Monday, November 18, 2013


A devil's advocate is someone who, presented with a particular argument or idea, takes an opposing view for the sake of debate. His task is to test the original argument in an attempt to expose weaknesses or holes. The devil's advocate may or may not agree with the original argument:  the point isn't whether or not he agrees; the point is to test the soundness of the argument or idea.

If you are trying to clearly articulate a particular biblical doctrine, having a devil's advocate can be a valuable asset. His questions will challenge your thinking and require you to address issues you may have overlooked. If you are proposing a certain course of action, a devil's advocate can help identify weak areas in your plan. He may even propose alternative plans by which you can achieve your specified goal. If you are trying to choose between several options - Do I want to accept the job offer in Utah, or would it be wiser to take the position in Idaho? - a devil's advocate can help you find the benefits and liabilities associated with each option.

Yes, it is beneficial to have a devil's advocate on your team. Someone to ask questions from a different angle. Someone to help you see problem areas that you may have completely overlooked. Someone to help you anticipate opposition to your plan or challenges to implementing it.

You see, the point of the devil's advocate is not to belittle or demotivate you. No, his purpose is to make you stronger, wiser, and more effective.

Then there are those who simply "play the devil." Rather than strengthening and sharpening you, they drain you of energy and dull your enthusiasm for life. They don't argue or present opposing viewpoints for the sake of benefiting someone else; rather, they seem intent on simply wallowing in their own negativity and pointless criticism, while splashing their muck and discontent on the people around them.

Here is my attempt at illustrating the difference between playing the devil's advocate, and playing the devil:

Mary: I am going to try to initiate a relationship with Sarah. I think I'll invite her to meet me for coffee next week.
Lou (the devil's advocate): Sarah is very shy and introverted. She probably won't answer her phone if you call her.
Mary: You're right. Okay, Sarah will be at church Sunday morning. I'll wait and ask her then, in person.
Lou: What will you do if she says "No"?
Mary:  Hmmm, I guess I'll just keep trying. Then she'll see that I really do want to get to know her better. Maybe she'll eventually give in and say "Yes"!
Lou:  Sarah doesn't like coffee, by the way.
Mary:  Well, maybe we could meet somewhere for lunch then.
Lou:  What if Sarah can't afford to eat out?
Mary:  Good question. I'll offer to treat.
Lou:  Or, you could invite her to come over to your house for lunch one Sunday after church.
Mary:  Do you think she'd find that intimidating?
Lou:  Probably. How could you make an invitation to lunch something that she wouldn't be intimidated by?

You get the idea. The point of the devil's advocate is to help Mary develop a plan, to anticipate problems, and to look for ways to address those problems. The point is: getting to know Sarah might not be as easy as planning a coffee date for next week, so Mary needs to be prepared to persevere!

Now, Scenario 2:

Mary:  I am going to try to initiate a relationship with Sarah. I think I'll invite her to meet me for coffee next week.
Lou (the devil):  Sarah is weird. She never talks to anyone at church. She acts like she thinks she's better than everyone else. If you try to call her, she probably won't even answer her phone.
Mary:  Then I'll talk to her at church next Sunday, in person.
Lou:  Humph! Well, don't be surprised if she hasn't got time for you. I think you're nuts, wasting your efforts on that stuck-up recluse.
Mary:  Then I'll just have to work harder to show her that I really do want to get to know her better. Maybe I could treat her to lunch.
Lou:  You've never taken ME out to lunch. Harumph!
Mary:  Lou, we're eating lunch together right now! (sigh)
Lou:  Yeah, but we're just at your house, eating grilled cheese. I don't even like American cheese. Blech!

Can you just feel Mary's enthusiasm draining away?!

Sometimes at my house, negative and unhelpful comments start rolling off our tongues. It truly feels like there is an evil spirit hovering in the air. "That's stupid." "He's so messed up." "We're having soup for supper? Ugh." "You're wasting your time." Wicked, careless barbs - not intended to help or instruct, serving only to pollute the air and quench joy.

You want to play the devil's advocate? Let's sit down and talk.

You want to play the devil? Let me show you to the door.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ihave been called a "devil's advocate. One of our young ministers recently told me the devil didn't need an advocate. He is right and so are you. Love,Dad