Well to an extent, we’re all jerks in some ways and have pride, but if this is the case, then we must say the same about Jesus, and we cannot. We must remember that Proverbs 26:4-5 gives us two ways to answer a fool and we must do so accordingly depending on the situation.

It is entirely possible to be as tough as nails on wolves who seek to devour the flock and parasites within the flock that seek to destroy it, and show grace and love and mercy to those sheep who are in their hour of need. The two do not contradict.

Now someone might say “Well I don’t feel right doing something like that.” Okay. That’s fine. That’s you. But does that mean that your conscience is the grounds that everyone else must bow down to? As Paul would say “Let each be convinced in his own mind.” I often think the situation would be better if more people would actually listen to those who take a more tough approach (As I do sometimes) instead of just assuming that their position is in the right and we are the ones that need to be corrected. (Which in its own way is pride and being a jerk. We must all be open to being wrong.)

Wherever you stand on this issue, Wilson’s book will give you something to think about and I hope also give you an appreciation for why it is that the Gospel that has been proclaimed is in fact one worth defending, and sometimes, you might have to defend it with a Serrated Edge.

In Christ,
Nick Peters