Thursday, 24 August 2017

Stolen Clothes

Answering Unbelief

In public discourse and debate, Christians need to be cautious and careful, on the one hand, and wise and fearless, on the other.  In that regard, the following proverbs are of great help:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.  [Proverbs 26: 4-5]

At first glance these two proverbs appear contradictory: the fact they are back-to-back, however, tells us that the contradiction is superficial and is, like many proverbs, intended to provoke thought.

The social context of these proverbs is that of a fool (an Unbeliever) uttering something, espousing an idea, policy, or position.  He may or may not be speaking directly; often times he will be speaking indirectly, through some medium such as a book, an article, or a quotation in the media.  But, in any event, some foolishness has come forth.
 There is an inappropriate way of answering him-- and that is to utter a rejoinder which is equally foolish.  The "according to his folly" of verse 4 involves an interaction with Unbelief which accepts the assumptions, presuppositions, and perspective of Unbelief, from the outset.  When we do this, whatever rejoinder we give actually reinforces the position of the Fool.

For example, we may enter into earnest debate with Unbelief about limitations and restrictions upon abortion.  We may urge that abortion be restricted to the first trimester of pregnancy.  But by arguing the limitation (without qualification) we are already conceding that abortion is at least under some circumstances a moral or ethical act.  We have thus become like the fool.  We both agree that under some circumstances abortion is moral; we are only quibbling about the details of its application.

The second instruction appears contradictory: we are to answer the fool according to his folly to tear down his self-image of wisdom and truth.  This is where we introduce and confront Unbelief with its fundamental contradictions and confusions.  "You say that X is fundamentally right, but you also believe that everything is relative."  Unbelief is always riddled with internal contradictions and unsolvable paradoxes.  Exposing the contradictions and paradoxes reveals the foolishness of Unbelief.

The Fool always stands before us clothed with layers upon layers of assumptions about argument, reason, truth, and belief.  They are all stolen clothes.  We must insist he take them off.  It is part and parcel of "answering the fool according to his folly".  If we don't, we end up "answering the fool according to his folly" in another, destructive sense: that is, we endorse his Unbelief in general.  We are just quibbling about details.

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