Premises, Premises

by Larry Hehn on October 9, 2010

americanI studied some fascinating elective courses when I was in college. Two of my favorites were titled Deviant Behavior and Abnormal Psychology. I wonder if they have now been given politically correct names like Alternative Social Expression and Extraordinary Minds. Although I enjoyed them both, the most memorable of my electives was called Critical Thinking.

Critical Thinking taught me about the structure of arguments, and about premises. Put simply, a premise is an idea upon which you can base an argument or draw a conclusion. For example:

Premise # 1: All rabbits have brown fur.
Premise # 2: Fluffy is a rabbit.
Conclusion: Fluffy has brown fur.

We all hold beliefs that color our thinking and behavior. We embrace certain premises that lead us to certain conclusions. If we operate under conflicting premises, how will we ever reach the same conclusion?

That’s why I think “Christianity” today is so misunderstood and in many ways ineffective. We are operating with flawed premises on both sides of the fence.

Just think of how you might finish these sentences:

  • God is…
  • Christians are…
  • Non-Christians are…
  • Homosexuals are…
  • Republicans are…
  • Oprah is…
  • God loves…
  • God hates…
  • Abortionists are…
  • Democrats are…
  • You know you are a Christian when…
  • The Bible says…

Notice your reaction. Did you find yourself getting emotional about any of them? Where did those reactions come from?

Where do you get your premises? What personal experiences have colored your perception of God, the Church, people in general?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Lawrence October 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Great post, Larry. I definitely sense the potential for a greater understanding.

Looking back on your previous article it strikes me that the whole discussion was based on a fundamental difference in premise. While I don’t necessarily agree that “Christianity” is misunderstood and ineffective, I would offer that it might not be appreciated because of factions within that tend to espouse doctrine as if it was the absolute truth.


Larry_Hehn October 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Sue, your last sentence captured exactly what I had hoped to say. You worded it much better than I did. Thanks very much for adding that!


mdgrinnell October 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Sue – "factions within that tend to espouse doctrine as if it was the absolute truth. "
Maybe I misunderstand your point, but isn't that what we as Christians are supposed to believe…that there are certain doctrines (from the Bible) that are absolutely true. Without these tenants of faith, we are left to discover a variety of 'truth' and, by definition, that cannot be truth.
Example: Doctrinal statement – "Jesus is the one and only Son of God" If that is not absolutely true, then you cannot have a discussion on the way of obtaining salvation.
Are you suggesting that there are no absolute truths – even in Scripture?
My recent post Chicken or Egg


Larry_Hehn October 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm

How perfect that this has come up! I feel a bit like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, agreeing with both sides of a disagreement. Please forgive me if I'm assuming too much here, but I think we may have identified two different premises in operation here. I think we may be working with two different interpretations of the word 'doctrine'.

I agree that God's character as revealed in Scripture is absolute truth. I also agree that some man-made rules that claim to have a basis in Scripture may be fallible. It seems that the word 'doctrine' may be used to define either one, which can lead to a lot of confusion.

I never thought that one word could be so controversial! We will definitely be exploring this more in future posts. Thanks, Michael.


Sue Lawrence October 11, 2010 at 12:33 am

The word doctrine isn't controversial at all. Check any dictionary and you will get basically the same meaning. The one thing you won't find in any of the definitions, though, is the word truth. Statements of doctrine are not required to be based on fact. Christians have the right to believe that doctrine based on the Bible is the one and only truth. That does not, however, give them the right to declare that theirs is the only way to salvation.


Sue Lawrence October 11, 2010 at 12:35 am

I believe that Scripture holds many absolute truths … as does the Hebrew Bible, the Sutras, the Koran etc.


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