How to Defeat Your Own Argument with One Sentence

A recent editorial in the local newspaper provides a classic example of an individual arguing against himself. Rev. Dr. Nelson Price wrote a short article for the Marietta Daily Journal called “Take steps to ‘put crown back on head of America’.” It can be read here, if you are so inclined. The basic point of Dr. Price’s piece is that moral and civil laws have broken down in America; much like they did in the prophet Jeremiah’s day when he said that “the crown had fallen from their head” (Jeremiah 13:18, also see Lamentations 5:16).

While I generally agree in principle with what Dr. Price is arguing in his article, I cannot agree in practice with one of his sentences. In fact, this single sentence destroys his entire article. Every other part of his article becomes meaningless when considered in light of this one offending sentence. After spending a large amount of words and other sentences attempting to convince his readers that America is sliding into despair because it has insulted God for so long by ignoring his Book and disobeying His law, Dr. Price includes this counterintuitive advice:

I respect that we are a pluralistic society so I welcome all to draw on their spiritual and moral values and apply in their own equivalent way this admonition of former President Woodrow Wilson.

Price goes on to quote President Wilson, who said:

“Our civilization cannot survive materially unless it is redeemed spiritually. It can be saved only by becoming permeated with the Spirit of Christ, and being made free and happy by practices which spring out of that spirit. Only thus can discontent be driven out and all shadows lifted from the road ahead.”

Great quotation and a dead-on sentiment from the late President, but Dr. Price’s lead-in paragraph essentially makes Wilson’s words meaningless. How? By hedging his bets and welcoming all of his readers to “draw on their spiritual and moral values and apply [Wilson’s words] in their own equivalent way.” President Wilson himself is clear that our civilization cannot be saved without Christ, yet Dr. Price informs his readers to interpret Wilson through their own moral values. In other words, Dr. Price is telling us that Christ is the answer, yet all individuals reading his words can take this to mean whatever they want it to mean. In a noble effort to defend moral absolutes he astoundingly appeals to the moral relativism of his audience. What the what? Either moral relativism is wrong, or moral relativism is right; but it can’t be both.

Sadly, thinking like this is not uncommon. Dr. Price probably has a congregation full of people who think much the same way. In trying to lead people to the Spirit of Christ, we are often embarrassed by Jesus’ “my way or the highway” moral imperatives. It may be difficult to speak about the exclusivity of Jesus, but this does not permit us to change the message. Jesus was clear enough that His way was the only way—take it or leave it. Bemoaning the lack of moral absolutes and the “loss of our crown” on the one hand, and telling people to understand Jesus however they want on the other is a pointless exercise. They already are. They already are picking and choosing which “Jesus” they want to follow—a “Jesus” made after their own image. This kind of intellectual and spiritual immaturity should be expected from unbelievers, but coming from a leader in the local Christian church is totally unacceptable. Dr. Nelson Price needs to seriously rethink his strategy.