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New Year’s Resolution: Knockdown the Scarecrow

scarecrowOne of my favorite lines in cinematic history is in the "Wizard of Oz." Dorothy cannot make up her mind when the yellowbrick road comes to a fork. Should she go left or right? The Scarecrow tells her to go both ways. Dorothy: Can't you make up your mind? Scarecrow: That's the problem. I can't. I haven't got a brain. Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain? Scarecrow: I don't know. But, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking. Dorothy: I guess you're right. I see scarecrow theology in that way. You can do an awful lot of talking without ever having to use your brain. The blogosphere can serve some real good if it leads to actual theological argumentation and precision. So let's all use our brains and knockdown the scarecrow once and for all in 2007.

This is good advice for all of us whether we are bloggers, theologians, students, professors, or preachers. Weak argumentation and cheap slogans are found on the net, in the classroom, and in the pulpit. Let's all make a New Year's resolution: No More Scarecrow Theology.

 What is "straw man" argumentation? A straw man argument is basically a logical fallacy where a person misrepresents his opponent's position. The person sets up a man made of straw (i.e. a position that is easy to refute), and then makes it appear that this is his opponent's position.  This can be done in several ways. A person can misrepresent an opponent's position, knock it down, and then assert that his opponent's real position has been defeated. A very common way to do this is to quote an opponent out of context. Another way is to refute someone who does not defend the position well and make it seem that everyone who holds that position has been refuted. That can also be done by picking the weakest argument of an opponent to refute, rather than dealing with his or her strongest argument.

 One common example of a straw man is in eschatological argumentation. Some pre-millennialists will paint the picture that "all Amillennialists are liberals." Certainly scholars like J. I. Packer, John Stott, and many others would take exception to such an statement. It might be true that a liberal presupposition lends itself to adopting an amillennial view, since liberals are opposed to a lot of things, but it does not follow that an amillenial viewpoint naturally leads to liberalism. This is just one example among many, and examples of straw man theology are too numerous to cite. If we are honest, all of us have done it at one time or another. Why? We wanted to feel like we "won" the argument without actually having to engage our opponent's actual position or strongest arguments. We wanted some slaps on the back, high fives, and cheap amens from those in our camp or our congregation. We wanted to persuade someone of our position by sloganeering. Usually we only persuade those who are scarecrow theologians anyways. We do not really convince those who think through issues clearly. But we did it. Let's just admit it and resolve to knock down the scarecrow once and for all.

 There are a LOT of words spent on theological argumentation, blogging, preaching, and teaching. This can be found on the internet, in the classroom, and in the pulpit. All of these words might convince other scarecrow theologians, and they might bring some amens from fellow supporters, but will all those words actually lead to a well-rounded and sound theology? Will all those words be for the glory of Christ and the good of the church? Only if we get rid of the scarecrow in 2007 can all this be for the glory of Christ.

Jon Akin