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Discourse: An Irony

November 12, 2006

JackHammers probably wouldn’t make the best fly swatters. Yet, in the current climate of discourse, some wield their sledgehammer with glee whenever they see a fly buzzing around their opponent’s head. Certainly, a sledgehammer will kill the fly. But the collateral damage concerns us.

If discourse is a lost art, and I believe that it is, then it is up to believers to recover it. Having recently concluded yet another long and exhausting political season, we should know that the politicians won’t be straightening things out any time soon. Nor should we expect them to straighten things if we don’t.

One could address many problems in the current climate of discourse, particularly in the blog world. We struggle to meet and defeat our opponent’s arguments, we fail to precisely present our own position, we strain at gnats and swallow elephants. Our aggravations and frustrations increase with our increasing inability to make a point. These issues need to be addressed, and probably by someone more qualified than myself.

As a casual observer of some of the debates at Sharper Iron, I have found myself disappointed at times and disgusted at other times. It is not my intention to address the problems I see with Sharper Iron. They have their rules, and they will enforce them as they see fit, as is their right. When it comes to the rules for posting, and particularly their rules demanding graciousness, they can be consistently inconsistent if they choose.

My intention here is not to address the number of times they jaded us for harshness. If they let one side call us lemmings and then kick us out for protesting, that is their right. We don’t get a level playing field. If they don’t like our tone or our rhetoric, then they get to ban us.

But I want to address our tone. Forget about theirs. When I stand before God, I’ll not give an account for their tone. I’ll give an account for mine.

And yes, tone does matter. It matters what you say, and it matters how you say it. In this debate, which I think was a “sub-debate” in all the debates until Sharper Iron cleaned house, there was an interesting irony. On the one side there were the “tone police”…those who were legalists when it came to tone. On the other side we had the licentious, which saw no limits when it came to tone. The irony was that the legalists when it came to rhetoric tended to be the most licentious when it came to everything else, while the more “legalistic” became the more licentious in these debates. Now, believers don’t answer to bloggers. They answer to the Lord God. And there is a Scriptural balance, for which we all must strive.

The Legalist
The “tone police” set a very high and often legalistic standard. Often, the standard is, “if I was offended, then that was out of bounds.” I admit: I am the best judge of what offends me. But the fact that it offended me does not indicate that my opponent was in the wrong. Perhaps he should have offended me. Perhaps I needed to get whacked. The legalist sets the standard by his own feelings. He is easily offended, and whenever he is offended, “why that just isn’t Christian.” The legalist wants nothing that sounds harsh. He wants arguments to be padded by “gracious” statements at both ends. He demands that all rebukes be sandwiched by niceties and sentimentalist ooze. None of these personal attacks, like “you whitewashed sepulchres, full of dead men’s bones.” He cannot tolerate straw men statements like “you clean the outside of the cup, and leave the inside filthy.” The legalist, I am convinced, would ban Christ from his blog. He writes with acid pen about those who write with acid pen. He scorns and scoffs at anyone who scorns and scoffs, and in the most pietistic terms condemns all scorning and scoffing except his own and those of his friends. Ad hominem attacks are reserved for those who (in his “humble” opinion) use ad hominem attacks. He cannot tolerate intolerance.

In other words, he holds a self-contradictory stance.

The Licentious
Set in contrast against the legalistic “tone police” are those who use rhetoric with no regard for anyone else. They set the standard at the same place as the legalist, but with a different result. For the legalist’s standard is his own feelings, while the brutish man’s standard is his own opinion. The legalist attacks any who “sound” harsh (to himself). The licentious attacks any who disagree with their opinion. Of course, they always have Bible to back it up. And they have Bible to back up their tone as well. After all, Christ was pretty harsh at times. And so, they use Christ’s tone as a license, a blank check to say whatever they want. This man is offensive. He likes to offend. He offends for the sake of offending. He loves to stir up strife. He would attack Christ himself if Christ disagreed with him. He has venom for all, and to spare. He is heavy on the salt, and light on the grace. He would rather raise his voice than reinforce his argument. The law of kindness will not bind him. He hates his enemies, and loves his opinion.

In other words, he holds a self-centered stance.

The Balance
As always, the Word must be the standard. There is a Scriptural balance, and we would do well to find it. How do we balance the polemics of Christ (get thee behind me, Satan; or Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?) with the clear commands of Scripture (in honor preferring one another; or let each esteem other better than himself; or love your enemies; or Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt). There is a balance, and for God’s sake, we must find it.

First, we must understand the difference between being offended and being offensive. It is possible to offend without being offensive. The fact that you were offended does not mean that I sinned. The truth will offend. But I must allow the truth to do the offending, and not my use of the truth. There are times when it is necessary, even Scriptural to set out to give offense. But that does not mean I get to be offensive. Even here, there is a balance. It is possible to offend graciously. In other words, if I tell the truth, and speak it in love, then let the chips fall where they may. But I must not set out to be offensive. The Word does not need my help. Certainly, I can use it as a mallet. But the Bible says,

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

Note that the Word is the hammer. Not the user of the Word, or the wielder of the hammer. If God’s Word says it, then I don’t need to add my attitude. My attitude adds nothing to the argument. My word must be acceptable in God’s sight. Even when crying out against sin.

Christ sets the example in this. And here we find what is perhaps our greatest struggle. How can I be a peacemaker, when I am at war? The answer is to win the war. The answer is to destroy the opposition. But not in the way that we think. Evangelism is an act of war, and it is an example of peacemaking. The evangelist seeks to make peace by converting his opponent. He would overthrow the lies with The Truth

Here in Utah, we cannot evangelize with a chip on our shoulder. If you lived here, you might struggle with that. When false doctrine is flaunted in your face, when false teachers pawn lies as the truth, it is easy to make it personal. I must be careful that it is the Word, and not my attitude that does the offending. In other words, I cannot allow my flesh to get involved.

We need wisdom in discourse. The wisdom that is from above (James 3:13-18 …YOU need to read this!) We need temperance. We need joy and love. We need peace. We need longsuffering. We need gentleness and meekness. Then, we can be graciously firm, kindly bold, lovingly sarcastic. Then, and only then, can we mock with Christ-like spirit, and smack optimistically.

In other words, then our discourse will be Christ-centered.

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Categories: Discourse, Mallinak
  1. November 12, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    “It is not my intention to address the problems I see with Sharper Iron.” Wow! In this regard, I would have to say you failed. But rightly so…I enjoyed your post. Great peace of “discourse.”

    You guys really do hammer stuff to pieces…but like you said, the truth will have that effect.

  2. November 12, 2006 at 11:40 pm

    We should obey Scripture in discussion. I support that. I don’t know that I’ve received much of an objective opinion on my tone in debate. I’m guessing that Mallet Factor thinks I’m at least a borderline bad guy. Guys on my side like me. Guys not on my side don’t like me. I probably go over some line without intending to go over that line. I wouldn’t mind being criticized by someone that I know has my best interests in view, to tell me where I went over the line. 1 Thess. 5:14 tells us several different ways to deal with several different people. Some you warn, others you strengthen. My memory of SI debates is that they are essentially milque-toast, pink-lemonade over there. They are touchy, touchy about others’ tone, but not their own. I was never given an actual example, Scripturally, of anything that I did wrong over there. I now have people call me a schismatic that I don’t think understand schisma. I also have heard vitriolic. I know on blogs, including yours Mallet Factor, that I have taken one particular person only to the wood shed. Well two, a young man and his young brother. The same young brother calls mea schismatic. Another young man calls me a schismatic. What do you think?

    I would be ready to be crushed. Get the hammer and crush me. Go for it.

  3. November 13, 2006 at 10:19 am

    One thing at a time… impossible to address every sub-issue of discourse in anything less than a book… left some gaping holes and unanswered questions in the post, including this statement… “We need temperance. We need joy and love. We need peace. We need longsuffering. We need gentleness and meekness. Then, we can be graciously firm, kindly bold, lovingly sarcastic. Then, and only then, can we mock with Christ-like spirit, and smack optimistically.” Need’s some splainin’… Will try later…

    First, Pastor B., my opinion of your debates at SI have not changed since I discussed it with you in August. I still hold to everything I said then. I think that the fact that they kicked you off without “banning” you speaks volumes of their reasons. I still believe that you were having an effect, that you were persuasive, and that they struggled to keep up. And thus, you are out.

    I would remind of one thing… “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again…”

    I had another specific problem, and that was with the “pseudonym”. If the “pseudonym” wants to go after people, he should be up front about it. Hiding behind the keyboard, sniping from the bushes, taking cheap shots at the top people at SI really should have no place in debate. It isn’t manly, and it serves only one purpose, which I discussed in the “licentious” section.  And I was disgusted that anyone would support that or think it was funny.

  4. November 13, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    I’m not sure that everyone would agree with you, Pastor M., that my tone is Scripturally correct. I would welcome anyone from SI or otherwise to help me out with this. I grow weary of the ad hominem name-calling, as I mentioned above, “schisma,” “schismatic,” “vitriolic,” and “ungracious,” without specific examples. You know are not saying I’m that way, Pastor M, but guys think that. They at least think it might be true, but they can’t put their finger on what’s wrong. Personally, I do believe that it is just that they don’t have answers to my points of debate, coming from Scripture. It was tell-tale when I got thrown off SI for asking about something that someone else said in the way of sinful tone.

    My first episode on SI, my introduction to online forums, was with Tom Pryde, whom I knew nothing about. I got on talking about the KJV situation because of a book review of the Sproul book. Before I would talk about it, I required that someone tell me what their Scriptural presuppositions were on the text issue. They required that I discuss it without those presuppositions, and I wouldn’t, so I got lambasted in public, including by a woman, who then I find out much later is Tom Pryde’s sister. I think you all know what the Bible says about that. I never did find out what their Scriptural positions were; it is almost as if they are ashamed of what they believe. That probably represents it.

    Anyway, I was looking for someone to give me specific examples for why it is that I would even be getting the tone critique. Nobody on my side has said I’m doing anything wrong, but I get the sense that some might think I’m over some line. I don’t mind finding out how.

  5. November 14, 2006 at 9:56 am

    First, some comments on that first debate, and then back to the “pseudonym”.

    There’s nothing worse than an armchair quarterback, and ironically, there is nothing better either. The armchair quarterback’s analogies are precise and difficult to refute, mainly because he comments on the actions that are already completed, and gives his “shoulda, woulda, coulda”. Armchair quarterbacking is really too easy. No sweating, no conditioning, and no hard tackles. Just pristine spirals slicing through imaginary air.

    I despise airmchair quarterbacks, and now I am about to take my place in the worn spots of their cushions.

    I thought that first debate was over the line. Not that you were alone in that. The missiles were coming pretty heavy. One could hardly blame you, but a few times it sounded like it was good that keyboards and computer screens were separating everybody. Not that this is all bad — there will be heated discussions, and if iron is to be sharpened, then sparks will fly. In your defense, it seems that by the end of the debate you were making an attempt to be conciliatory (if that matters).

    Your arguments were substantive, whether anyone agreed with them or not. They were apparantly unused to any reasoned positions on this, and it showed in their reaction.

    We cross the line when we focus on the person rather than the truth, and when we attack the person rather than the arguments. That happened in that debate. If you and I have a debate, I would like to think that we could debate each other without cheap shots. Debates often look like boxing matches, as they should, with each trying to pulverize the other. Things get rough. Feelings may get hurt, especially since so much of our identity is wrapped up in our beliefs and opinions. So, I think if we debated, it would get rough. The same if we boxed.

    But I would hate to think that if we debated, the debate would reduce down to you calling me “Davey”, or me calling you “Kentie”. I would like to think that if we were boxing, we would refrain from any “ear-biting”. I would like to think that we could conduct ourselves graciously, even as we throw the left hook.

    Maybe we struggle to understand the difference between an analogy about a particular debate or a discussion of a particular group (like the Pharisees), and a particular debate. If I am debating you, I need to address the issue and avoid disrespecting you. I think that there is a lawful place for mocks of Sharper Iron in general, just as there would be a lawful place for a mock of JackHammers. But if I am debating somebody one-on-on, say Jason Janz, I don’t need to start calling him “JJ”. That doesn’t make my point.

    “Young Fundy”, as I saw it, was an attempt to be offensive. No problem here with a mock of a particular position, or of a sub-group of fundamentalists (like the Pharisees). But that wasn’t the point. The point was to disrespect individuals. And the creator wasn’t bold enough to put his name behind it. I thought it was a cheap shot.

  6. November 14, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I understand Young Fundy from your perspective. I thought he was funny. He was totally satire. I think someone not in the context would not find it as humorous. It really stemmed back to an incident that happened at Pyromaniacs where I commented on a picture over there of an immodestly dressed woman. My comments weren’t very harsh at all, more entreating. They blew a gasket then and that thread went a long time, dozens of attackers on us as “legalists,” etc., until they spoofed myself and one other guy in a fake comic book. The main moderator at SI went to SI and essentially became a part of their reaction, linking to the picture at Pyro over at SI. He defended them, ridiculed us. It was funny for them as long as it wasn’t them. I laugh when I think of the Pyro comic book cover of us. They, of course, thought we should take it in good humor. I never said anything about it, but I have figured out their double standard. They don’t like to be spoofed, just like to spoof. Satire is fine as long as they are the ones giving it out. For that reason, I got a kick out of Young Fundy. It exposed their hypocrisy. Once he had done that, he essentially closed up shop. I don’t think it is an effective way of seeing change take place, for sure, and so I understand it from that perspective. That ought to be the bottom line, which is why, I think, that Young Fundy retired rather quickly.

    In the debate, which is actually no longer available because of the great SI crash, I didn’t think that I actually did go ad hominem. I think they wanted me to fold up into the fetal position and if I didn’t, they would push the tone button. Could I have softened the presentation while keeping strong content? I think so. However, I didn’t find when I did that, that it changed their attitude. Look at the Strouse geocentrism debate over there. Relentless and vicious toward Strouse, who isn’t even there.

  7. November 14, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    If you men wanted some real debate and fun you would go to the FF
    We all know sharperirony is full of sissies that swallowed a Roget’s thesaurus.

    Nevertheless, here is the link
    http://fundamentalforums.com/
    where men are men and so are the women and I am the queen.
    Let me know ahead of time if you plan to attend and I will have the red carpet rolled out for your entry.

    BTW a Fairhaven grad/Pastor runs/moderates it.

  8. November 15, 2006 at 10:05 am

    Illustrating the problem of the airmchair quarterback… I wasn’t even aware of the comic book, and I don’t get around at SI enough to be familiar with the Strouse issue. Can you put up some links to demonstrate?

    I stand by what I said, (trying to be manly here), but I will also confess that I can hardly stand to read SI. They reach 20 pages in half a day, and 10 of those 20 pages will be complaints about somebody’s “nastiness”. For instance, I wasted some of my precious time reading Joel T’s “three lines in the sand”, and then watched Chief Tetreau Apologist Tom Pryde smack down all who differed as “nasty”. Every time he complained about the tone, which was every time somebody disagreed with Tetreau, he shook his head and clucked about nastiness. It was ridiculous. And then, I saw Don Johnson put up a comment, something about Tetreau’s three lines being ridiculous or something, and Tom Pryde jumped on Johnson immediately with a “that’s what I always say about any comment you make”.

    OK, so Pryde is well-named and Tetreau is, well — pompous. Pryde and Prejudice? Maybe? Or Pryde and Pompousness? But I think I covered that in my post. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the whole “Young Fundy” thing, but hasn’t he been on this blog too? What was that all about?

    And what with the “KK” thing? If you iritate me in a debate, or if you cross a line at least in my perception, what am I saying when I start calling you “KK”? Why do we lower ourselves? Why do we lay aside the debate and “dis” the person? If we are right, we should act like it.

  9. November 15, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    I find interesting what your take is on the three lines in the sand. And I would say it doesn’t matter, except that is where a lot of young guys are looking today. I see them this way. They want to be separatist and they want to be unifiers and their theology is so inconsistent and contradictory that they have to develop these kinds of elaborate systems to deal with it. They do finally make up what is important to them. They hate KJVO and strong cultural stands on one side, and I guess they probably hate liberal theology on the other. Much short of liberal theology, I don’t know what they can’t get along with. Even ecumenism is up for grabs with some of them. Don Johnson has a much more similar world view as us, as does Mike Harding, and then this Sam Hanna, as well as a few others. Guys like us have also dropped out because a lack of real iron sharpening, that is, exegeting Scripture and coming to conclusions based on the exegesis.

    I thought the satire of their indecisiveness and way of arguing at Young Fundy was funny while it lasted. I think that making it short term was the right approach, but the satire I did not think was wrong.

    I don’t know what KK is. Did someone call you a KK? I at least can’t remember what a KK is. Where did you see KK? Is that Kent Kandenburg?

    I think it is possible for me, after a certain period of time, to give some disrespect to someone who I don’t believe listens to Scripture. Or if they make an incredibly poor argument that is obvious a dodge or a kind of revisionism. I don’t think it gives me a pass to say anything that I want, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I said something rather sharp.

    Young Fundy I think has made some cameo appearances here. When he does appear, he usually comes in the spirit of the Young Fundy, which again, is funny satire to me. I’d like to hear what Jeff has to say on this. Is he huddled in a closet doing PHD work? I’m doing the last read through of my dress book, but I don’t get to huddle. I get to spill egg yoke on it while eating breakfast and reading on my way to the van to go in with my kids.

    I have to be honest. I thought a little discussion between you and me would help spark interest here.:)

  10. November 17, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    I’ll have a thought or two on the three lines thingy coming right up. And, we’ll spark some interest, but I doubt of the SI brass will comment. They don’t want to leave the safety of their own.

  11. Micah
    November 18, 2006 at 7:35 am

    [quote]We all know sharperirony is full of sissies that swallowed a Roget’s thesaurus.[/quote]

    speaking of irony in discourse. Cathy, this is an embarassing comment for you, and divulges a great deal of hypocrisy on your part. If you can’t say what you mean at SI, then why say anything at all. I see now, you couch your SI comments in false platitudes not revealing what you really think. It can only be defined as apathy or cowardice.

  12. Greg Linscott
    November 18, 2006 at 11:03 am

    They don’t want to leave the safety of their own.

    Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve gone around before with Kent on his blog, particularly on the modesty issue. For me, it’s not a matter of retreating to “safety.” It’s a matter of what is going to be accomplished by pursuing a particular line of conversation with particular people (a question I am considering in my overall participation in the blogosphere of late). My past experience leads me to believe that the likelihood of mutual “sharpening” is not likely to occur on matters which we differ on. Instead, endless banterings seem to be the expected outcome- wear down your opponent until he’s so tired of the process you end up “winning” by getting in the sharp last word.

    I do think it is somewhat disingenuous to take on SI as a monolithic entity. Even the examples cited in this post and subsequent comments reflect a wide diversity of personalities and perspectives represented in participation on the site. It certainly isn’t as monolithic as, say, the participants on this esteemed blog.

    Anyway, have fun discussing the site. In a way, it’s nice to be “missed.”

  13. November 18, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Micah
    “stated, speaking of irony in discourse. Cathy, this is an embarassing comment for you, and divulges a great deal of hypocrisy on your part. If you can’t say what you mean at SI, then why say anything at all. I see now, you couch your SI comments in false platitudes not revealing what you really think. It can only be defined as apathy or cowardice. ”

    Since this isn’t my blog and I dont want to show disrespect for the men that this pertains to, I will try to answer you peacefully.

    You left a third option out, I am cautious, that is because many of the readers can’t handle the truth or the don’t want to live/hear the truth. Case in point the action taken towards Pastor Brandenburg.

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