I received another one of those emails calling me a liar. It comes with the territory. It was not that my particular view was wrong, misinformed, or even misguided. Nope. I was a liar. I was deliberately misleading people. I knew the truth, but I withheld it, so that I could consciously exchange it for something that is false. This was merely another case of the ol’ bait-and-switch tactic. I was a “liar from the pit of hell.”
I am often humored by the extreme rhetoric that some Christians employ, but never more so than when people become so loose with the accusations about lying. Maybe humored is the wrong word, as it’s a very disturbed type of humor.
The presupposition is this: Whenever someone teaches something we disagree with, the method employed to combat such is to accuse the teacher of lying. In other words, if someone does not teach the truth as it stands in our opinion, they are lying. Period. No question about it. Since I am right and they are wrong about the issues, they must be liars. That is the only solution, right?
Be careful with such rhetoric. Better yet, let’s just stop it.
I read it on blogs and hear these accusations in debates. It is the default position in the media. Christians—well-meaning Christians—use such rhetoric in blogs, sermons, books, articles, and on Facebook, all the while proclaiming to defend the faith.
According to the dictionary, a lie is “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.”
There are a couple of things to note here. A lie is intentional and deceptive. It is not simply something that is untrue. Inherent in deception is the assumption of intent to make someone believe something that the teller knows is false.
I do believe there are times when people teach something that could truly be called a lie. I could give many examples. But when our default position is the conclusion that someone who teaches something we believe to be wrong must be lying, then we have big problems.
Four come to mind immediately.
1. Most of the time, people who teach wrongly about something are not lying, they are just convinced of a wrong position. It is that simple. There is no need to denigrate the person’s morality. There are many things that I believe and teach that are wrong (of course, if I knew what they were, I would change my teaching!). I am not lying when I teach them. I may be deceived by a lie, but my deception is genuine. In other words, people who teach something that is not true usually truly believe that it is true. Therefore, they are not lying.
2. Extreme rhetoric such as this can often be a sign of personal insecurity about our own position and our ability to defend it. I see it all the time. If you are ignorant, but passionate about your own position, things are often more black and white than they would be otherwise. I just tweeted this today, “Often, the more militant you are, the less confident you are. Calm down. Be cool. Excessive combativeness can evidence insecurity.”
3. Using such rhetoric is emotional manipulation. The one who uses it is frequently attempting to play on people’s emotions in order to heighten the sense of urgency for them to reject the opposing beliefs. While defending what we believe to be true is mandated in Scripture, we are to do it with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Calling someone a liar as the default method of engagement and evaluation of their teaching is not gentle and shows no respect. Saying, “That is a lie from the pit of hell” is not only presumptive and easy to say, but manipulative, playing on your own emotions as well as others’.
4. It does not really work. Our generation is already suspicious of a person’s ability to come to know truth to the exclusion of other alternatives. Rhetoric such as this is a clear sign of hostile ignorance, and will quickly serve only to disperse an audience that may need to listen. A few loose accusations such as this and they won’t trust anything you say (or you will have to resort to preaching only to your choir).
Truth, doctrine, belief, and the Gospel are too important to spice up with emotionally charged rhetoric that is easily dismissed. I do believe Catholics are wrong – seriously wrong – with regard to their view of justification by faith alone and the authority of the church/Pope. But I don’t think they are necessarily being intentionally deceptive. I believe Arminianism is wrong with regards to election, but I don’t think Arminians are liars. Rather, they are simply and personally convinced of something that I am not. (This is not meant to say that I believe that the error of Arminians is equally as wrong as the error of Catholics).
Main Point: Anyone, including me, may be deceived, but it does not mean that we are deceiving. We may be spreading a lie, an untruth, or misinformation, but that does not mean we are liars.
People believe things for a reason. The best way to engage the issue is not to assume intentional deception, but to be willing to study and learn in order to find out why people believe what they believe. You may end up discovering that they have good reasons for believing the way they do, even if you remain personally unconvinced.
If you want to represent your position well, don’t attack the opposition with such rhetoric. The key is to be cool. Passionate, but cool. Then, when and if you do feel it necessary to employ such rhetoric, it will be seen as intentional and serious. People will take you seriously.
Whether you are a pastor, teacher, blogger, poster on this blog, or just a living, breathing person (that should cover everyone), be careful. This is, simply put, an ad hominem (attacking the person rather than the position) argument. You should be confident enough in your position that you do not feel compelled to resort to such childish maneuvers. Anything else dishonors God, as much as you believe the opposing belief is dishonoring God.
1 Pet 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Don’t forget the last part. Be cool.