CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christianity, Society and False Dilemmas

Dec 6, 2011

I sometimes think that every church or at least every Bible school, seminary and theological college should offer a course on basic logic and clear thinking. That is because so many Christians seem unable to think straight or seem unaware of the basic laws of logic.

Indeed, at various times and places I have taught introductory courses on logical fallacies, analytical thinking, and the like. The need is overwhelming. Of course I am not singling out Christians here. There is plenty of mental mayhem amongst our non-Christian friends. But it really is unacceptable when so many believers not only are so intellectually lazy, but even seem to delight in such a condition.

When Jesus said we are to love God with our minds he was not just having us on. That was not a throw-away line. He really meant it. Yet so many believers seem unable or unwilling to actually use their brains for Christ and the Kingdom. They actually seem to prefer living in a mental fog.

So let me highlight just one very common and very unfortunate trap which believers can fall into in this regard. Christians will often commit the logical fallacy known as the false dilemma. This involves a situation in which two alternative points of view are held up as polar opposites, and the person must choose one or the other.

Or it can involve a situation in which it is assumed that there exist only these two options, when in reality there exist one or more other options which have not been considered. As to the latter, a classic case involves John 9:1-3: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’.”

The disciples omitted a third option here, so were guilty of presenting a false dilemma. As to the former, how often do we hear naïve or unreflecting believers forcing us to choose between one of two options, when in fact both can often be fully affirmed simultaneously.

I get this all the time in the work that I do. Much of my ministry involves the world of public policy. That is, when standing up for faith, freedom and family, I often address social, cultural and legal issues. While there are many ways a believer can address the issues of the day, much of my work looks at the implementation of public policy, legislation, codes of conduct, etc.

Take the issue of illicit drugs for example. Many Christians are working at the coal face, involved in drug rehab work and so on. That is vital ministry, but not what I am called to do. I am looking at how legislation can address these issues (eg., keeping dangerous drugs illegal, etc.)

Now some Christians might foolishly argue that we must choose either one or the other: either we love and minister to drug addicts, or we merely seek to deal with laws and so on. To which I would reply: Why in the world must we pick one or the other? Why can’t we do both? Why do you see these activities as mutually exclusive? Why not see them as they really are, as complementary?

This is true in so many areas. Whether we are talking about prostitution, drugs, homosexuality, or even the dangers of Islam, why must we choose between personal ministry and public policy work? Both are needed and both can be part of the Christian witness and ministry.

Much of this has to do with the old adage: prevention is better than cure. Those Christians working with prostitutes or drug addicts or what have you are performing a much-needed hands-on ministry. But surely it is also a very good and Christlike thing to prevent people from getting into these bad situations in the first place, is it not?

If public policy decisions make it harder for people to become drug addicted or enslaved in sexual trafficking, surely that is a good and wanted thing, isn’t it? Surely having laws to make it hard on pimps or pushers are good laws, and help to reflect Christ’s concern for people.

This old illustration nicely makes my case: a fence at the top of the cliff is in so many ways superior to a fleet of ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. While we certainly need both, if we pay more attention to the fences, we will have far less work to do in picking up the pieces.

That sounds like it reflects the love and compassion of Christ to me. So why foolishly insist that we must choose one or the other? Why foolishly – and unbiblically – insist that the public policy ministry is somehow unChristlike or is somehow at odds with those working with the victims?

Consider just one example in which this false dilemma is often presented. I often hear mentally confused Christians argue that if we take a strong line against creeping sharia and stealth jihad, we cannot work to win Muslims to Christ, or that the public policy side of things works against Muslim evangelism.

But why in the world should this be the case? Why can’t we seek to love individual Muslims and witness to them, hoping to win them to Christ, while also warning about the dangers of Islamism and Muslim terrorism? Why can’t we do both? Indeed, this is such a silly and unnecessary false dilemma, that I have written an entire article on this.

I urge you to have a look at this piece where I elaborate on the need to do both: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/08/01/christianity-other-religions-and-islam/

Let me look at one last case. Consider the issue of homosexuality. Again, there are many ways Christians can deal with this issue. Of course we can befriend and witness to individual homosexuals. Or some can volunteer to work in AIDS hospitals and the like. But do these sorts of activities mean that one cannot warn about the dangers of the high risk lifestyle or the militant homosexual lobby, and fight on a public policy level against things like same-sex marriage and adoption rights?

I fail to see how the two are incompatible. In fact, I would argue that they are part and parcel of the biblical Christian response to homosexuality. It is not at all the case that we must choose one or the other. It is foolish in the extreme to think that those who seek to maintain Christian values in the public arena are somehow not being loving or Christlike.

The truth is, we are to both reach individuals and also work for godly legislation – at the same time. We are to do both, not just pick one or the other. So why do some believers insist on forcing us to choose between the two when the Bible never calls us to?

There are just so many examples of this. Was Wilberforce and his work against slavery wrong, unbiblical and unChristlike? Some believers would almost seem to think so, with their objection to Christian political and social involvement.

Should Wilberforce only have loved and witnessed to slave traders and not worked against this very real evil in Parliament? Was he wrong to use politics, law, and the mechanisms of Parliament to stand against the sin of slavery? And was his work harming those ministering to slave traders?

Other examples come to mind. Should we only evangelise child pornographers and not seek to stop their activities? Why cannot we both love and evangelise individuals while working on public policy to protect our nation, our families and our children? Why deny the biblical truths that righteousness exalts a nation, and that God created government to maintain justice and punish vice?

Why do some of these Christians so look down on the work that I and others do on the public policy level? What gives them the idea that all this is somehow unbiblical or unChristlike? Why do they force a silly false dilemma upon us? I for one tire of their mental and moral shallowness here.

One simply has to offer them a clear and practical case to show how foolish their thoughts are. If a brothel or an injecting room sought to open up next to where you live, a believer may well want to try to reach these folks, pray for them and evangelise them.

But I don’t know of any parent or Christian in their right mind that would simply ignore the very real dangers to their own children. Most would rightly sign a petition or join a community group fighting to have these nasty activities banned from their residential neighbourhood.

They would work together to keep this menace away from their homes and their children. Hardly anyone would be so irresponsible and uncaring to do nothing to fight such things. Yet how does any of this differ in the slightest from what I have been discussing above?

If concerned Christians band together to work against same-sex marriage, or to lobby politicians to keep their residential areas prostitution-free, or enter politics to work against a new casino seeking to open nearby, what is wrong with this? How in the world does that mitigate against individual witness to anyone?

I am flabbergasted that some believers seem to think we must pick one or the other. Well sorry, but I am not falling for this false dilemma. The Bible nowhere insists that I do this. Indeed, the history of Christian missions has always been about both.

Christians for 2000 years have sought to both reach individuals with the gospel, and fight injustice wherever it was found. Thus they worked against oppressive laws that harmed women and children. They fought against practices such as cannibalism or suttee. They did all they could to work and legislate for the welfare of the nation they were in.

The idea that to use the God-given state to achieve justice and goodness in society is somehow unbiblical or unchristian is just ludicrous. But I make the case more fully for Christian political and social involvement elsewhere:

billmuehlenberg.com/1997/10/10/the-case-for-christian-social-involvement/
billmuehlenberg.com/2001/11/28/a-review-of-why-government-can%E2%80%99t-save-you-by-john-macarthur/
billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/02/is-it-time-for-believers-to-pull-out-of-politics/
billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/06/christian-political-involvement/
billmuehlenberg.com/2007/11/27/salt-and-light-business/

Thus I have to say I am just not buying these attempts to get me to choose one over the other, or to argue that the one is our only option. Balderdash. I will stick with Scripture and two millennia of Christian history, and not this truncated and unbiblical understanding of the gospel.

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13 Responses to Christianity, Society and False Dilemmas

  • I so hear you Bill. I have been having this same conversation now with other believers forever.
    I see Christians exhausting themselves in social service type activities as in helping drug addicts, abused children, alcohol related carnage etc etc and as the world rejects God the list of requests for help and needs seem to be ever increasing and the calls for help from Christians endless.
    Unfortunately, Christians seem to be far more eager to help with the ‘cleanup’ than actually with public policy that can ensure these situations are avoided in the first place.
    Just one example that comes to mind – if children at school were required to learn about the uniqueness of every life from the moment of conception and how miraculous a baby’s development is over the course of pregnancy, how might such simple information help them with their sense of esteem? value to their creator? how they consider abortion? letting themselves be used by others?
    Maybe I am wrong but I think rather than everyone cleaning up the end results of Godless carnage, many more of us should focus on fighting things at the ‘top’ end rather than the ‘bottom’ – like keeping scripture in schools rather than all the associated problems related to youths who feel worthless and purposeless.
    We need to do more than give service – we need to give people Jesus and his truths to set them free.
    Annette Williams

  • Brothers will disagree and have the occasional fight in a close knit family. The same can be said for our spiritual family. Discussion is useful and helpful to keep both sides accountable, if they are willing to learn from each other.

    Your enemy is not the left wing of the church. Right wing Christians need their left brothers and vice versa. I appreciate being able to bounce ideas around these boards, and take in responses as I try to “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling”.

    That’s the point of college, is it not?

    Blessings

    Adam Elovalis

  • Our Lord, when He was here — well in Israel actually — was vilified for associating with the dregs of society — for spending time with them, sharing meals with them — for offering them counsel, teaching, healing and forgiveness. At no stage did he ever condone or facilitate sin in any way whatsoever. That’s all I need to know.
    Anna Cook

  • Anyone who’d like a small, simple way to be socially active for the Gospel, go to your local public library and request Bill’s book to be made available. You may have to wait but it will then be on the shelves for others to borrow. You can also ask the holy Spirit to inspire those who eventually read it and who might never have come across the book except in this way.
    You will have first access when it arrives in stock. It is some years since I’ve done this to get a particular book on the shelves but I don’t think the system has changed (I’m in W.A.).
    Anna Cook

  • The problem too, Bill, is that Christians in this particular generation have been taught a wrong theology – a dualistic, secular/sacred theology that defines “ministry” narrowly. God calls His people into service in every area of society, including politics, and all of it is “ministry”. Try reading the Book of Kings!
    For too long the Western church has failed to sound the trumpet…that God has called His people to “Make disciples of nations” (Matt 28:18) not just plant churches.
    Blessings
    Darrell Furgason, Canada

  • Your “cliff” analogy works for me Bill. I am 100% with you. Allowing secular politicians free reign without the counterbalance of Christian witness opens the door to the brute thugs of modern history e.g. Lenin. We have had ample opportunity in the past 100 years to see what happens to culture when the witness of Christ retreats or is forced from the public sphere.
    Jamie Bowman

  • Well said Anna Cook. I thought of it but was told would be no go. I’d better try and if I succeed will be easier than sharing my husband’s copy. Actually I’d thought of asking for Vicki Jansen’s book. Time I stopped just thinking and did something.
    Katherine Fishley

  • Indeed these two aspect of ministry are complementary. Law has a pedagogical role in determining society’s attitude toward certain behaviours. For example, when prostitution is illegal it reinforces people’s own consciences that prostitution is immoral. The same with homosexuality. So when the church preaches the Gospel to people involved in such activities it is much easier to convince them that they are sinners in need of a Saviour. Conversely, when such activities are legal and condoned by the state, people find it harder to accept they are sinners at all. Many equate what the state says is ‘legal’ with what is ‘moral’.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Quite right Ewan.

    The church deals with sin while the state deals with crime. While these are two distinct institutions, there often is a clear overlap. Thus not every crime is a sin, and not every sin is a crime, but quite often they are one and the same.

    Trying to keep the two totally separate just cannot happen. Again, getting the biblical balance right here is imperative.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks guys

    I seek to more fully make the case for Christian political involvement in my new article:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/06/christianity-and-political-involvement/comment-page-1/#comment-258108

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill
    It seems I’ve been fighting forever also, even with my close family. As you say, why. And I find it almost infuriating how even when the facts are presented in a reasonable way, they can’t even entertain the possible notion that there may be another way of doing a certain task or living a particular way. Thomas Sowell likens this to the lefts way of thinking. The left = injecting rooms – the right = education to the dangers of injecting rooms. But I’m still left wondering is it God who puts the thirst into a person’s mind to question if there are more than 2 sides to a story, I think it is God.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Ewan this same thing came up with our former state member when I raised my concerns about Victorian Police and their public support of a homosexual lifestyle.

    At the time when the gay police members were encouraged to proudly march in the Gay Lesbian parade in full uniform. His response to my concerns was, well the churches are now accepting homosexuals into membership and even ministry. I think he was a member of the Uniting Church.

    I had a far better response from the Chief commissioner at the time, Neal Comrie who indicated he was very concerned and how an assistant commissioner had given the permission while he was away.

    Bill just started your enlightening book “Strained Relations” what a timely book.

    Rob Withall

  • Thanks Rob

    Yes we need to use the information and facts presented in the book to help resist the militants and restore some moral and mental sanity to our society.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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