I’m reading it all over the web, I’m hearing it from individuals, and I’ve read it in a few books. I call it the “Emergent False Dichotomy.” Here’s the accusation: the emerging movement, especially its writers and leaders, constantly use false dichotomies. Is that so? Let’s take a closer look.
Example of the EFD: We are people of the Spirit, not people of the Book.
I hear the accusation: “False dichotomy.” Then I hear echoes throughout the world that criticize the emerging movement for its use of false dichotomies.
But is it? What is a “false dichotomy”? The fallacy (to use an internet-available syllabus) of false dichotomy is committed when the arguer claims that his conclusion is one of only two options, when in fact there are other possibilities. The arguer then goes on to show that the ‘only other option’ is clearly outrageous, and so his preferred conclusion must be embraced.
In the above “Example” about Spirit and Book, you might have a false dichotomy if the writer/speaker believes there are only these two options; that is, that Spirit and Book are mutually exclusive. Or if the writer/speaker contends that one view is outrageous and there are no other options. If the writer/speaker does not mean this, then it is not a false dichtomy. (It might be reduction of options for the sake of rhetorical impact. This can be inconsiderate or reductionist.)
What’s more, the game can be played right back at the accuser: accusers sometimes use a false dichotomy to pin “false dichotomy” on the person saying “Spirit vs. Book”. That is, it is a “false dichotomy” to say “this example is either a false dichotomy or not a false dichotomy.” Since it is outrageous, it is a false dichotomy. There is another option: It just might be (and most of the time is) that there is another kind of rhetoric involved.
That other rhetoric is called “exaggeration.” What you’ve often got is a via negativa — saying something positive by using a negation. And what you’ve got is someone saying that living by the Spirit is what God’s intent, revealed by the way through the Spirit in the Book, really is. So, it isn’t a false dichotomy: it’s a rhetorical exaggeration so you’ll get the point.
Which is better, to say: Of all the options in life, one can either focus on life lived personally through the power of the Spirit as revealed in Scripture, or one can turn the Book into codified laws and end up neglecting that God is leading us through the Spirit even today as that same Spirit has spoken in the Book?
I know which I prefer when the point needs to be made with force.
What you’ve got friends is (most of the time) not a false dichotomy but rhetorical exaggeration of rank.
Enough already: false dichotomy rhetoric be damned until it can be shown the speaker really is using a false dichotomy. You have to listen to hear what is really being said.