Thursday, December 20th, 2007

It’s common to hear people say “I do not expect to change your mind” in the course of debate these days. Just recently I was debating someone on an exegetical issue involving 1Thessalonians 4:14 who said these very words to me after only one round of correspondence.

While there are instances in which this assessment is justified–such as when your opponent declares, “Nothing you say is going to change my mind,” or when, after a sufficient amount of dialogue it becomes clear that your opponent suffers from intellectual stubbornness–it is often used prematurely and inappropriately. I would advise dispensing with such talk for two reasons.

First, I think it communicates a defeatist message, and that prematurely. It may be that neither individual will change his position as a result of the debate (although they often cede various points), but one should let the debate run its course before concluding that their arguments failed to persuade their opponent.

Secondly, and m
ore importantly, the comment is demeaning to either oneself, or one’s opponent. It can be self-demeaning in that it cedes the lack of cogency in one’s argument a priori. How can we be so sure our arguments will not persuade our opponent? If we do not think they are persuasive, why even offer them?

More often, however, such a comment is meant to demean your opponent. It communicates the idea that you don’t think he possesses enough intellectual honesty to change his position in light of the evidence you are presenting. That is very demeaning.

Whether we mean to demean the quality of our arguments, or the intellectual honesty of our opponents, such a statement is demeaning and should be used wisely and infrequently.

And for the record, I do expect my arguments for a limited use of this comment to change your mind! And so should I. If our arguments are good ones, none of us should expect any less.

What relationship does rationality have to faith? While some only convert after they have examined the evidence for Christianity, most people convert based on a personal experience with Jesus Christ. That’s the way it was for me. I came to believe Christianity was true, not by a rational examination of the evidence, but because of my personal encounter with the risen Christ. I remain a Christian, however, not only because of my past and present experience, but because I have examined the rational evidence for Christianity and found it superior to all other worldviews.

Whether one first believes because of what they know by experience, or what they know by rationality, the fact remains that a robust faith requires both. He who first believes based on an experience needs to supplement that experience with a rational inquiry of the faith they now hold. He who first believes based on a rational examination of Christianity needs to supplement his persuasion with a personal encounter of Jesus Christ.

For further reading about the relationship of faith and rationality, see my articles on the topic at IBS:

Faith Has Its Reasons

What is the Relationship of Reason to Revelation?
A Balanced Perspective on Reason and Faith

Investigating Faith: Placing Religious Truth Back Into the Arena of Knowledge

Religious Truth Can Be Known
Scaling the Gulf Between Scientific and Religious Knowledge

I was always taught that the gifts of the Spirit were only for those who have first received the Spirit. The Scriptural justification given was usually an appeal to 1Corinthians 12:13, where in the context of discussing spiritual gifts Paul said, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.” Paul went on to compare the church to a human body, arguing that each person has a function in the body of Christ based on His spiritual gifting. It is argued, then, that if one has not received the Spirit, He is not in the body of Christ, and thus does not have a spiritual gift. I think this interpretation is mistaken both exegetically and logically.

Exegetically, Paul does not make the point those who advance this idea claim he is making. He does not argue that one must be in the body of Christ in order to have a spiritual gift. He simply notes that of those who are in the body of Christ because they have received the Spirit have a spiritual gift as well. The only thing we can gather from the text is that having the Spirit is a sufficient condition for having a spiritual gift; we cannot conclude that it is a necessary condition. While all those in the body of Christ have a spiritual gift, that does not preclude anyone who is outside the body of Christ from having a spiritual gift. Having the Spirit may be the norm for those who have a spiritual gift in NT times, but it does not mean there can be no exceptions.

Logically, it is clear that the gifts of the Spirit are not predicated on one’s possession of the Spirit. The OT saints operated in the gifts of the Spirit even though they were not filled with the Spirit. One may counter that the spiritual gifts Paul spoke of are different than what we see operative in the OT, but why should we believe that? How does an OT miracle differ from a NT miracle? How did one’s ability to discern different spirits differ in the OT from the NT? Only two of the nine spiritual gifts are unique to the NT period (different kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues). The rest were exhibited in days of old, and thus there is no reason to think that one must have the Spirit to have the gifts of the Spirit. Again, that may be the norm during the current dispensation, but there is no good reason to believe it is a hard and fast rule.