Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fallacy of the Complex Question

So Kevin posited this question to his pastor-friend, "Yes, but have you repented of all your sins?"

"Well, no."

"Then maybe you should rethink how you explain the gospel to people," Kevin suggested.

Kevin asked this question of his friend because he thinks that people get confused when we tell them to "repent and believe." To use the word "repent" suggests we are adding something more to the gospel than mere belief. Preaching repentance, said Kevin, causes people to miss the plain simplicity of believing in Jesus, and receiving the forgiveness of sins. Oddly, I recall Kevin saying that repentance should be taught to people after they have believed. After all, he said, the Holy Spirit brings faith first, which saves a man, and then he can learn repentance in his daily life. I'll respond to this (after)thought, but first I want to deal with Kevin's premise and assumption in his question toward his pastor-friend: "Yes, but have you repented of all your sins?" in which he commits the fallacy of the complex question.

This particular fallacy is most famous in the following: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No matter how a person answers, the result is the incrimination of wife-beating. The fallacy of the complex question puts the responder in a corner: either way you answer, you're doomed to meet the demands of the questioner. The proper response of course, would be, "You are assuming in your question that I am indeed a wife-beater. I am not a wife-beater. Therefore, your question is inappropriate." Bosses do this to employees all the time, especially in subprime lending:

"Chris, don't you want to be successful?"
Yes, Pete, I want to be successful.
"Then why aren't you selling any loans?"
Well, Pete, that's because we're offering 11% to people and charging them a 5% origination fee.
"But we don't sell rate."
Yes, indeed. In fact, we're not selling anything at all.
Round and round it goes....


Back to Kevin. Kevin suggests that the conventional method of "repent of your sins and believe in Christ" is wrong-headed. His assumption? That if repentance--true repentance--which means, "a change of mind" (Greek, metanoie), is preached, then that would mean a complete change of mind resulting in sinlessness. Well, I can see how, if repentance was understood this way, that one would avoid the word en toto.

However, Kevin is wrong in his assumption about the definition of repentance. Repentance is indeed a change of mind (and not only so, but a change of lifestyle [Greek, epistrepho]); but a change of mind does not imply sinlessness. A change of mind about who Christ is, and who I am and who God is does not imply that I become sinless, or that I never sin. The Bible simply does not teach that (1 John 2:10). But Kevin's question, "Have you repented of all your sins?" suggests just that. He throws the baby out with the bathwater when he decides not to preach repentance in preaching the gospel.

We were at a youth conference, and my students were there. Nervously, I stood up and asked him, in front of about a hundred students how he dealt with texts from John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and Peter.

John the Baptist: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Matthew 3:2). And, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance," (verse 8, same chapter).

Jesus: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel," (Mark 1:15). And, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance," (Luke 5:32). And again, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you wil all likewise perish," (Luke 13:3).

Peter (and others): "God exalted him [Jesus] at the right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins," (Acts 5:31). Most famously, "Repent and be batpized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins," (Acts 2:38).

Paul: "testyfing both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," (Acts 20:21). And, "also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, peforming deeds in keeping with repentance," (Acts 26:20). Again, Paul says, "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forebearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).

Hebrews 6:1 says, "Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God..."

And so on....

What was Kevin's response to these verses? I really can't remember, but I do remember thinking, "He's totally side-stepping the issue and sticking to his guns." His guns were his false idea of repentance....

So, Kevin's idea of repentance is wrong. He assumes that it implies sinlessness, when indeed, it is simply part of the gospel message, that Jesus recreates us in his image in newness of life and in holiness, not in sinless perfection, but in newness of life. And because Kevin's idea of repentance is wrong, he asks wrong-headed questions. His question is inappropriate because he assumes that repentance means sinlessness.

If Kevin asks you, "Well, have you repented off all your sins?" you should respond with: "Since you assume that to repent of my sins means to enter into a state of sinless perfection, and not rather a state of justification before God wrought by repentance and faith resulting in union with Jesus Christ, being recreated in his image day by day by his Holy Spirit, you are misguided in your question. Therefore, your question is quite inappropriate."

My second problem with Kevin is a bit jejund, but I must ask, how is repentance--his idea of it--for believers after they have come to believe in Jesus, if on his view, repentance means to turn away from all sin? If I ever meet Kevin again, I'll ask.

6 comments:

T. Michael W. Halcomb said...

interesting post; good thoughts.

chris van allsburg said...

thanks, dude!

Kurt said...

Your post highlights one of the many reasons why there are so many schisms in Christianity. People interpret the word in different ways whether right or wrong. You'd think an omniscient creator would have anticipated that and spoken his word more clearly.

willtolive said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7gZhksK9Sw&feature=related


Thought this was a good debate, although the people for intelligent design, save Dr Berlinski, were retards, especially William Buckley.

There are 8 parts so you will see the other ones on the right hand side.

chris van allsburg said...

Kurt,
Maybe the problem isn't with the speaker, but the listener.

The Bible is very clear on what repentance is and what it isn't. The problem isn't with the Bible, but with us.

Furthermore, why should we assume that the creator would give us a revelation that doesn't promote diversity of thought?

Then you would complain that there is no diversity, but only monolithic ideas found in a blue print Bible!

chris van allsburg said...

Kurt,
Maybe the problem isn't with the speaker, but the listener.

The Bible is very clear on what repentance is and what it isn't. The problem isn't with the Bible, but with us.

Furthermore, why should we assume that the creator would give us a revelation that doesn't promote diversity of thought?

Then you would complain that there is no diversity, but only monolithic ideas found in a blue print Bible!

Another problem with your statement is that it ignores clear teaching in the Scripture that Yhwh does not always want people to understand what he says:

"The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside everything is said in parables so that,
'they may be ever seeing bu tnever perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!"

Another thought is this: unity of thought does not mean uniformity of thought. Christians ARE united across the front with the historical creeds. However, within that system of unifying thought, we are able to express our insights and ideas that extend beyond what the rubric which holds us together teachers. It's like we are all on a ship headed for Paris, but we are all free to roam around in different rooms on the ship. The ship is the creed, and the different rooms, etc. are expressions of the faith in its diverse forms.

Yes, people interpret the word in different ways whether right or wrong. But why do people interpret it rightly or wrongly? On your system of thought there IS no right or wrong anyway. On your view, since God has not spoken, we have no grounds upon which to make claims of certainty; all we have is relativistic notions. You affirm that people interpret rightly or wrongly, and you therefore assume that there is a right or wrong interpretation. You therefore are assuming that there is a STANDARD by which we interpret a text. I agree. There IS a standard. But on your view, there is no standard, there is only relativism. And yet, you affirm that there is a standard. So, you contradict yourself, and have really said nothing.

It makes more sense to believe that revelation is our starting point: God has spoken, and with the right rules (history, context, grammar, literary genre) we can indeed know the truth about what God has said.

See you in a week...
dirty...