Our second Dale gem from Nine Lectures on Preaching concerns the question of controversial preaching. And, I might add, all engaging in controversies.
“If you touch controversies… you ought to be quite certain that you understand the theories which you are attacking, and that you have mastered the grounds on which they rest. You ought, also, to be quite sure that you can reply – not to the weakest – but to the strongest argument by which they are supported. The serious beliefs of men ought to be discussed seriously and fairly. It is perfectly legitimate to illustrate the grotesque absurdity of a false speculation when we can prove it to be false; it is perfectly legitimate to kindle a generous indignation against an intellectual imposture if we have the knowledge and skill to unmask it; but to attempt to laugh it out of court without meeting their case, and to make passion take the place of reason, are shameful offences against the laws of intellectual honour and equity. I trust that the ethics of theological controversy are better understood by us than they were by our fathers; but theological controversialists, like controversialists of other kinds, are always under a strong temptation to seek fair ends by foul means. We have no right to secure the condemnation of the basest criminals by menacing the jury and bribing the judge. I do not believe in Lynch law, even for the worst crimes. It is dangerous to try to cast out devils in the name of Beelzebub the prince of the devils. We shall never fight the battles of Heaven to any purpose with arms forged in hell. To attempt to destroy even the most pernicious error by reckless misrepresentation, by appeals to ignorance and blind passion, by weapons poisoned with slander, is to repeat the crime of the Jesuits, who are credited with sanctioning the assassination of heretical princes. If you touch controversy, be just, be generous, to your opponents.”