f The Wittenberg Door: Why We Argue – Part 2

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why We Argue – Part 2

Continued from part one . . .

Ultimately, the reason we argue is because Scripture so enjoins us, via both example and instruction. In this post we’ll take a look at two examples of biblical argumentation, and we’ll also see what we can learn from them.


“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” So says the Apostle Paul in the first verse of 1 Corinthians 11. Provided below are two examples of biblical arguing.

  • Acts 7
    Acts 7 records Stephen’s defense (apology) before the Sanhedrin. Stephen is brought before the council due to a charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11). But instead of answering the charge, Stephan rehearses Israel’s history from Abraham to Christ. The reason he argued this way was not to acquit himself, but to show them their sin, especially the sin of betraying and murdering the Righteous One (vrs. 52); he also rehearses the sins of their fathers.

  • Acts 17
    In Acts 17 we find Paul in Athens being provoked by the Spirit because the city was given over to idols. Paul responded by . . .

. . . reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
(vrs. 17)

Some of those with whom he was reasoning (arguing) were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They invited him to the Areopagus (Mars Hill) to hear him further. Seizing the opportunity, Paul, beginning with creation, provides a step-by-step argument for Christ and the coming judgment.

Consider Your Audience

In Acts 7, Stephen is providing an argument to the biblically informed. While in the Areopagus address of Acts 17, Paul is providing an argument to the uninformed. The manner in which they argue differs because the audience differs.

  • The Churched
    In Acts 7, Stephen is talking to those who have been brought-up in the teaching of the Old Testament their whole lives. Therefore, it was appropriate for him to use the language of the “church.” When Stephan spoke of the promise to Abraham, or the covenant of circumcision, or of the Angel of the Lord, they understood what he meant—they spoke the same “language.”

  • The Unchurched
    When addressing the Athenians, if Paul would have started with Abraham and then moved on to covenants and sacrifices, he would have lost his audience—the message would not have gotten through. Instead, because of the audience, Paul established a point of contact (TO THE UNKNOWN GOD). Then, beginning with God’s creation of heaven and earth, he proclaimed the true God and the upcoming judgment (i.e., here’s who God is, and here’s where you stand).

America Today

America is a very different place than it used to be. Preachers of old could rely on the fact that just about everyone had some experience with the church. We cannot make that assumption today. Therefore, we must tailor—not water down—our message.

Watch out for Christianese!

When speaking with someone who doesn’t know the lingo, take greater care to give explanations. Also watch your starting point: If the person doesn’t know that we were originally created good and in right relationship with God, he might get the wrong idea if you start with the Fall and think God created us evil. Moreover, the message of redemption won’t make sense because he wouldn’t understand that we are being restored back to something.

Stay tuned for part 3!

--The Catechizer



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