ben witherington March 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm
Well Kevin I think I disagree with you. You seem not to be able to assess deliberately rhetorical questions. And they are good questions. I don’t mind if Rob Bell plays the agent provacateur to get us to think about these things. Paul did the same thing at times. I will mind if he gives unBiblical answers to such questions. You might want to see my blog post on the same matter which you can access through my website or by going to Patheos.
i) BW3 misses the point. There are many different types of questions. Rhetorical, leading, loaded, suggestive, declarative, hypothetical, open, closed, &c.
Likewise, different questioners can have different motives for asking the same type of question.
The point is that questions can function as a disguised way of expressing the viewpoint of the questioner. Floating a trial balloon. That tactic can buy the questioner plausible deniability. If challenged, he can exclaim, "I was only asking a question!"
Yet that can be devious if, in fact, the speaker was using a question to express his own viewpoint.
Rhetorical questions can be perfectly innocent. No one denies that. That's not the issue.
The issue is whether Bell is tipping his hand by the types of questions he asks. Is it an effort to disarm potential criticism by broaching the issue through the backdoor?
BW3 prides himself on being an expert in the art of rhetoric, but his objection is simplistic and naive. An orator can uses questions in a cagey way.
ii) The problem is that Bell's defenders are acting as if asking questions is categorically different from making assertions. But that ignores the many different ways that questions can function in communication.
Let's take a concrete example. Take Peter Singer's opening gambit for antinatalism:
Singer is media savvy. He knows that antinatalism is a hard sell. So he presents his case for antinatalism under the guise of asking questions. That's a softening up exercise.
But clearly he's doing more than just asking questions. He's expressing his own viewpoint.
Questions are just a politically expedient tactic he uses to break the ice for a controversial, unpopular position.
Suppose Kevin DeYoung or Justin Taylor were to do a post attacking Singer's op-ed on antinatalism. Would BW3 respond by saying "You seen not to be able to assess deliberately rhetorical questions"?
iii) BW3 is also assuming that Bell is simply playing devil's advocate. But that's precisely the issue in dispute.
[BW3] In this post, I have a very different beef—– I must say I am hugely disappointed in people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, who also haven’t read the book yet, and yet are prepared to condemn Rob…And even it it turns out there are some unBiblical ideas or thoughts in Rob’s new book, shouldn’t the approach to the matter be to first ‘go to the brother’ and gently talk to him personally about these things before twittering, tweeting, or blogging about the matter?
Did you first go to John Piper and Mark Driscoll and gently talk to them personally before blogging about your grievances?
[BW3] Frankly this is all too typical of the hyper-Calvinistic wing of the Evangelical world. Shoot first, ask questions later…And what should be said to them is— shame on you for prejudging a brother in Christ. Shame on you for being prepared to pontificate and judge before you have even read what the man has to say.
But Justin Taylor, whose post set the ball in motion, says he did rely on firsthand knowledge of the book. So did you actually read Justin’s post, or are you bouncing off of 2nd/3rd-hand hostile accounts of what “the hyper-Calvinistic wing” said? If so, aren’t you “shooting first, asking questions later?”