Thursday, August 11, 2005

Verbosity

Some of the critics of ECB are whining about the word-count of what JD and I write on the subject. At the risk of being blunt, I think we need to interject a dose of candor here.

There is a very simple formula for generating repetitious, run-on debates that drag on and on with no end in sight. And that is when one side refuses to give straight answers to simple questions at the time the questions are first posed. If each question were dealt with directly as it comes up, one at a time, the questions wouldn’t pile up like a traffic accident on the LA freeway.

For example, anyone can see from scoping out Triablogue that I get questions from time to time. These do not generate open-ended debates for the simple reason that I answer a question when I’m asked a question, and I answer a question the way it is asked.

The reason that any attempt a rational dialogue with someone like Steve Camp quickly spirals out of control is because he either ducks all the questions he can’t answer or pretends to answer them when he is really caricaturing the opposing side, which forces the opposing side to take unnecessary time out to correct the caricature and repeat the question in a pedantically qualified form, at which point he either continues to rehash his old caricatures, endlessly paraphrasing and repackaging the same old, oft-discredited arguments, or else he diverts attention by trotting out a new set of charges with a new set of caricatures—on top of all the old unanswered questions and caricatures.

Then this same type of critic will throw up his hands and whine about how time-consuming this is and how it’s becoming a big waste of time. And I agree. It does become a waste of everyone’s time.

JD and I quite capable of being terse and to-the-point. We would be more than happy to take a short-cut. It’s the critics who choose to drive in circles and detour around the question, not us. We know better than anyone else that the shortest distance between two points is a straight-line, and we know this because we are the ones having to hunt down a circuitous quarry.

BTW, didn’t John MacArthur write a 200+ page book on the subject? What is 8 pages compared to over 200 pages?

And at the risk of having to repeat ourselves one more time, it was, remember, the critics of the C-bees who were castigating the C-bees for failing to take the time to make a Scriptural case for political activism and cobelligerence. When, however, someone rises to the challenge and calls their bluff, they just keep on bluffing and yawning and looking at their wristwatch.

Again, you have someone like Steve Camp, and I single him out, though he is hardly alone in this, because he is the worst offender in this regard, whereas Phil Johnson is stepping up to the plate—someone who raises objections, and then blows off anyone who addresses the objections he himself has raised.

I don’t find this elementary lack of ethical self-consistency either admirable or amusing. There is no excuse for such duplicity within the Christian community. Maybe it comes of being a celebrity. Certainly we see it often enough among the Hollywood glitterati who act like a law unto themselves, answerable to no one while they savage anyone and anything they disapprove of with the impunity of those who can write their own ticket—the Moores and Clooneys and Baldwins and Penns and Sarandons and Damons of the world.

As I’ve said before, the leading critics of ECB are high enough in the food change that they could surely arrange a personal powwow with the leaders of ECB. Have they made any effort to have a face-to-face talk with the Colson or Dobson or Land or Mohler? Have they ever even picked up the phone and spoken to one of the “Fab Four” directly over this issue? It doesn’t look very Christian to me. Have they no sense of honor? Why attack a straw man when you can talk man-to-man with the individual in question?

19 comments:

  1. Steve,

    You said:

    "For example, anyone can see from scoping out Triablogue that I get questions from time to time. These do not generate open-ended debates for the simple reason that I answer a question when I’m asked a question, and I answer a question the way it is asked."

    I would like to ask you a question, but not in the context of another subject that is being discussed. How do I address a question to you outside of the comment section of these posts? I'm not looking for personal contact info, just wondering if there is a way to do it on this site?

    Thank you

    Russ

    ReplyDelete
  2. It may just be, on the other hand, that yours, and especially Jus's, lengthy diatribes on this subject are not quite as straightforward and lucid as you imagine they are.

    I'm not responsible to answer for arguments Steve Camp has made, nor is he obliged to answer for mine. I'm not sure whether Steve and I are even defending precisely the same position, but you and Jus clearly assume we are. It is irritating to have views I don't hold and remarks I have never made continually imputed to me, and I have no duty to wade through a catalogue of arguments like that and answert them all.

    In the same vein, I'm not John MacArthur, and I did not write 200+ pages on this subject. And my association with MacArthur doesn't obligate me to answer every 8-page diatribe on the subject of "ECB" (an inelegant expression I'm pretty sure I haven't employed once in this discussion).

    I am obliged to answer for what I have posted. And I believe I have answered every legitimate question relative to things I myself have actually said. If you want to show me where I have raised an objection and then blown off "anyone who adresses the objections," I'll be happy to try again. But unless you are going to take time to cite actual and repeated instances of an "elementary lack of ethical self-consistency" in my replies, you ought to forego tossing out that sort of uncharitable and irritating accusation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Phil, I thought I had expressly excluded you from the charge of ethical insistency. It was directed against Camp.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Russ,

    I believe that my email address is part of my public profile. Certainly there are a number of readers who have no difficulty getting hold of it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Expressly excluded"?

    It appears you were specifically aiming the remark my way: "...whereas Phil Johnson is stepping up to the plate—someone who raises objections, and then blows off anyone who addresses the objections he himself has raised."

    That remark is the natural antecedent to the expression "this elementary lack of ethical self-consistency...duplicity within the Christian community." I doubt many of your readers would have understood it any differently than I did.

    Again, it may be that what seems sparklingly clear to you in what you write is not so plain and obvious to your readers. It's still frankly hard to see how the expression "this elementary lack of ethical self-consistency" could possibly have any other antecedent besides my supposed tendency to blow off people who respond to the objections I raise.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Really, Phil, I don't see the ambiguity here. I set up a contrast between you and Camp. And I said you were stepping up to the plate.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Stepping up to the plate"...and blowing off people's answers?

    As I said in my private reply to you, I haven't deliberately done that. I even posted two or three clarifying replies to Jus on your blog after I originally said I didn't intend to carry the conversation further. Those went unanswered for two days, and then Jus's reply was immediately followed by this blast from you.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Phil Johnson writes:

    I'm not sure whether Steve and I are even defending precisely the same position, but you and Jus clearly assume we are.

    Give me a break! I explicitly distinguished Camp's views from your own, in yesterday's post! Indeed, I did so twice in that post.

    It is irritating to have views I don't hold and remarks I have never made continually imputed to me

    Continually imputed to you? Have any examples here?

    In the same vein, I'm not John MacArthur, and I did not write 200+ pages on this subject.

    Did you edit the book in question? Do you post snide remarks about its length?

    And my association with MacArthur doesn't obligate me to answer every 8-page diatribe on the subject of "ECB"

    And no one has ever said it does. It seems pretty unseemly, however, to help edit some lengthy books, and then take random potshots at the small-by-comparison posts of others.

    (an inelegant expression I'm pretty sure I haven't employed once in this discussion).

    Do you deny that you're a critic of what the acronym stands for, as defined by Camp? Do you deny that you repeatedly criticize Christians like Colson for cooperating with non-Christians in political endeavors? If so, then you're a critic of ECB, whether or not you use the term.

    Now, here's the sentence from Steve Hays you're objecting to:

    Again, you have someone like Steve Camp, and I single him out, though he is hardly alone in this, because he is the worst offender in this regard, whereas Phil Johnson is stepping up to the plate—someone who raises objections, and then blows off anyone who addresses the objections he himself has raised.

    The problem here, I think, is that Steve Hays left out the initial '--', which should have gone after "Steve Camp" (instead of the comma). Then the antecedent of "someone who raises objections, and then blows off anyone who addresses the objections he himself has raised" is clearly Camp, and not you. That's how I took it. What's amazing is that you're still arguing this even after Steve clarified his meaning for you!

    A little judgement of charity would make this clear. What sense would it make for Steve to say that "Phil Johnson is stepping up to the plate" and say that Phil Johnson "blows off anyone who addresses the objections he himself has raised." Since that is an explicitly self-contradictory interpretation of Steve's sentence, you should have looked for alternatives.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Many things are obvious to a writer which may not be obvious to a reader. Phil Johnson is a fine word-smith in his own right, so if he took something I wrote as other than intended, this may well reflect some syntactical failure on my part. To reiterate: the target of the offending phrase was other than Bro. Phil.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Jus:

    > Give me a break! I explicitly distinguished Camp's views
    > from your own, in yesterday's post! Indeed, I did so
    > twice in that post.

    Well, I haven't read "yesterday's post" yet. I noticed that you posted it, and I'll read it and try to reply when I have time. But if you indeed made such a distinction (twice!), it's the first (and second) time you have done so, as far as I am aware. On the other hand, you have continually imported issues and arguments borrowed from your debates with Camp (or someone else) into the fight you are trying to pick with me.

    > Continually imputed to you? Have any examples here?

    Yes, in your very first response to me, you dragged a tedious and utterly irrelevant defense of Al Mohler into a rather lengthy "comment" on my blog, and posted page after page of passionate defense on Mohler's behalf—as if I had actually attacked Mohler. As I tried to point out to you, I had made no criticism whatsoever of Mohler; I have no beef with Dr. Mohler; and nothing I said even remotely applied to him.

    But unfazed, you have replied time and again with similarly long and occasionally angry-sounding diatribes—as if you are absolutely certain you understand my position perfectly, but without having shown any evidence that you have made a sincere effort to hear and understand me.

    Want more examples? See a couple more below. I also think I've pointed out a few others along the way. But the big-picture problem I'm trying to point out to you is actually pretty basic. My advice would be to take a moment and hear what I have actually said instead of always posting long, accusatory screeds in response to every offhanded remark you see me make, as if you know better than I do what's going on in my head.

    For example, I wrote:

    > > In the same vein, I'm not John MacArthur, and I did
    > > not write 200+ pages on this subject.

    You reply:

    > Did you edit the book in question? Do you post snide
    > remarks about its length?

    No, and no. As a matter of fact, I had no hand in the editorial process on that book. I didn't even proofread it. I didn't see it at all until after it was published, and to this day I have not read it completely through. So it would be premature for me to make any snide remarks about its length at this time.

    Yet without pausing for any answer from me, you say:

    > It seems pretty unseemly, however, to help edit some
    > lengthy books, and then take random potshots at the
    > small-by-comparison posts of others.

    Really? Is that seriously what you think the point of this discussion is? It's a spitting match about who can pen the most words? That explains quite a lot about your replies, actually.

    Then you go right back to demanding that I answer for Steve Camp:

    > Do you deny that you're a critic of what the acronym
    > stands for, as defined by Camp?

    Look, I don't even know "what the acronym stands for, as defined by Camp." I'm not obliged to debate, or interested in debating about, what an acronym stands for in Steve Camp's usage unless it's an acronym I have personally employed in something I have written. That was my whole point in bringing the issue up—not to prod you into a debate about the word itself.

    But this is another classic example of your scattershot way of multiplying issues by trying to drag up all kinds of extraneous points that really pertain to debates you have engaged in with other people on this issue—and then demanding that I answer those points.

    > Do you deny that you repeatedly criticize Christians
    > like Colson for cooperating with non-Christians in
    > political endeavors?

    Yes, I deny it. I've criticized Colson for advocating the brand of ecumenism represented by ECT, and for expressly trying to justify that ecumenism because he thinks it is necessary in order to establish a platform for political co-belligerence. I certainly do object to his ecumenical approach to "cooperating with non-Christians in political endeavors." But I have not argued that Christians must stay completely out of politics or government or never work in any capacity with unbelievers; I have expressly and repeatedly disclaimed that view.

    > If so, then you're a critic of ECB, whether or not you
    > use the term.

    Again, until I know what is meant by the term, I neither affirm it nor deny it. It's not a term I have ever deliberately used in any technical sense. I am definitely critical of ecumenism (as defined pretty well by you in a post a few days ago). Thus, to whatever degree you put stress on the "E" in ECB, I oppose it. (Does the "E" stand for "ecumenical"? that's what I assume you are talking about here.)It's the E I object to; not the CB per se. And I have labored to make that perfectly clear from the beginning.

    But your insistence in pinning on me (and demanding that I defend) an expression that I clearly object to is just one more example of how you seem to insist that I must give account for what others whom you have debated these issues with have said.

    You asked for examples of this; you have furnished them yourself right here.

    Rergarding Steve Hays's ambiguity:

    > The problem here, I think, is that Steve Hays left out
    > the initial '—', which should have gone after "Steve
    > Camp" (instead of the comma).

    That would have been a helpful clarification to receive from Hays himself. BTW, I wasn't "arguing" with Steve about what he meant. I was merely expressing amazement at his insistence that he saw no ambiguity whatsoever, when after several readings, I wasn't able to read it in any natural way that gave it the sense he said he instended. The correct punctuation certainly helps. But as I told Steve in a private message, I do still think it's lacking in that remarkable crystalline lucidity that normally makes open-ended debates unheard of at this blog.

    > A little judgement of charity would make this clear.

    No, a little judgment of charity would—and actually did—influence me to take Steve at his word that he was not deliberately disparaging my ethical consistency. But it didn't make the sentence any clearer, and it didn't preclude me from seeking further explanation from Steve about what the sentence really meant. As I said, I still don't think *the sentence* is as crystal-clear as you and Steve are apparently convinced it is.

    A little judgment of charity on your part, however, might have kept you from assuming I was "arguing" with Steve about what he really meant. Ironically, however, you still seem to want to argue about it:

    > What sense would it make for Steve to say that "Phil
    > Johnson is stepping up to the plate" and say that Phil
    > Johnson "blows off anyone who addresses the objections
    > he himself has raised."

    "Stepping up to the plate" is capable of being read in more than one sense. The statement was ambiguous at best. If you don't believe me, show it to several objective readers and ask what they thought Steve was saying about me.

    > Since that is an explicitly self-contradictory
    > interpretation of Steve's sentence,

    ...which it's not

    > you should have looked for alternatives.

    ...which I did.

    ReplyDelete
  11. One more thing while I'm at it:

    Morality is not like dentistry or gunsmithing. It does involve biblical and doctrinal issues, most of which do ultimately pertain more to what we ought to render to Christ than to the things we ought to render to Caesar. And in many cases, the message sent in the process of ecumenical "co-belligerence" can and does impinge on our collective proclamation of the gospel and our testimony to unbelievers. Political alliances for moral crusades do pose certain dangers. They have regularly and often crossed the line into unholy alliances. Evangelical involvement in politics has advanced the ecumenical cause.

    Therefore, just as I have never condemned all political activism, I would never justify all kinds of political activism with a rationale like your "dentistry" argument. You haven't seemed particularly keen to probe the nuances of where I might draw the line, or what I would see as justifiable or not; you have been content to argue against me as if I were blindly defending an anabaptist position. I think at one point you (or possibly Steve) even applied that label to my views. But I don't think you have listened to my views carefully enough to know how much (if anything) I have in common with the anabaptists on this issue.

    Truthfully, that's why your approach hasn't inspired me to want to engage in extended public debate with you about it on your terms. Despite what you and Steve may think, my impatience with your verbosity is not because you have expressed your position with such extraordinary clarity that I am simply left with nowhere to go. The whole thrust of that argument reeks with hubris, if you want my candid opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jus,

    Regardless of how forceful your argument may be or how candid or thoughtful you may present to Phil that his arguments are flawed or flat out wrong, Phil will nevertheless fight you tooth and nail on basis of the perception of being right, rather than candidly acknowledging error or conceeding a point or because he doesn't read responses to his charges carefully enough. Here's a perfect case in point from your discussion:

    You wrote: Do you deny that you repeatedly criticize Christians like Colson for cooperating with non-Christians in political endeavors?


    Phil: Yes, I deny it. I've criticized Colson for advocating the brand of ecumenism represented by ECT, and for expressly trying to justify that ecumenism because he thinks it is necessary in order to establish a platform for political co-belligerence. I certainly do object to his ecumenical approach to "cooperating with non-Christians in political endeavors." But I have not argued that Christians must stay completely out of politics or government or never work in any capacity with unbelievers; I have expressly and repeatedly disclaimed that view.

    You asked, Phil denies it, then he tells you exactly why his denial is bunk. It's either that or Phil lets any criticism of him get the better of him and allows it to influence his reading comprehension, for the last part of his answer is almost as if he misread your question entirely. This is a repeated problem I have had in conversations with Phil, and sadly I see I'm not alone.

    Keep up the good work, Jus.

    Brad

    ReplyDelete
  13. I even posted two or three clarifying replies to Jus on your blog after I originally said I didn't intend to carry the conversation further. Those went unanswered for two days, and then Jus's reply was immediately followed by this blast from you.

    Phil, a mountain of vaccous and imprecise words can still leave one with the impression of being "blown off", I see that in abundance here with your responses. I beginning to wonder if you ever do.

    Brad

    ReplyDelete
  14. Actually, Brad, I think it is you who did not read the reply carefully enough. For the umpteenth time, my disagreement with Colson is not about the fact that he cooperates with non-believers in political endeavors, but his ecumenical approach in that endeavor.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I thought we had put the semantic questions behind us, but to judge by Phil's latest post, it still bugs him.

    I honestly don't see how "Stepping up to the plate" is "capable of being read in more than one sense. The statement was ambiguous at best."

    But since Phil has been living in the Golden State for most of his adult life, perhaps I should have used a surfer dude metaphor instead of a baseball metaphor.

    In the interests of cross-cultural communication, I hereby offer the following substitution:

    "...whereas PJ was throwin' some serious heat on the A-frame today."

    ReplyDelete
  16. For the umpteenth time, my disagreement with Colson is not about the fact that he cooperates with non-believers in political endeavors, but his ecumenical approach in that endeavor.

    Phil, wow, I didn't realize that you felt the need to try to split hairs so thin.

    I don't see how you can separate the two. If one is a public figure and "cooperates," then one is going to "approach with an endeavor" along the lines that brought the original offense to you. I would like to know how Colson, et. al. could have "cooperated" without "approaching."

    Brad

    ReplyDelete
  17. Brad, the operative word is "ecumenical," not "approach." You inadvertently obscured the point when you cut and pasted my words and lost the emphasis I had made with boldface italics.

    I ought to have spelled out my definitions from the beginning, but fortunately, JD figured it out on his own: by "ecumenism," I'm referring to a philosophy where the essentials of the gospel are deliberately minimized so that we can embrace as many people as possible as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    That may sound benign and affable, but in practice it has meant the elimination of sola fide, the downgrading of biblical authority (to accommodate Roman Catholic views of Church authority), and a host of other theological compromises.

    So to recap, it's not Colson's political involvement per se that I object to, but the underlying philosophy of ecumenism that eliminates certain essential truths of the gospel and deliberately reduces the very definition of "Christianity" to the lowest common denominator.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  19. In case anybody is wondering, I often respond to Phil's comments separate blog posts. I responded to the ones above, here:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/08/clearing-air-with-bro-phil.html
    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/08/further-replies-to-bro-phil.html
    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/08/politics-dentistry-and-gunsmithing.html

    ReplyDelete