Proof by Assertion
Tom Chantry writes the following:
The main argument of the Strange Fire Conference appears to have been that any Charismatic belief engenders a lack of discernment, enabling the worst sort of Charismatic excess. That’s it. Pretty simple statement, right? Now I didn’t attend or listen to the messages, but I know that’s the argument.
The difficulty here is that “[A]ny Charismatic belief engenders a lack of discernment, enabling the worst sort of Charismatic excess” looks more like a statement than it does an argument. That’s a problem. But there’s a bigger problem still.
Good evidence and reasoning should be offered in support of the premise(s) of an argument. Whether or not the Strange folk provided such support for their own argument, I do not know. Certainly Chantry does not offer such support in his post.
Shifting the Burden of Proof
Instead, Chantry makes a very simple mistake. He shifts the burden of proof onto Charismatic apologists. According to him, Charismatic apologists should respond to the Strange folk by saying, “there is nothing about Charismaticism which engenders lack of discernment, and we are not enabling the worst sort of Charismatic excess.” But why should Charismatic apologists respond this way?
The statements Chantry recommends for the Charismatic apologists are universal negatives. Universal negatives are often difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
Thankfully, the Charismatic apologist is not restricted to Chantry’s suggested response. It will suffice to point out that the Strange folk have not supported their argument. It’s up to the Strange folk to prove that Charismaticism engenders a lack of discernment and enables Charismatic excess. Unless or until they do, Charismatic apologists are well within their rights when they refuse to accept the argument as repeated by Chantry. They are not required to go to all the trouble of trying to prove a universal negative. A failure on the part of Charismatic apologists to prove a universal negative does nothing for the Strange folk.
According to Chantry, Charismatic apologists are saying, “We don’t practice the worst sort of Charismatic excess.” He does not believe this provides any sort of response to the Strange argument. He’s mistaken here as well.
Recall the Strange folk’s argument that “any Charismatic belief engenders a lack of discernment, enabling the worst sort of Charismatic excess.” If the premise is “If Charismatic belief, then Charismatic excess,” then even one example of Charismatic belief without Charismatic excess falsifies the premise. That is why the “Charismatic apologists” are citing their practice. Contrary to what Chantry claims, citing their practice refutes the argument.
If the Strange argument is not that Charismatic belief entails Charismatic excess, then the Strange folk should not have conflated the two.
Guilt by Association
In his comment thread, Chantry writes the following:
If [Sam] Storms (for instance, or plug in the name of any ‘cautious continuationist’ you wish) wants to say, ‘Maybe God is whispering to you out of the dark,’ then he is giving aid and comfort to the Pentecostal con-men. Let him be exposed, in the same way that CAIR is exposed. Giving aid and comfort to evil is participation in evil.
Using the same logic, “If [Tom Chantry] (for instance, or plug in the name of any ‘theist’ you wish) wants to say, ‘Maybe God exists,’ then he is giving aid and comfort to the Pentecostal con-men. Let him be exposed, in the same way that CAIR is exposed. Giving aid and comfort to evil is participation in evil.”
Chantry later apologized for his comment, as he felt he was ungracious. However, my observation pertains to the logic of the comment. Chantry’s thinking regarding this issue is in error, as demonstrated by the reductio ad absurdum.
Correlation Does Not Imply Causation
I’m not terribly interested in this controversy, but I’ve been able to feel its heat from where I sit, without seeing much light. It appears the Strange folk have succumbed to the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc. They think since Charismatic belief can be found with Charismatic excess, Charismatic belief must be causing Charismatic excess. That’s a fallacy worth pointing out.
Once upon a time, a particularly pragmatic professor gave my class advice I had never heard before, and have not heard since. The advice was simple enough, but somewhat shocking.
Can’t decide between theological and/or philosophical alternatives? Pick one. Move on. Wise words? Perhaps. But this willy-nilly wisdom must be carefully qualified.
My professor was not talking about essentials of the faith. We all know…well, the orthodox among us know…’thou shalt not play fast and loose with doctrinal essentials.’ I fear for my fundamentalist readers already. Right now they are scratching their heads wondering what doctrine is non-essential. And so we have a good illustration of why it’s terribly impractical to be a fundy.
My professor was referring to theological and philosophical positions that are non-essentials. Tertiary. Debated. Not terribly clear. Insert your maddeningly stupid ‘pan-millenial’ joke here. Now I fear for those holding an overly simplistic view of the perspicuity of Scripture. Allow me to clarify. Not all of Scripture is every bit as clear as every other part. Regardless, we can think up lengthy lists of hotly debated non-essentials of the faith. That’s not difficult. What is difficult is finding our place in all the fuss.
One response to the difficulty is to ignore it. Focus only on essentials. That’s good, to an extent, but God gave us his word for a reason, and addressed particular topics for a reason. So let’s at least pretend to look interested. Perhaps we won’t be willing to go to the stake for something we believe, but that’s okay. In fact, that type of attitude shows some Christian maturity on our part. The danger is in cracking jokes about ‘pro-millenialism’ and angels dancing on the tips of pins. That type of attitude does not show Christian maturity on our part. It’s theological/philosophical agnosticism. Worse yet, it promotes the lie that theology does not matter, or is not terribly important.
Theology is important. Philosophy is important. We really should choose between alternatives. And we should do so in an informed manner. But it’s terribly unhelpful to be ever-learning and never coming to the truth. Picky. When we know about various options available to us, have done some study, and still cannot make a decision, it’s time to choose up sides and drop into the trenches to defend a view. If we lose, then we are better off for having found the weakness(es) in one view and having moved on to defend a stronger one. If we don’t lose, well, it looks as though we’ve found the position we’ll continue defending.