It ain’t over till it’s over

“The debate is over” – this is an argumentative gambit I’ve noticed quite a few people using recently around the web. It’s a subtle rhetorical device, designed to make people who disagree with you sound petty and ill-informed.

The three debates that I’ve noticed it being used in are as follows:

  1. The debate concerning the place of faith and works in the Christian life, related to the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”
  2. The debate concerning God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in evangelism, related to mission strategy in the Diocese of Sydney
  3. The debate concerning evangelism and good deeds in mission, related to the Lausanne Conference

Here’s how the device is used:

  1. You raise the issue
  2. You declare with authority that “the debate is now over”
  3. You observe that nevertheless, certain people are still debating the issue

When you use this device, you are implying two things:

  1. You belong to a privileged circle of people who are properly qualified to talk about the issue (i.e., in the cases I mentioned above New Testament scholars, a group of Sydney Anglicans, missiologists), and who are no longer interested in talking about the issue.
  2. Those who are still debating the issue don’t belong to the privileged group. They are therefore ill-informed, or petty, and clearly not qualified to talk about the issue, and not worth listening to.

I don’t like this device, and I think it should should stop. Why?

  1. It’s elitist. Just because your own circle claims to have worked out the issue, doesn’t mean that other areas of discussion about this issue are irrelevant.
  2. It’s illogical. If people are still debating the issue, then the debate is not over.

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