f The Wittenberg Door: Debate Tip: Reversing the Burden of Proof

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Debate Tip: Reversing the Burden of Proof

When it comes to discussing any weighty topic with someone who differs, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was to reverse the burden of proof. In other words, make the other person do the polemical heavy lifting. Not only does it make your job easier, but it also makes the other person reflect upon his own position (which most people haven’t done). Moreover, it keeps you in the driver’s seat and allows you to steer the conversation where you want it to go.

Example

Conform yourself to God = Become part of His Catholic family on earth under the guidance of His appointed apostolic stewards, the Pope & bishops.

“Conform God to yourself = Myriads (10,000s) of Protestant denominations & individual churches; pick one suited to your own individual taste! Because it's all about you!! :)

Tony, a Roman Catholic, is asserting that Protestantism is wrong due to its multiplicity of denominations. Because of this he concludes that Rome is right. But instead of taking the bait I put the onus back on him:

Tony, I’m prepared to be convinced that I should abandon Protestantism and come to Rome, but I’ll need some questions answered first. We can start with this: you and I both accept the Scriptures as an authority. But you say that I must accept additional authorities (i.e., tradition, councils, and the Papacy). What evidence do you offer for these additional authorities?

Conclusion

The long-and-short-of-it is that the person making the claim has the responsibility to defend that claim. Tony wanted me to defend the fragmentation of Protestantism; he wanted to lead me down a path where he could show the superiority of Rome’s supposed unity over and against Protestantism’s apparent dishevelment. Accepting his terms would have left me at a disadvantage, especially since I wasn’t the one making the claim—he wanted me in the hot seat fielding his fly balls. But sometimes it’s better to rebuff than to refute. So my advice is to reverse the burden of proof, stay in the driver’s seat, and steer the conversation to the ground that allows you to make your best case.

--The Catechizer

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