“My friend over there does not believe you. He does not think you can do what you say. I believe you, but he does not. He says he has twenty dollars that he will bet against you. Do you want his bet?”
With these words the speaker prodded the soldier into trying to stick his sword into the wall from ten paces. He put twenty dollars on the table and threw his sword. When it didn’t stick, he said loudly that he wanted another chance. The little man ran over to his friend and came back with the word that another twenty dollar bet would be granted. But again the sword did not stick. The soldier wanted another chance and laid another twenty on the table. Again he failed to stick the sword.
The little man snatched up the twenty dollars again and said, “My friend thinks you are a liar.”
With that the soldier gave way to his anger and charged the friend who sat in the dark corner of the bar. But the stranger did not stand or flinch. And when the soldier saw him clearly the truth was revealed. The “friend” was made of straw. Just a form of a man in a dark corner. The little man, however, was nowhere to be found.
Straw men cause a lot of problems, don’t they? They seem to be everywhere, in almost any argument. You hear from them in church complaints: “A lot of people I talk to think . . . .” You hear from them in gossip: “Did you hear that there is someone in the church who . . .?” You even hear from them in doctrinal disputes: “Those people believe . . . .” But when you look for them, they aren’t really there.
Sometimes the straw men are just lies. But sometimes they are distractions that allow a person to make a point while you are upset about something else. And sometimes they are unrepresentative samples used to discredit a whole group. This last one is what I have been seeing lately. Find someone who believes what you are against, someone with strange ideas and teachings, and use that person to discredit others who hold remotely similar teachings.
Here’s what I mean: I know of a very small group of people who embrace the grace message and engage in offensive behavior. These folks like to get drunk, think cussing is cool, and flirt with the most aberrant ideas of doctrine. Then they write about loving the Lord and being thankful for His grace. So the people who write against “hyper-grace” use them as examples of why the grace message is wrong.
I just listened to one young man explain why he believes the Biblical message about Satan is outdated and no longer applicable for our day. He happens to believe almost the same as I do about grace. But are we the same? Suggesting that the grace message is discredited because of this man’s errors is a straw man fallacy. It is no different from bigotry against a certain group of people because of the behavior of a few who happen to be part of that group.
The grace message—the teaching that the work of Jesus Christ is sufficient and complete for our salvation—is firmly supported by the Scriptures. Any addition to the work of Jesus, any requirement that you or I are supposed to do in order to get saved or stay saved, is error. No matter how far someone who believes this strays from the truth in other ways, their heresy or nonsense does not negate the truth of God’s grace.
Now, to be fair, using straw men is wrong when we do it as well. If I watch a group of legalistic church people sneak into the bar in another city and listen to them tell dirty jokes and get drunk, and then suggest that this is what all legalists are like, I would be wrong. Every idea has proponents who do not represent the whole.
Let’s talk about real issues and stay away from straw men.