Monday, June 11, 2007

The Truth War - The General of Generalization?

Response to The Truth War Part 1
Response to The Truth War Part 2

Generalization is a nasty, hasty habit for many of us. We all become captured in the over-simplification of making hasty generalizations at times. This is a classic fallacy in argumentation. For example: During my time as a Christian I have discovered that Christian leaders who believe reformed theology are overly dogmatic and judgmental toward those who do not hold their positions, because the ones I have met. or read have been that way. Of course, this is not true. It is not even true that all reformed theologians I have met are overly dogmatic. But even if it were true, it is an over-generalization to say that all reformed thinkers are overly dogmatic, and judgmental. That is a hasty generalization, and jumping to conclusions.

Hasty generalization is the formation of an opinion from an insufficiently small test sample group of a larger body. Insufficient evidence used as a basis for conclusions leads to hasty generalization, and logical fallacy.

Enter stage right The Truth War.

From a mere handful of leaders, from a narrow range of denominations, and miniscule number of writings, a series of accusations about the apostate nature of the Emergent Church is presented.

Rob & Kirsten Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and reformed theologian John Armstrong are among those listed and quoted in the book. A small smattering of their quotes are given.

John Armstrong most particularly is of interest. On three counts information provided about him is illogical. Armstrong's friend P. Andrew Sandlin has provided a solid defense against the accusations here in an excellent article. The accusations against Armstrong are provided as an example of the Emergent Church's slide into empty relativism. They are false on these counts: 1) John Armstong is a reformed theologian. He once taught side by side with John MacArthur, and still holds to the reformed traditions and theology with minor variations on his previously held beliefs. He does not typically fit the Emergent Church category. 2) As shown by P. Andrew Sandlin's article, MacArthur chooses statements from Armstrong from only two sources among his many writings - one blog, and one article. 3) His responses to citations from John Armstrong are inaccurate.

Two of three points illustrate hasty generalization perfectly. First, John Armstrong is quoted from a miniscule sampling of his greater works, and his beliefs are inaccurately assessed. Assumptions about John Armstrong are made with insufficient evidence. Secondly, these quotes from this single source become an example of postmodern relativism infiltrating the church at large. MacArthur also lists quotes from such authors as Brian McLaren, and Rob & Kirsten Bell, Donald Miller, and Stanley Grenz. The small sampling of quotes frm each are presented as authoritative comments from what is a complex and diverse movement. They are generalizations about the larger group from a small sampling of ill read quotes. Generalizations are made about John Armstrong, which in turn are used as a sampling of generalizations about the larger group called Emergent.

The premise of the book is based off hasty generalization. John MacArthur shows no complete understanding about the nature of the Emergent Conversation, and similarly no clear comprehension about the basic critiques which postmodernism holds toward its predecessor modernism.

Whether as a tool for creating the larger scope of the book, or in details of the book MacArthur shows himself to be a master generalizer. After quoting Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz with story about "Mark the cussing pastor," MacArthur goes on to say, "Obscenity is one of the major trademarks of the Emerging style. Most authors in the movement make extravagant use of filthy language, sexual innuendo, and uncritical references to the most lowbrow elements of postmodern culture...."

I don't know which books he's been reading, but my guess is that either they weren't Emergent books, or that he's become the General of Generalization. Logical fallacies are presented as sound doctrine in this book.


Adam Gonnerman said...

"Obscenity is one of the major trademarks of the Emerging style. Most authors in the movement make extravagant use of filthy language, sexual innuendo, and uncritical references to the most lowbrow elements of postmoidern culture...."

I'm sorry, but what's he been smoking? That's absolutely insane.

Pastor Phil said...

Yeah, that too. I was just wondering what he was reading.

Anonymous said...

I know I've not come across that many emergent folks (although those I have come across are far easier to converse with because they're more inclined to listen instead of spending the time you're talking thinking about what they're going to say next to label you...... but I'm not sure I've come acorss an emergent Christian who habitually engages in 'extravagant use of filthy language, sexual innuendo, and uncritical references to the most lowbrow elements of postmodern culture'. Is this MacArthur guy really worth bothering about? That's probably a generalised response because I'm commenting on just one review of one of his works as presented to me. But I know that unless I'm deliberately reading something to find the holes in the logic, if I come across something that is that glaringly out of step with my experiences, I tend not to bother. This guy is supposed to be a Christian, right? Isn't there an Exodus passage about bearing false witness?



David said...

Yeah, what the bleepidy, bleep, bleep bleep, is he talking about!??


william (hylander) said...


I think Mac may have obtained his information regarding the use of foul language and the extravagant use of sexual innuendo from some emergent blogs (i.e. Ooze) or perhaps some cd's of sermons somewhere. I have heard a few of Mac's MP3's on the subject of the emergent church where he has made inferences regarding the aforementioned, but simply did not cite the source of his information. I know from personal experience, however, that there does tend to be some "looseness" of the english language on the Ooze and other emergent blogs, but I certainly am not offended by it. Further, the co-leader of the Acts 29 Network of churches (Mark Driscol) has been known to drop a swear word now and then, but because he is both "pentacostal and reformed" in his theology", he is good in my book! *chuckle*


william (hylander) said...


You could have also made a very strong argument based on the "straw man" fallacy as well regarding Mac's premises. You probably already knew that, but just in case you didn't, I extend a positive affimation, a hug and whisker to whisker rub! By the way, what happened to that long beard you once had?

Anyways, thanks for the post Phil, and thanks also for allowing a broken down reformacostal/missional Christ follower like me to participate with the likes of you folk. I have really been mentally and spiritually stretched at times by your writings, always have been actually. Peace to you brother!

carl said...

is there any good stuff in this book?

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Carl,

There is some decent info on Jude, but even that is couched in an illogical attack on the Emergent Conversation. Being such I have decided to approach the fallacies of the book. Since its primary goal is to use Jude to bash a group of people, I have decided to only write about the fallacies of that approach. There are anough defenders of the book out there to give response. I'll add some of those links in my next - probably last post about this.

They can be the balance in reviewing it. ;-)

william (hylander) said...

Carl and Phil,

There is "some" good in the book. Phil has soundly critiqued the book to reveal the logical fallacies that exist which undermine and refute MacArthur's premesis. Granted, is there truth to be found in the book? I believe there is. However, the approach, method of delivery, tone, along with the unfortunate logical fallacies, discredits the work from being argumentively persuasive. If we were living 2300 years ago, MacArthur would have made a great rhetorician along with the other Greek thinkers.

That being said, however, the fact that there is some truth to what MacArthur is saying in his book, those facts and truths only apply to a specific group within the EC. Additionally, it really only applies to "some" specific "unorthodox" teachings that are being embraced and espoused and is not representative to the whole of the EC movement. So, as Phil's Philosopher friend noted, Mac's "Fallacy of Oversimplification" unfortunately does no justice toward what Mac wants to accomplish.

I do think it is interesting that there is a particular trend by both those in the EC camp and those in the Evangelical camp. Both have committed the same and/or similar logical fallacies toward one another. But, what I find compelling, is that there is a dominant trend toward critiquing "How" something is said or written, i.e.(tone, logic, demeanor, political correctness etc.) while discarding or dismissing "What" is actually said, i.e. (truth). I think we need to be truly careful to not disregard this facet when separating the wheat from the chaff.


Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Your observations on Emergent folk being more likely to converse as opposed to pontificate may have some basis in truth. Emergent is at its core a conversation, and emphasizes learning from others- even if they are not from our own camp.

Pastor Phil said...


I don't firetrucking know.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Will,

Youa re right there is some looseness in Emergent tongues. Then again I remember Roy Hicks Jr. cursing from the pulpit twenty years ago. Emergent did not exist, and he was an old fashioned Pentecostal boy.

Pastor Phil said...


The straw man argument has to be used in order to set the extremes, and then ignore the middle. I', not sure I'll follow this set of posts out that far to cover the straw man fallacy, but yes you are correct.

Pastor Phil said...

Oh, and by the way Will, Great to have you in the discussion. The big beard - hmmm...It grows then I cut it, then it grows again, and Bev says trim it.

Agent B said...

I wouldn't say obscenity is a MAJOR trademark.

It IS ok to say things like "bullshit" in a emergent leaning church.

And that is one of the top 5 reasons I can hang with "emergent".

If I muttered "bullshit" in ANY context within any local church meeting, a team of ushers would jump me, hogtie me, and bury on some football field...never to be found again.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey B,

They wouldn't bury you in the football field. They'd chop you in little peices and use you for fertilizer. Then they'd call it sowing and reaping. :-O

ded said...

I think acceptance of cussing lives because it feels so honest. Grassroots folks regardless of their group identification value honesty. Cussing feels amd sounds honest.

Since James questions the logic of spewing blessing and cursing from one's mouth, it does seem something to consider. I grew up in a household where my mom cussed almost as thickly as my military related dad and two older brothers. She would never use the f-word, however...that one was profane to her. Which illustrates that when people choose their standards of morality, the criteria of right and wrong wavers among the varied perpsectives. Who's take on morality is correct? This is part of the reason I am certain, God did not want Adam and Eve munching from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. With such knowledge, humans are reduced to conflictng standards and those holding the political power get to call the shots of what is right and true. Ouch!!! History is replete with governments mandating morality through force and other methods. We invaded Iraq as a "moral" issue.

In a more recent post, Phil, you wonder about being motivated by the simple as opposed to adventure. Is there a simplicity in the Spirit of Christ within us that when heard, leads to a leveling of our emotions? Perhaps in the hearing of and joining ouselves to this simple love our need to be passionate in anger, exhuberance or even melancholy (Passionately melancholy sounds a bit bi-polar; my that's awkward!)lessens. We are freed to be passionate about God alone in such a moment. It isn't that one chooses not to cuss as evidence of high morality, or that one chooses to cuss as evidence of grassroots honesty. In embracing the simplicity of Christ within, what comes from the mouth is in the flow of the River of Life. What will be spoken from swimming in this River? We must each leap in and found out for ourselves!
It is a simple adventure.

ded said...

oops who's should equal whose

Pastor Phil said...

Hey ded,

I like your observations on honesty and morality. Nice comment on the cussing issue.