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The don’t and do’s of answering fools

In Proverbs 26:4-5 God says we shouldn’t argue with fools…except when we should.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Don’t get in flame wars

The danger in responding to fools is in descending to their level. If a fool is a dishonest questioner – peppering you with one after another, but with no interest in interacting with or listening to your answers – stop responding. In these situations the longer we talk, the more we make it look like the fool has a legitimate point.

And if an online troll hits you with an ALL CAPS EXCHANGES, don’t indulge in any sort of flame war. Here the louder we talk the more we end up looking like just another angry fool. Shouting matches aren’t going to glorify God. All they do is make it hard for anyone listening to tell the difference betwixt the two combatants.

Do answer real arguments

The danger in not answering a fool is to leave his foolishness standing. When a fool offers an argument – misguided, shortsighted, naive, but genuinely offered and open to response and rebuttal – we need to answer him. Our goal is to show him his folly by explaining where his argument will logically take him. After that we can point him to real answers.

Here’s how this looks in real life. In an online forum an abortion advocate wrote:

“I don’t get why a human that lives 80 years with modern medicine is more important than a tree that lives 500 years.”

A tree rates above people? How do we expose this for the folly it is? There are three keys:

  1. Do follow his argument to its logical end – What would it be like if we actually lived that way?
  2. Do contrast his foolishness with God’s wisdom – How does his position compare and contrast to what God says?
  3. Do end on a question – This isn’t must, but it is a good idea. Greg Koukl says a good question can be like putting a stone in someone’s shoe: it’s not big, but it sure is hard to ignore. A question can challenge them to think through what you’ve said. And it can be more winsome than ending on a statement. “Aren’t you wrong?” is challenging enough, but it sure sounds nicer than “You are wrong.”

How that looks

When it comes to our tree and abortion-loving debate partner, our response might look something like this:

“God says that man is the pinnacle of creation, but you place us somewhere behind trees. Do you live your life consistent with that belief? How do you treat trees? Do you read books? (You do know what those are made of, don’t you?) Have you sat around a campfire and enjoyed watching the flames dance over countless wooden carcasses? What is your home made out of? Your coffee filters? Do you use tissues? How about toilet paper?

“God says we matter more than trees. You say trees matter more than us. But if, in your day-to-day routine, you’re participating in the slaughter of trees, doesn’t your lifestyle show that even you don’t believe what you’re saying?”

Now how about a more common example, say someone railing against the 1% not because of anything wrong these rich folk have done, but simply because of how much money they have.

God says we should help the poor, but He doesn’t want us looking at our neighbor’s goods – He calls that covetousness. You argue that because someone has much more than you, that’s obscene, and their wealth should be “redistributed.” But do you live your life consistent with that belief? If you make more than $35,000 US you are a part of the global 1%. Just consider how much more wealth you have someone in Venezuela; when are you going to redistribute your wealth to them?

God said we should help the poor, so redistributing our own wealth is a wonderful idea. But it’s not our job to redistribute other’s wealth. If you think others having more is a reason to take it from them, then what reason can you give that it shouldn’t start with you?

It’s not likely you’ll have someone do an immediate about-face, but you’ll have exposed his foolishness to any others listening in. And you’ve given him something to chew on. Who knows but that God might use this seed you sow today to bear fruit at a later date?


Up Next


Apologetics 101, Pro-life - Abortion

Apologetics 101: Stay on message

Step 1. Figure out what you’re really trying to say Step 2. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from saying it ***** Scott Klusendorf is a full-time pro-life apologist, which means he gets screamed at a lot. One of the more common squawks goes something like this: “You aren’t pro-life; you’re just pro-birth! You want to tell women what they can do with their bodies, and don’t give a rip what happens to the kid after it’s born!” How would you respond? God tells us that sometimes silence is the best response. He warns us that trying to be heard over a red-faced, spittle-spewing, murder-marketer’s screams will only make us look just as foolish (Prov. 26:4). But what about when the accuser really wants a response? What about when there is a listening audience gathered round? How should we answer then? We could point to the pro-lifers we know who donate to, or volunteer at, pregnancy centers. We could list everyone we know who’ve adopted or fostered children. And for good measure we might mention the way our churches care for the elderly and the sick, and the unemployed, and just generally show love for our born neighbors too. If we’re feeling feisty, we might even go on the offensive and ask, “How much time and money do you donate to care for others?” knowing that the typical critic is doing nothing or next to it. That’s an answer that might shut them up. But it’s not the answer Scott Klusendorf gives. He goes a different direction because he understands the abortion debate is largely one of truth versus, not simply lies, but evasion. The other side doesn’t want to debate whether the unborn are precious human beings like you and I; instead they sidetrack the discussion to any other topic. They’ll talk about how poor some mothers are, and how unwanted some babies are. They’ll attack men for daring to speak on the issue. In the latest pro-abortion stunt, groups of women will parade around in red dresses patterned after victims’ attire in a dystopian novel about political leaders who get away with ritual rape. The accusation that loving unborn babies is akin to rape is as bizarre as it is repugnant. But as much as insults hurt, they don’t do the same damage as suction machines. That’s why our focus has to be on the unborn, and sharing where their worth comes from. As much as abortion advocates want to sidetrack the issue, we can’t let them divert us from highlighting how our country’s smallest citizens are being murdered. How do we stay on message? By absorbing the insult. If they want to argue that pro-lifers don’t give a rip about children once they are born, we can grant their point and play a game of “what if…” Klusendorf’s response to attacks goes something like this: “What if I was the cold-hearted jerk you’re making me out to be? What if I was the worst human being in the world? How does me being a jerk have any impact on the humanity of the unborn?” When Kristan Hawkins, president of the Students for Life of America, was asked why pro-lifers weren’t offering solutions for the foster-care crisis she played the “what if” game too. What if the accusation was true? What if pro-lifers were only concerned with the unborn? She asked her accuser: “Are you upset that the American Diabetes Association doesn’t fight cancer?” She continued: “There is no other act of violence that kills more people every single day in America and across the world, than abortion. There’s nothing wrong with me fighting, and spending 100% of my time doing it. Just like there’s nothing wrong with the American Diabetes Association putting 100% of their money, their research and time behind curing Juvenile Diabetes…. The reality is, you don’t really care what I do. That I support children in third world countries. Or that I might be volunteering in a soup kitchen....  It’s just an argument to stop the actual discussion from happening, which is that abortion is a moral wrong and it should be stopped.” There’s an old joke about a pastor who, in his sermon’s margins, wrote: ”Point weak here; thump pulpit harder.” The world has no strong points, so they have to pound the podium till they bleed, shrieking their insults to try to drown out the Truth. They don’t want to have the debate. We can’t let them distract us from it. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains, we’re on Earth to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When we make His glory our first concern, we won’t sweat it when someone attacks our name – that won’t stop us from talking about God’s Truth. When we’re enjoying His love we won’t worry about having the world’s approval – that can’t stop us from defending unborn children made in His image. And when we recognize the world only hates us because they hated Him first (John 15:18) we will rejoice in the good company we are keeping. ...


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