To consider Christian theological practices of arguing is to consider everything else as well. It is to consider the community and its patterns of relations between persons; it is to consider philosophy and its patterns of rules for drawing inferences; it is to consider the formation of doctrine and the deliberative councils that produce and rethink it; it is to consider Christian ethics and the unending sphere of contention in which it is located; it is to consider the Bible and the perennial disagreements over its interpretation; it is to consider the university which is a house for argumentation; it is to consider themedia and the challenges which radio, television, and the internet pose to practices of argumentation. As a bullet list, arguing relates to the following topics:

doctrine Christian ethics Church history philosophical theology biblical interpretation theology in the media. That might seem daunting enough, for reader and writer alike. But our situation is actually much worse. Arguing may, in fact, be pointless. The potential pointlessness of arguing can be demonstrated in two ways. The first

is to consider the contemporary Western context of much theology, and the expectations of public speech embodied in its public media. The second is to consider more narrowly the hopes and dreams of seventeenth-century philosophers (who forged many of our philosophical rules for arguing) and to note how these hopes and dreams evaporated in a dramatic way in the twentieth century. (They did not evaporate for everyone in the same way, however, and this produces a kind of double life for arguing in theology, as I will show.)

First, some observations about the world around us. Those reading this volume live in an environment dominated by the internet and to a lesser extent by television and

the press. Opinion is more powerful than truth, and the most powerful thing one can be is an opinion-former. What one might call ‘argumentative time’ has changed as its media have changed. What is possible in a long written piece (for example, Augustine’s City of God) is not possible in a radio interview, in a blog, or in the 140-character limit of a Twitter posting. Understanding the media of argumentation is complex, not least because what

people say (for instance about the importance of truth) often seems to be contradicted by what people do (for instance spending more time and money managing perceptions than pursuing truth). The existence of communication departments, of public relations firms or even just of advertising shows that the art of rhetoric is as significant now as it was in Augustine’s time (Augustine originally trained as a rhetorician). Now, as then, these practices of opinion-shaping are accompanied by another

tendency: the quest for truth. This quest is dominated in the popular imagination by natural science and this domination is a big problem for theology, which is not a natural science, as we shall see in the later discussion about authority. The quest for truth is marked by doubt about popular conceptions (which often turn out to be wrong), by the formulation of hypotheses (which need to be tested), and by results (that are published and evaluated by a community of inquiry). This quest for truth appears in a multitude of guises in modern society, from scholarly journals, to investigative journalism, to websites which test consumer products and report on their performance. It remains the case, however, now as in former times, that the key to influence is

how readily one’s views are received (and perhaps understood) and not the depth of one’s investigation or the subtlety of one’s argument. The best advice one can give to young theologians who want to get noticed is, ‘give it a good title, fill it with strong contrasts and submit it to a journal with a big circulation’. The quest for truth is not much of a quest unless it is accompanied (with apologies to Augustine) by the libido opinionem figurandi – the desire to shape opinion. It is often said in politics: ‘If you are explaining you are losing’. This remarkably

lucid bon mot contains within it a wealth of wisdom about arguing. It captures the insight that it is vital to take and hold the initiative in any debate. It strongly implies that you should force your opponent to explain his or her views. It offers a rationale for the terse advice (allegedly by the great Oxford theologian Benjamin Jowett) ‘never explain, never apologise’. And it casts light on why most scholars are not successful in their own lifetimes, and why they are especially unsuccessful in the world of politics: scholarship is a world of explanation. It also explains why the best television drama has very little direct exposition, or why such exposition (if necessary) is often embedded in dramatic action such as a blazing row or pillow talk. The art of persuasion is, to a significant extent, the art of not explaining. A final observation about the world around us concerns denominations and religious

traditions. The Christian tradition is a fractured tradition. The East-West Schism of 1054 divided Christendom into Greek and Latin traditions. The Reformation of the sixteenth century divided the Latin tradition into Catholic and Protestant traditions. The Clarendon Code in England in the early 1660s formally identified Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Quakers as ‘non-conformists’ and excluded

them from public office. And so on. There is a dour Scottish saying, tinged with melancholy: ‘only rotten wood doesn’t split’. The separations of the churches have from time to time been accompanied by

attempts to move closer together. Some have been bilateral, such as the AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which was set up in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Others have been multilateral, such as the World Council of Churches (established in 1948), which includes nearly all the major denominations with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church. Listing the different denominations of Christianity would take a long paragraph. Listing the bodies formed for their collaboration would be many times longer. Another phenomenon accompanies the fact of fissure within the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ as the Nicene Creed of 325 (itself an agent of fissure: the Council of Nicea excluded the Arians) puts it. There are also many non-Christian religious traditions with which Christianity has engaged in various ways, in various countries, at various times. The most important of these, historically, are Judaism and Islam. Christianity grew up at the same time as rabbinic Judaism (the Mishnah dates to about 200 CE, making it roughly contemporary with the works of Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen), and the two traditions often defined themselves in opposition to each other. Islam grew up in the seventh century CE, and its major intellectual developments in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries had a massive impact on the great Christian theologians of the thirteenth. Al Farabi, Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (also known as Averroes) produced a body of knowledge that wove Aristotelian philosophy into its theology in a way that strongly shaped and influenced the theological development of Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. This chapter could with profit be devoted entirely to the arguing that went on between the Muslims and the Christians (not to mention the giant contribution of the Jewish Aristotelian philosopher Maimonides in the same period), or to the Dominicans and Franciscans. It won’t. But it is important to note that the Christian tradition is fractured, and is constantly produced in relation to other religious traditions, and a lot of arguing takes place because of that. These conclude my brief remarks about the world around us.