When most people hear “argue” or “argument,” they think of what’s pictured to the left. I’m not referring to that. I’m referring to logical discourse.
Argumentation has fallen on hard times in our postmodern age. Arguments have been replaced by assertions, rhetoric, and sound-bites. The reasons for this are many: the idea that there are no absolute truths to argue for, a false notion of tolerance, and a pragmatic approach to life to name a few. We have become more concerned about the utility of an idea than its truthfulness, and our subjective feelings than objective truth. What I find both interesting and disheartening is that even conservative Christians have disengaged from the art of argumentation.
For many there is an aversion to the very word “argument” because in their mind it connotes fighting. But there is a difference between being argumentative (a psychological and behavioral disposition), and presenting an argument. An argument is simply a series of reasons given in support of, or in opposition to some proposition(s). In this sense the process of argumentation is vital to the epistemological veracity of Christianity.
The process of argumentation and debate aids us in our journey toward more truth. Argumentation forces us to think of things we might not have thought about before, and only by doing so do we have a chance to grow in knowledge and wisdom. In his book The Revolt of the Elites Christopher Lasch wrote that it is only in the course of argument that “we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn,…we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.” The process of argumentation puts our own ideas at risk. In the words of John Leo, arguments “can rescue us from our own half-formed opinions.” The opinions that survive the argumentation process demonstrate to both us and our opponents the strength or lack thereof of our ideas.
Arguing with those who hold positions contrary to our own is an act of love because its aim is to rescue people from bad ideas, and bad ideas have bad consequences. So contrary to those who oppose argumentation because it is unloving, nothing could be more loving. We actually fail to act in love if we allow someone to hold false beliefs.