Persuasion and Poor Reasoning
That reasoning is part of the process of persuading others for Christ is well established in Scripture, and we have previously talked about that. The apostle Paul made a practice of going into synagogues in various cities in order to reason with the Jews and try to persuade them that Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 17:2-3; 18:4; 19:8). The presentation of the gospel of Christ requires reason and an honorable, gracious manner (Col 4:2-6). God’s people are not to be quarrelsome, “but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24-25). By doing this, some may be persuaded to give up their worldly ways and come to Jesus for forgiveness and a new life.
Not all reasoning, however, is equal. There are, in fact, bad ways to engage in the reasoning process. This in itself need not be out of an effort to teach error. Using bad reasoning is something that anyone can fall prey to. The problem is that this can result in losing credibility for making the case for Christ. No Christian should want to win people over by using poor reasoning, for this will only serve to backfire once that process is revealed for what it is.
Since the reasoning under discussion involves using Scripture, then poor reasoning will be manifested in poor interpretation of the Scriptures. Christians are taught that they are to be engaged in “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). When Christians mishandle the Scriptures, they set themselves up for failure.
This point is true even if the conclusion reached is the same as that reached through proper reasoning. While Christians are concerned for reaching the proper conclusions, they realize that it's not just about the conclusions, but about integrity in reaching those conclusions as well. Christians want people to be persuaded of the truth, but that does not mean they ought to be willing to use bad interpretations just because they think they can make it work. God’s word deserves more honor and respect than to use it as a manipulation tool.
For example, committing word study fallacies is fairly common and easy. While words are, of course, important, and Christians should try to understand what words mean, there are a number of ways to misuse words. One might think that a word can just be dissected to get to its meaning, but that is not always the case. Think of words like “pineapple” or “butterfly.” The meaning of these cannot be understood by looking at the component parts, unless anyone has seen butter fly lately. Words in Scripture often have a wide semantic range of meanings, just like words used in modern English or most other languages (think “love”). The meaning is tied to its usage, which requires looking at the text to see exactly how that word is used. Terms often discussed like phileo and agape (both terms for love) can be seen to be virtually interchangeable in many places. The term translated “church” (ekklesia) simply refers to a group or assembly. How the terms are used shows their meaning.
The point is that great care needs to be taken in handling the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of Scripture. The interpretation process is demanding and requires careful attention, for there are many ways to misinterpret and thereby damage the case that one is trying to make. In fact, bad interpretation can do great harm.
As another example of how poor reasoning hurts, consider the biblical example of Job and his friends. Job lost everything but his wife who was no support to him at all through his ordeal. When his friends came to comfort him, they sat speechless for seven days. However, when they began to speak, they betrayed a concept about God and suffering that caused even more emotional suffering for Job. By the third round of speeches, they were accusing Job of specific sins. What was their view? Job’s suffering must have been due to specific sins he had committed and for which he refused to repent. They made persuasive speeches, and often mingled in their words some very good thoughts. However, their overall theology was wrong, and that made matters worse for Job. God ended up rebuking all of them, and Job himself repented of speaking in ways he regretted. Bad theology creates a bad interpretation of events, this will compound problems.
Poor reasoning and interpretation do not help matters. Rather, such will only make matters worse, and even if these succeed in persuading someone to reach a good conclusion, once the reasoning process for getting there is exposed for what it is, then the person will begin to doubt it all.
Because there are so many ways for the reasoning process to go wrong, Christians should be encouraged to think through deeply what they are accepting and rejecting as truth. Then, they need to make sure that when they share the gospel with others, they are properly reasoning with them. In this way, the persuasion can stand on solid ground, and the conclusions drawn will be secure.