This article shows how I sometimes interact with those in positions of authority and with others when they are making important errors.
The following discussion (which you can read on Facebook here) is instructive. It follows an identifiable pattern:
- Authority makes a claim
- Common person disputes it
- Authority issues a red herring
- Common person points out the essential issue
- Authority checks out of the discussion
- Authority’s fan base activates and begins making misrepresentations and personal attacks
- Common person can either waste time or name the problem and end the discussion
I reproduce this example in full because it does such a good job of illustrating the pattern. I want you to understand the mechanics of how online interactions with compromised or dishonest men can work.
To be clear, I believe Dr. Robert Plummer shows evidence of being compromised in his discernment (in that he is defending the indefensible). I took a course with Dr. Plummer when I attended Southern Seminary. He was a good professor. I also benefitted from his published work and from his taking time to answer my questions after class when I was a student. There is no animosity here. Until I saw his recent post, I had only had the highest evaluation of him.
I believe several other participants in the discussion showed clear evidence of dishonesty, as will be detailed below. The topic of debate in the Facebook discussion is not essential to what I am attempting to do in this article. This article shows how you can argue online. It helps you see what to expect from different sorts of people and some ideas for how to respond.
For more information about the specific debate and the crisis facing Southern Seminary, here are some resources:
How the Discussion Progressed
(Again, the discussion can be found on Facebook here.)
First, I expressed some concerns about Dr. Robert Plummer’s endorsement of Dr. Dominick Hernandez and Plummer’s endorsement of a video published by Southern Seminary. Dr. Plummer and I had a dialogue that I considered to be serious, yet sufficiently respectful.
As the discussion played out, it became clear that Dr. Plummer would not directly address the claims made by Dr. Russell Fuller (the claims that had started the controversy in question). Dr. Plummer would not answer about whether he had watched the video of Dr. Russell Fuller’s account.
Then several pastors or other participants with whom I was not acquainted began to argue for Dr. Plummer’s view more forcefully. They misrepresented my view and leveled accusations that I was acting in an immoral or foolish way. At no point did Dr. Plummer correct those claims or speak up on my behalf. It appeared that Dr. Plummer had exited the discussion by this point.
As you read the following, please pay attention to how much I say to each of the men — and when. In these interactions, my intention is not to persuade, but to expose and clarify positions already held. Reflect on what I am doing and whether it is appropriate and useful.
Do You See Any Patterns?
Here are some that seem worth noting:
- I consistently aimed to find out as much information as possible about what Dr. Robert Plummer would admit to having read and seen. My goal was not to persuade. I was collecting evidence. The purpose? Dr. Plummer ought to be held to public account for whatever choices he makes about whom he will publicly defend. And he needs to be held to account for the knowledge he had at the time he made such choices.
- Dr. Plummer may have been aware that my line of questions would put him in an inconvenient position. He was slow to acknowledge what he had read and seen. But after some pressure, he was willing to offer some answers.
- My most important question was about whether Dr. Plummer had watched the video of Dr. Russell Fuller explaining his concerns. Dr. Plummer did not answer that question, even after I asked multiple times.
- It likely would have been inconvenient for Dr. Plummer to admit to having watched Dr. Fuller’s video. It would also have been inconvenient for him to have admitted to not having watched it. Dr. Plummer chose to admit nothing at all. This was likely his best option (given his own aims). But even this option has its costs. By not answering my question, Dr. Plummer revealed that he did not want to address the main claims in the controversy. His purported answers were mainly red herrings intended to change the discussion, not to answer the concerns.
- The other participants in the discussion could have pulled me into a protracted discussion. But I had nothing to gain from that. I made it clear what their mistakes were and in the same breath I made it clear that I did not want to hear their response. I simply asked them to leave the discussion. Naturally, they found this outrageous. Several of them then demonstrated a disrespectful attitude of the sort that would be sufficient in the eyes of any objective viewer to validate my course of action. This was the goal.
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