Every day in the church is an adventure. Sometimes it’s pretty groovy. At other times it’s just goofy, and I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Whenever I’m playing the role of Pastor Serling, it’s usually because of some bizarre or twisted thinking which is taking place. We call them “logical fallacies.” A logical fallacy is nothing more than a flaw in reasoning; it is to forego critical thinking skills and skate on some lazy brain action. Logical fallacies create havoc. The paucity of reasonable, rational, logical thinking has not only turned-off potential and emerging leaders for the church, but has left a sizable gap in our discipleship of the mind. The lack of solid critical thinking skills can ruin entire congregations.
Perhaps you doubt. But consider some familiar ways of thinking within the church which are really nothing more than logical fallacies:
The Strawman: This is misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. Someone makes a blanket statement that only consumers want an alternative worship service, or that poor people just don’t want to work. This faux position makes an easy target to knock down. The problem is that the person setting up the strawman does not have enough information to be drawing conclusions. Most of the time there has not even been one conversation with the people for whom the strawman argument is directed.
The Slippery Slope: This fallacy is the assertion that if we allow A to happen, then B will consequently happen too, therefore A should never be allowed to happen. One example: If we allow same-sex couples to marry in our society, then biblical authority is out the window and the next thing you know the traditional family is gone. Whatever your view is on same-sex marriage is not the issue here – it is asserting the fallacy that if allowed all hell will break loose.
The Loaded Question: This flaw is asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without appearing guilty. Some church people love this approach. For example, one parishioner asks another if the pastor has visited them, within earshot of the pastor – it puts the person being asked in a no win situation with the unreasonable assumption that the pastor is negligent in his duties.
The Bandwagon Jump: We likely all know this one: appealing to popularity or the fact that a lot of people do something; it’s meant as a form of validation for one’s position. This is the church person who will confidently proclaim that no one likes the new small group ministry, and everyone hates it, which is meant to deflate the new ministry before it ever really gets going. It works because there are usually people who do not want to be on the “wrong side” of the issue.
The Emotional Appeal: This fallacy is in manipulating an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument. A person stands up in the church’s annual meeting and says we don’t need padding on the pews because there are Christians in Africa worshiping in a hut with no pews at all. No one wants to be a wimp, so the padding never happens.
The Ad Hominem Argument: This is my personal favorite. I chuckle every time I hear it. I chuckle a lot. Instead of dealing with the argument, this is simply attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine his/her position. For example, after providing a compelling reason for a change in ministry focus to families, another church member then questions why we should listen to a person who has never been married.
There are a whole lot more fallacies, and this is only a small swatch of them. Turns out we fallen people have all kinds of creative ways of refusing to think well about things. In all cases of logical fallacies there is an inherent bias toward a certain position. Therefore, the person purporting his position does not listen and seek to understand. He only wants his opinion validated, or position adopted, or ego stroked, and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. It is nothing more than lazy thinking and a lack of humility. Jesus offers us an alternative to logical fallacies with sound humble reasoning through careful storytelling and logical teaching. But don’t take Pastor Serling’s word for it. Go ahead and read the Gospels for yourselves.