Strangely enough, one of the most impactful classes I took while in college was not a class on religion; it was a class on logic. One of my favorite parts of that class was when my professor, Dr. Foreman, would use what we were learning to dissect the arguments and propositions that we are being fed everyday through the media, online, or in passing conversation. Did you ever hear something or have a conversation that left you thinking for days? That was logic class for me. I began to run everything I was hearing and thinking through the logic filter, and my mind refused to be shut off. I guess it was a bit like going to the gym for your mind.
I guess it was a bit like going to the gym for your mind.
One particularly popular section of the course was on logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning that renders an argument ineffective in proving its conclusion. To use the internet’s vernacular, this is a reasoning “fail.” There are many types of these, as I am sure you are aware.
There’s one of these fallacies that seems to keep coming up in conversations I’ve had recently. The hasty generalization fallacy has ruined every argument. (Yes, that statement is itself an example of the fallacy). This fallacy is guilty of making a generalized conclusion about a group on the basis of a relatively small sample. In this case, I’ve encountered some frustrating hasty generalization fallacies that have ruined arguments, but that does not mean that every argument is represented by this fallacy.
Here’s another example: “Christians are irrational and believe things blindly. My friend is a Christian, and he refuses to even question his beliefs.” Well, the problem here is that the person making this statement is making a judgment about all Christians according to a stereotype he created on the basis of his experience with his friend. Not all Christians, or even most Christians, can be judged by this one individual. He may be the exception to the rule.
3 Hasty Generalization’s that Keep Coming Up
Now, where am I going with this? Well, here’s a few of these hasty generalizations that I keep running into that are related to Christians/Christianity:
1) “The Church is dying! Just look at how we are losing our influence in culture!”
For someone to make the claim that the Church is dying, they would have to have extensive knowledge about the universal Church. Instead, often this statement is made on the basis of someone’s very limited experiences in a city or region. Perhaps someone may even come to this conclusion on the basis of their experience with Christianity in the United States, but even in that case, believers in the States don’t represent the majority population of Christians around the world. A person might remark that their specific church is dying, but that's a different statement altogether.
...the Church isn’t an American entity!
We have a lot of precedent to think that often the explosion of the growth of the Church occurs in one geographical location while it is suppressed in others. So, why make a broad generalized statement about the whole Church on the basis of one's experience with a relatively small section of the church world?
No, I wouldn’t consider America the “Christian” nation that perhaps it once was. Does that mean the Church is dying? NO, because the Church isn’t an American entity! It may be thriving and booming in some locations and suppressed by satanic influence in others. But it is unbiblical to say that the Church is dying. Remember, the Kingdom is like a mustard seed.
2) “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. So why would I believe in Christianity?”
This is the age-old cliché’d excuse of nominal Christians for not going to church, right? Sure, the typical response of “Don’t judge Christianity by Christians; judge it by Christ” may very well be relevant here. However, more than that, this is clearly a hasty generalization. It’s a judgment of the millions who represent our faith on the basis of a few, or even a few hundred or thousand. The person making this claim couldn’t possibly know enough Christians to make a meaningful judgment about all Christians throughout history in this regard. In the end, of course, even if he did, that has no bearing on the truthfulness of Christianity.
3) “The healthiest churches are large and growing mega churches.”
I admit that this is often more of an assumption than a statement. To this I ask on what basis one makes this claim. Is it that we assume that success equals stability via numbers through evangelism? Is it that we just assume that big name preachers who always come from big name churches are the best pastors out there because their skills have created their notoriety? Spurgeon is often credited as having one of the largest churches of his day. Is this what made him the “Prince of Preachers?”
My contention: Aren’t we making a statement here about healthy churches on the basis of the experiences of a relatively small percentage of congregations? After all, very few pastors are given substantial notoriety and a big budget and all the rest. Are we really willing to say that their churches are less healthy than the mega church with the celebrity pastor?
I really don’t think God’s blessings or God’s plans work that way.
The tendency we have I think is to look at these few instances in which God has blessed in a particular way (with large numbers and a national voice) and then we make a hasty generalization about all churches. This creates a mentality of a hierarchy similar to that seen in corporate America whereby the most successful are deemed as such because they are at the top of the ladder. I really don’t think God’s blessings or God’s plans work that way.
The healthiest church in an area may very well be the tiny remnant of believers in a city that have refused to cave into social pressures to water down the Gospel message. They may be growing through discipleship but still see very little growth in numbers.
The point is that we shouldn’t generalize about all healthy churches on the basis of a few atypical examples. Nor should we generalize about all preachers according to how God decided to work in certain big-name preacher's lives. To do so is not only unbiblical; it is illogical.
What do you think? Are there other hasty generalizations that you’ve encountered?