Should A Christian Play "devil's Advocate"?

Discussion in 'General Discussions' started by Euphemia, Jun 16, 2014.

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  1. Should a Christian Play "Devil's Advocate"?

    Where did this phrase come from? What is its meaning today? More importantly, should we as Christians personify this phrase in our daily lives?

    A little thought and study shows that a Christian faces real dangers in playing the role of "Devil's Advocate." It is time that we learned what it is all about.

    Origins and Meaning

    The term "Devil's Advocate" dates back to the sixteenth century to an official office within the Roman Catholic Church known in Latin as the Advocatus Diaboli—literally, "Devil's Advocate." This person was a canon lawyer appointed by that church to raise doubts against the genuineness of the miracles of a candidate for canonization. He was to expose any lack of formality in the investigation of the miracles, and to assail the general merits of the candidate, whose cause is sustained by an Advocatus Dei—literally, "God's Advocate." The position was established in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, and it was not abolished until 1983 by Pope John Paul II.

    According to, Devil's advocate is today primarily defined as "one who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position." Since the Roman Catholic Church office has been abolished, and with the passage of time, the modern-day usage of this phrase has become more general, simply to identify a contrarian of sorts.

    However, its origins cannot be ignored. Is it harmless in this day for us to play Devil's advocate? After all, is it just someone who argues the other side of a cause or position, or should we be conscious of something more?

    We need to consider the question: Do we, as Christians, actually want to advocate for Satan the Devil? To provide another level of clarity, let us ask one more question: What is an "advocate"?

    Using the same online dictionary, we find that an advocate is defined as "one that pleads the cause of another, specifically one that pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court; one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal; or one that supports or promotes the interests of another."

    Using just the verbs in these definitions, we can see that an advocate is one who pleads, defends, supports, or promotes the interests of another. In this case, the "other" is Satan, the Adversary of God, His Son, and His true church! Do we really want to see things from his side? Or worse, take his side, even in argument?

    While the Roman Catholic Church may have instituted an official Devil's Advocate more than four centuries ago, playing "Devil's Advocate" predates that church's practice by nearly 5,600 years. Interestingly enough, mankind has unwittingly played this role since the Garden of Eden.

    Let the Games Begin!

    Genesis 3 is the famous chapter that is referred to as "The Temptation and Fall of Man" in many Bibles. It could also be rightly named "Mankind Deceived into Playing Devil's Advocate." Here are the first seven verses:

    Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

    In verse 4, Satan slyly convinces Eve that God has lied to them by withholding from them the ability to become "like God, knowing good and evil." God was being unfair, he argues, keeping them from their potential. The passage suggests that, after hearing this, Eve did not hesitate one bit in making her decision. She took the bait without even flinching and ignorantly promoted the interests of Satan by giving the forbidden fruit to her husband. In effect, she signed on to advance Satan's objective—to derail God's plan to create mankind in His spiritual image.

    Satan's tack has been the same ever since, even though he must realize that, due to Christ's death and resurrection, he will ultimately lose (Revelation 10:10). While he still has time, he will try to make as many people as he can fail to reach their incredible human potential. He will do whatever is in his power—whatever God allows him to do—to convince them that his way is superior to God's.

    For those that have been called by God in this lifetime, we have far more at stake here. If Satan can succeed in deceiving us to advocate for him more and more, he greatly increases our chances of being subject to the second death, the eternal death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

    Peter warns us of the dangers that Satan poses to God's people: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). According to the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, "sober" (Greek nepho) is a verb found in the New Testament only in the figurative sense, implying "sober watchfulness." In addition, "vigilant" (Greek gregoreuo) means "to keep awake, i.e., watch (literally or figuratively)."

    Combining "sober" and "vigilant" paints an interesting word-picture for us. When a person is heavily intoxicated, he wants nothing more than to sleep it off, so it is impossible for the sleeping drunkard to be vigilant about anything. The message for us is that we must be attentive to our physical and spiritual condition so that we do not become spiritually intoxicated. This type of person is exactly the kind whom Satan seeks. If we enter this state, then we make ourselves a prime target to be devoured by the "roaring lion."

    Both Ends Against the Middle

    Another factor that can enter this equation is that Satan likes to "play both ends against the middle." This expression describes a person encouraging two people or groups to compete with each other in order to gain an advantage for himself. Satan is always trying to gain an advantage, and he even had the audacity to try this with his own Creator, Jesus Christ.

    Both Matthew 4 and Luke 4 record for us Satan's attempts to separate the Son from the Father—dividing the Family of God for all eternity in order to gain the advantage for himself. Luke 4:3-4 records his first temptation:

    And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." But Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

    Satan knew the power within Jesus' grasp, and by appealing to His physical need, His great hunger, he tried to persuade Him to rely on His own power. Obviously, his first attempt failed spectacularly, so he tried another approach:

    Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours." And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" (Luke 4:5-8)

    Here, Satan tried to exploit his position and authority as the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) by promising authority and glory to Christ, the One who granted him the position he now fills! The price was that Jesus would have to worship him. The Devil's pride is mind-boggling—to think that he, Satan, a created being, would try to bribe his Creator to worship him! This was a second stunning failure. Satan makes a third attempt:

    Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" And Jesus answered and said to him, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:9-13)

    Even in His weakened state, Jesus knew that no physical harm would come to Him, as He drew His strength from His close relationship with His Father. His response shows for whom Jesus was advocating, His Father. Thus, Satan's third and final attempt fails just as completely as the other two had.

    Many times, as physical human beings, we take Satan for granted—and this is exactly what he wants us to do. He hopes that we will underestimate him, and he works hard in the world to make his very existence a matter of superstition and primitive belief. He knows that when we take him too lightly, we let our guard down, and he can strike.

    We must never forget that, if Satan had the arrogance to try this with Jesus Himself, he will not hesitate to try to separate us from the Father and Christ.

    Without a doubt, to gain an advantage for himself, Satan would love nothing more than to make two of God's people or church groups compete with each other. As a result, he creates the element of distraction, and by becoming distracted from our true focal point, we have effectively allowed our spiritual armor to fall off. Jesus, in Luke 11:17, warns us of the fruit of such action: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls." It is a recipe for spiritual disaster!

    Ambassadors for Christ

    An ambassador is "a diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative-in-residence by one government or sovereign to another; an authorized messenger or representative." Scripture confirms that, after being called and baptized, we as ambassadors and citizens represent the greatest government the earth will ever see (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). We know this intellectually, but how often do we consciously force ourselves—in thought, speech, and action—to advocate for God and His way?

    Matthew records Jesus' encouraging words that teach us for whom and how we are to advocate. Remember, an advocate is one that pleads, defends, supports, or promotes the interests of another. Our advocacy is intended to point others to the Source of our light—our heavenly Father—and we accomplish this by our godly examples:

    You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

    We need to be careful to examine the meanings and origins of idiomatic phrases of our common parlance, like "Devil's advocate," and not just repeat them without knowledge. Our Savior warns us "that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). As we have seen, we may be playing into Satan's hand. He is a formidable enemy whom we must never ignore nor underestimate. We must be spiritually sober and vigilant in resisting him because he is the last being for whom we should ever want to advocate.

    Instead, we must follow Christ's encouraging instruction by letting our light shine before others so that, as His ambassadors, we will be God's advocates!
  2. Overall, it's a term to describe provoking thought. I don't think the origins are wrong either. It was a processes to really look deep into faith and miracles. If anything, the term could be seen as a misnomer.
    Where is the Messiah and Huntingteckel say Amen and like this.
  3. I remember being in a mixed small group at the church where I grew up. There was a couple there whose husband I knew well since I was three years old. He was always offering up answers to questions the leader would throw out. It’s a good thing as some people were not always participatory, but we had a few who were. There was no lack of interaction, that's for sure, but Bruce would always take an adversarial stance, rather than offer up his own views. One evening, I asked him what he was doing with his approaches. He said, "I'm playing Devil's Advocate!"---proud as punch. Well that went on for a couple more weeks and then one of the members of the group who was also an elder at the time took him aside after group and told him to knock it off. He had good reason--we had a new believer in the group who was getting not only mixed signals, but he was getting confused!

    There is no good reason, IMHO to play into the hand of the evil one in such cases. Controlled learning sessions such as Bible school classes, yes, but there is always a risk of unintentionally planting seeds of doubt in brothers and sisters, and perhaps even keeping a seeker at bay.

    No, the Lord is not honoured in it. It may be hard for some to speak wisdom, and of their convictions, and so easy to be opposite in views--why? For attention, as this man was? It is so much better for the sake of others to keep quiet. We are told by God to keep our speech wholesome. Playing Devil's Advocate is playing into Satan's hand and jeopardizing our own spiritual reward.

    It is best to be known by others as one who speaks wisdom, and not folly, which is a far more excellent reputation in the Lord.

    Titus 2:8 (NLT)
    Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us.

    Ecclesiastes 12:11 (NLT)
    The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.
  4. I'm not sure playing Devil's Advocate is harmful or re-directing truth, but rather intended to strengthen truth. Socratic method is often fused with playing Devil's Advocate to spark thought and reach a righteous conclusion.

    Not that you don't make an interesting point. It's fair to ask whether doing this sparks only doubt or not...but if it re-affirms truth and strengthens it, then it's a very good thing. Often times, that's the intention, and again often times, that's the result.
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  5. #5 DavidG, Jun 16, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
    I have seen many people take a contrarian position because they enjoy it rather than hope for an didactic value. Being the skeptic feels safe. You always get to play offense. If you argue for something and lose a point your whole argument can fall apart. If argue against something and one of your attacks falls flat, your point is not dis-proven, since you have no real point. You can just change tack and attack from another angle. People often have a sense of power when they do it, either from appearing to hold the intellectual high-ground or from the evil high that every sort of bullying can gives.

    That said, let me approach it from another side. If you want a skill, you must practice it. If you want to be skillful at speaking coherently and kindly to opposition, you must practice. There are two ways you can achieve this.

    1- Send the novice to go find as much opposition to the faith as they can and jump in conversation. This certainly provides practical experience at dealing with opposition...but there are real dangers here. When sparring with people far beyond your skill level you can get taken down hard. I've seen people courageously head out on to the college campus only to get so embarrassed they assume they are not evangelist material and endeavor to spend the rest of their Christian lives being as invisible as possible. I've seen people have their faith deeply shaken. Also getting publicly thrashed or losing your cool because you feel embarrassed can be a poor testimony to who you are talking with and any observers.

    2-The novice can practice with a believer who will endeavor to ask the sort of questions an unbeliever would. The same difficult and provoking questions can come up, only this time when the novice is stumped the faux adversary can switch sides for a moment to help him out. There are no "outside" opponents feel embarrassed in front of. When you don't have a bad taste in your mouth from embarrassment you are more likely to bring up the hard parts of the conversation to family or pastors for help with out being worried they will be ashamed of you (not that they would be, but one's ego is seldom really logical).

    There are abusive contrarians, yes. And there are boundaries to questioning the faith in order to strengthen it (such as meeting for that purpose or asking permission first rather than just assailing someone in the name of making them stronger). But I have seen churches and Christian schools that will not suffer any challenge to their young Christians, and the results are all too often kids who grow up confident and then get creamed the first time they step foot in the world. They either feel betrayed by their upbringing or wonder if their unpreparedness is because Christianity just doesn't have the answers and ultimately they end up feeding the unfortunate trope of the brainwashed believer.
  6. Let's face it, most Christians have some doubt and cannot answer hard questions from atheists. Playing devils advocate (for lack of a better word) is a way to role play so we can better overcome the enemy. This enemy is of course Satan and all that support him whether directly or indirectly.
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  7. Galatians 5:19-20 (KJV)
    Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

    G2054 ἔρις eris (er'-is) n.
    1. a quarrel
    2. (by implication) wrangling
    [of uncertain affinity]
    KJV: contention, debate, strife, variance

    Galatians 5:19-20 (ESV)
    Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,

    I guess that's why I never cared much for sports or board games... I guess that's just me...

    Psalms 133:1 (KJV)
    A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!
  8. We are judged by every idle word we say. Taking the opposite and ungodly side of an issue for any reason other than the fact that it is one's own view is idle and unprofitable speech. If one does NOT hold the view they are arguing with, it is indeed idle talk. If one cannot present one's beliefs using wise words out of the knowledge of a spiritual matter, but instead chooses the opposing side of the spiritual matter---and knowing that God says our words contain power, what is it that God will credit to his account?

    Fear and confusion is what is sometimes birthed in the heart of one who performs this "game". It can result in a double minded man.

    There is nothing wrong with contemplating another view point, but to actually argue for it when you don’t believe it is counter-productive to one's own spiritual growth. I don’t believe for one minute that God is pleased with it. He gives us HIS wisdom and expects us to speak His word at all times. Good, productive and wise speech is what needs to be coming out of us. We need to be very careful about our confessions.

    Psalm 49:3 (NLT)
    For my words are wise,
    and my thoughts are filled with insight.

    Luke 6:45 (NLT)
    A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

    James 1:5-8 (NLT)
    If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
  9. Playing Devil's Advocate doesn't literally mean advocating a devilish position. In fact, it often is just a means of directing into a deeper truth, not to steer away from truth. Specifically, when I say truth, I'm talking about God.

    The meaning behind our words is what God is judging, not the phonetic sounds of each syllable.
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  10. We have enough people in this world who will (in their opinion) legitimately counter our beliefs from the Word of God, let alone BELIEVERS acting out contrary to the Word in a mock debate.

    The Holy Spirit doesn't lead us to counter His Word for us to know the truth. He doesn't tell us what Satan says, but what God says. We need to keep our minds and hearts open to what God says at all times.

    John 16:13 (NLT)
    When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.
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  12. To help work out a response to critics of the Faith is not idle words. Is not a controlled environment such as a Christian forum the best place to accomplish this?
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  13. I know of a person who is enrolled in a religious studies class and they will occasionally hold debates where one side must take an opposing view in answer to a posed assertion, such as, "God no longer heals today." He believes that it is a good way for a student of the word to learn both sides of an issue.

    In this case, under the controlled situation of a bible school setting, I completely understand its use.
  14. Seems to me that members often use this forum for just such a purpose.
  15. So it's only good in a university setting?
    We have been blessed with a mind, with reason, and with the duty to defend what is right. I think philosophy is one of the great tools to which we can use for seeking God, evangelizing, and defending.

    We don't make a statement in opposition to God and then walk away as f to say it ends there. Rather, the idea is to make it begin there and end with God.
  16. Is it the word "Devil" that makes you uncomfortable?
  17. It doesn't take a person taking on the unbiblical view of a matter to know truth. "As iron sharpens iron" does not imply that one knows the truth but pretends not to in order to debate a matter. Rather, it speaks to the good practice of brothers in the Lord having fruitful discourse, bending and turning and growing in the Lord, benefiting from learning the truth from one another---not vigorously defending wrong for what seems like sport.

    I do see safety in its use in a controlled setting such as bible school, etc, but that's just my opinion.
  18. No.
  19. So it's teaching methods of asking questions to seek answers.
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