Polemical Theology, whether in written or verbal form, can quickly descend into some ungodly places. Name calling, anger and refusing to listen to what another actually says are evidence of a lack of love.
Another form of “unfair” dispute is the use of the straw man argument. Here is a good, quick definition:
A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
You can tell that Dr. Roger Nicole & J.I. Packer are such good friends. At times their counsel is so similar. How to engage in theological debate is one such area. Dr. Nicole told us to read our opponents, not only second hand sources, so we might truly understand their arguments.
Dr. Packer inserts this wonderful little sentence in the midst of Keep In Step With the Spirit:
“But all positions should be judged by their best exponents.”
He applies this to the various proponents of the views of sanctification. It is unfair to argue against something by using either a straw man (which doesn’t exist) or its worst example. You may win the argument, but you defeated a foe that either didn’t exist or rarely exists. It would be like beating the Bad News Bears, yet claiming to be MLB World Series champions.
I see these arguments regularly in books by authors who should know better. Sometimes these arguments are used by men who place themselves in the bounds of either Reformed Theology or Calvinistic soteriology (they embrace the 5 points but not a covenantal view of Scripture or other distinctives of Reformed theology).
For instance, one book I read argued against contemporary worship songs. It did this on the basis of the worst examples of contemporary worship songs. It brought up the most pathetic, insipid, meaningless songs as if they were representative of contemporary worship songs. This author may have convinced many people he was right, but he never dealt with the real deal. Missing were interaction with the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty, the songs of Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin or any other songs that seek to communicate biblical theology (Sovereign Grace or Indelible Grace would be other examples).
Another highly respected author attacked the charismatic movement on the basis of its worst excesses. There was no interaction with sane, thoughtful charismatics who share his Calvinistic views like John Piper, Wayne Grudem or C.J. Mahaney. All were lumped in the same heretical basket, ready to be tossed out & burned up.
We who understand the doctrines of grace should be more humble & loving in our disputation. We should argument against real people holding real positions. And the best representatives of that position- not the Single A or college team.