Joel Watts, Peter Wagner and a false dilemma

Joel WattsBlogger Joel Watts is also a student of rhetoric. In fact, if I understand him correctly, he is writing a master’s dissertation on rhetoric in the New Testament. Unfortunately he also seems to mastered a form of rhetoric which is not, I think, found in the New Testament, but is a favourite of politicians and other persuaders of less reputable types: the rhetorical use of the false dilemma fallacy. Here is what one writer has to say about this fallacy:

This fallacy typically involves asking a question and providing only two possible answers when there are actually far more. It seems to be a favourite of politicians, especially when trying to win support for a none-too-plausible policy.

Peter WagnerThis is exactly what Joel is guilty of in his post, in fact just in the title of his post, Is C. Peter Wagner lying or backtracking? Joel presents two statements by Peter Wagner relating to his alleged “dominionism” and asserts that these are contradictory, and therefore Wagner is either deceiving people about his real beliefs or repudiating his older ones.

The problem is that Joel has by no means demonstrated any inconsistency between the statements. What in fact seems to have happened is that Wagner has clarified what he meant by an earlier statement which had been misinterpreted. In 2007 he wrote (as Joel quoted):

our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden.

Some people, especially “dominionismists”, have misunderstood the words “whatever is necessary” as suggesting that Wagner was advocating illegal political action or overthrowing the Constitution of the USA. I’m sure nothing like that was ever in his mind. In that same letter he clarified that the intention was “to govern apolitically”, i.e. that the idea was not a political takeover.

But in view of the recent media furore over “dominionism” some further clarification was needed. I have already quoted from a letter Wagner wrote in August (the original link is now broken but the same text appears at this new link) which offers such clarification. Joel’s even more recent quote, from a TV show transcript, takes the same line as the August letter; the key part describes Wagner’s strategy as

In America, it’s democracy and working with the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of the government, the way they are but to have as many kingdom-minded people in influence in each one of these branches of government as possible.

This is absolutely not a contradiction or repudiation of Wagner’s view as expressed in 2007. This is precisely what he always meant by “whatever is necessary”: Christians exerting influence through their normal democratic rights of persuasion and seeking political office.

So, Joel, Peter Wagner is neither lying nor backtracking. He is simply clarifying what he always meant by “whatever is necessary”. You really ought to consider these matters more carefully before using your rhetorical skills to defame the character of your Christian brother Peter Wagner.

0 thoughts on “Joel Watts, Peter Wagner and a false dilemma

  1. There are at least two false dilemmas in the gospels, which are in fact part of the New Testament. I’ve discussed them here and here. I assume you didn’t mean to include false dilemmas that the biblical authors disagree with, but you did say that you don’t think there are any in the NT.

    More seriously, in the case at hand, it’s very easy to show consistency. To avoid a contradiction, all we have to do is add a further proposition to the mix: “Political action is not necessary for taking dominion over God’s creation.” Then we can do whatever is necessary for taking dominion over God’s creation without the implication that we have to engage in any political action at all, never mind taking over the current structure of government with theocracy. That is, in fact, Wagner’s view. But we don’t even need to show that to show consistency. All that’s necessary to show consistency is to show that the two statements can be held together without contradiction, and anyone holding the additional proposition I gave will be able to do so. So the contradiction charge fails unless Watts can show that Wagner denies that additional proposition, and the burden of proof therefore belongs to him to show either a change in view of a contradictory set of beliefs.

  2. Thank you, Jeremy. I should of course have said that false dilemma is not used by Jesus or by the New Testament authors. Their opponents certainly used it. Then some might argue that “Those who are not for me are against me” is a kind of false dilemma, but Jesus’ point was that it appears to be but isn’t really.

    And you are spot on with your further proposition “Political action is not necessary for taking dominion over God’s creation”, which I’m sure is Wagner’s position. Joel might try to argue that this further proposition is untrue. But to make his case he needs to show something more, that this proposition is logically incoherent or self-contradictory. And I don’t think he can do that.

  3. The Bible does not teach Christians are to have dominion over this world.
    It teaches the opposite, that Satan is the ruler of this world.
    It will be Christ who ends that dominion of Satan when He returns.
    It is Christ who brings in His dominion in the new heavens and the new earth.

  4. Peter, first of all, I think there is a big difference between our responsibility to extend God’s kingdom and then appealing to an observation prior to the fall to try to justify it.

    Secondly, I was of the impression some time back that you didn’t take the Genesis account literally anyway. But obviously there some aspects that you choose to read plainly.

    I think Guest still makes a very valid point, which cannot be sufficiently rebutted by appealing to Genesis alone. After all, nudity was also a natural condition prior to the fall (if Genesis can be taken literally). Guest’s point is entirely biblical and relevant.

    Thirdly, there is a huge difference between having dominion over the animal kingdom (which you cite) and having influence amongst our fellow man, as well as a difference between influencing someone for Christ and trying to influence society to God’s ways. And when you say, “we can and should take it back” this sounds like a theocratic approach to fixing the world’s problems. This seems to be inconsistent with your previous views on law and government.

  5. Robert, I accept that my brief response to Guest was not a full and adequate treatment of this complex issue. I have written more about it elsewhere. Please read my other related posts.

    I don’t necessarily take this part of Genesis literally, but I still take it as authoritative teaching on a spiritual level.

    When I said “take it back”, it should be obvious that I was not referring to some kind of theocratic rule of Christians over others which they never had, but to the dominion over creation which, at least within the Genesis story, did belong to Adam and Eve in Eden. There are of course many complexities concerning what this might mean in practice, but I don’t have time to go into them now.

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