The Straw Man Fallacy

by Mike Ratliff

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.
2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
3. Person B attacks position Y.
4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

Straw Man “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. The Straw Man Fallacy is a favorite weapon our enemy. It is always fallacious, but it can cause much confusion and, therefore, can be foundational in the development and support of heresies because it is a form of deception. Those professing Christians who use this from of argument may believe they are serving God with their attacks, but if a person’s argument contains this sort of fallacy then it is not of God. God does not need this sort of thing nor would He ever lead any of His people to use it.

I receive these types of attacks nearly every day. It can be very discouraging. However, as soon as I see the Straw Man fallacy within the attack, I know that I’m dealing with the deceiver. After all, is this battle really between people?

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:9-12 KJV)

I received a comment today on my post Dead to Sin Alive to God and Slaves to Righteousness. I will not reveal who it was from nor will I use all of the original text. However, here is the first few lines.

“Man you are in for a rude awakening. You think you know what you are talking about in your blind zeal from your own understanding which is man’s teaching and has NOTHING to do with MY LORD JESUS CHRIST THE SAVIOUR FOR THE WORLD (MANKIND) not your ARROGANCE from your own imagination.”

First off, that post was an exegetical look at real salvation and discipleship as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ along with a verse-by-verse study of Romans 6. What is Romans 6 all about? Verses 1-14 are Paul’s arguments for the fact that real salvation means a believer is immersed in the death of Christ and is, therefore, a new creation who is dead to sin and alive to God. Verses 15-23 shows the transformation of a lost person who is a slave to sin to a Born Again believer who is a slave to God or a slave to righteousness.

In that post I did not use any verbiage or arguments from any other teacher or writer. I used Holy Scripture alone. The attack from the commenter was that I am blind in my zeal from my understanding of man’s teaching and that what I exposited in that post has nothing to do with our Lord Jesus Christ. Really? Since I quoted our Lord verbatim from Matthew 16:24-26, simply repeating what He said there, I am at a loss to see how that has nothing to do with our Lord. Here are my own words from that post and the passage in question.

“Our salvation is an incredible gift by His grace. That is why it troubles me so when Christian leaders cheapen it with their man-focused, easy-believism. Easy-believism produces professing Christians who believe their salvation came as a result of something they did. I know this because I was one of them for nearly 20 years. If this is our mindset about our salvation, we believe that our walk as Christians is also totally dependent upon our will power. It is as if what the Bible teaches about regeneration is unheard of or at least completely misunderstood. Also, Jesus’ own words about the exclusivity of who are His disciples and who aren’t seems to be in code because few seem to grasp what He is saying.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 KJV)

Easy-believism either colors over or totally ignores this passage. Jesus tells everyone that to be His disciple, he or she must deny self, take up their cross and follow Him. This speaks of dying to self. This is total submission and surrender to the Lordship of Christ.”

I must conclude that the one objecting to this part of my post must be an adherent of easy-believism or No Lordship salvation. However, I also must be careful here to not fall into the trap of building my own Straw Man to attack. Here is the next part of the comment.

“It amazes me that you can attack anything so you can reaffirm your false teaching’s and not follow the VOICE of GOD and HIS WORD. You better repent of your foolishness (TEACHING’S) and follow the LIVING LORD BY THE POWER OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT not the futile way of THINKING just like the PHARISEES who thought they were chosen TOO!!”

What am I being accused of here? I am attacking anything in an attempt to reaffirm my false teachings. I simply teach what the Bible teaches. I don’t add to it. I don’t take away from it. I use scripture to interpret scripture. If that is the basis for false teachings then I don’t know how anyone could be a real Bible teacher.

Let me give you a little background how I came to be an opponent of Easy-believism and all of the false teachings that go with it. In the early 1990’s a friend gave me John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In that exposition, MacArthur revealed the biblical fallacies of Easy Believism by comparing what its proponents taught with what the Bible says. Reading the book was the beginning of God drawing me out of the darkness of man-focused Christianity into a genuine biblical understanding of the Gospel. Since then I have refused to take any man’s version of the gospel for granted as being biblical without checking it out with what the Bible says first.

Now let’s look at the Straw Man argument here. This person’s accusation is that since I am teaching Lordship Salvation and backing that up with what the Bible says then I am not following the VOICE OF GOD and HIS WORD. The Straw Man argument is that if anyone teaches Lordship Salvation then they could not possibly be following the VOICE OF GOD and HIS WORD. This accusation was made with no scripture backing whatsoever. Also, this person accused me of, “THINKING just like the PHARISEES who thought they were chosen TOO!!” Where did that one come from? Election was not mentioned in that article at all so I must conclude here that this person believes that any teaching that is not Universalism is Pharisaical. Again, we must be careful to not build a Straw Man of our own here.

The next “argument” in the comment was this, “You do not see any where in scripture THE LORD goes out of HIS way to attack people to tell them they are wrong HE SHOWED THEM BY EXAMPLE even in the temple only the PHARISEES did that in their complete ARROGANCE thinking what they knew was more important than BEING HIS which is one day at a time “TODAY” NOT WHAT HAS NOT YET BEEN.”

Do you see the Straw Man here? He is saying that anyone who tells the truth about what people are doing that is unbiblical is arrogant and a Pharisee who believes that it is more important to know things than simply being His. This part of the argument really stung me for some reason. Do I do this? Am I guilty of teaching people that doctrine is more important than living a Holy life separate from the world that is in total submission to the Lordship of Christ in all things? It was by analyzing this statement and comparing it to what I really teach that God confirmed to me that this was an attack from the enemy. Why? I teach that we are to be Holy as we walk before the face of God as Spirit-filled believers. I do not go out of my way to attack anyone. I simply obey God in revealing false teachers as He leads me. I would prefer to disciple my Lord’s sheep than expose apostates and heretics, but it is a two-way street. Part of my role is to warn the sheep of the dangers of false teachers and preachers.

The last statement in this part of the argument confused me. I don’t really know where this person is going with the remark about being His which is one day at a time “Today” NOT WHAT HAS NOT YET BEEN. What does that mean? I can only speculate and if I go too far with that then I would, again, be falling into the trap of building my own Straw Man. No thanks.


Is this a Straw Man argument as well? Yes it is. If a person believes in Lordship Salvation then they don’t really know Jesus Christ but only think they do. They have a form of Godliness but deny the power… This is a Straw Man argument because I firmly believe that our salvation is by Grace through faith, it is a gift from God. God saves us; we do not save ourselves because we can’t. Am I guilty of believing and teaching that we are to be hypocrites who look good on the outside, but deny Christ on the inside? No! Read my articles and you will see the opposite is true. Do I deny that Jesus Christ is Lord? No, the opposite is true. What I teach is the evidence of what I really believe. However, it is my assurance by the work of the Holy Spirit in me that I know that I am regenerate.

This is just an example of the sort of “attacks” that I receive more times than I care to think about. My salvation is called into question along with my character. However, what we must do is not focus on this stuff, but know that God allows this and uses it to make us examine ourselves. I do that every time I am accused. By the way, who is the accuser of the brethren? In this exercise of self-examination I am assured, but I also find things within that I repent of and those things usually end up as the basis of a post. 🙂

Since this accusation is that I don’t really know Jesus as Lord and Saviour then I must examine myself as scripture commands. (2 Corinthians 13:5) Are there things within us that would reveal whether we really are saved or not? Is there a Biblical way we can discern if we are genuine believers or not?

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2Corinthians 13:5 KJV)

The following is a summary of a document by John MacArthur taken from the reference section of my John MacArthur Study Bible. The title of it is, “The Character of Genuine Saving Faith.” The document has two sections. The first section is titled, “Evidences that neither prove nor disprove one’s faith.” He lists seven things that cannot be used to prove or disprove whether a person is really a Christian or not. Here they are: Visible morality, intellectual knowledge, religious involvement active ministry, conviction of sin, assurance, and time of decision.

The next section is titled, “The fruit / proofs of authentic / true Christianity.” Here they are: Love for God, repentance from sin, genuine humility, devotion to God’s glory, continual prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, spiritual growth, and obedient living.

If the first list is true of a person and the second list is false, there is cause to question the validity of one’s profession of faith. However, if the second list is true, then the first list will be also.

I believe we should all examine ourselves like this periodically, especially when we are in the fire. Despite what the enemy is trying to do to this ministry, and me, I rejoice and praise God in the struggle because I know that all things work out for good for those who love God. Remember, only genuine believers really love Him and that love grows ever deeper and the fruit of that love is obedience.


30 thoughts on “The Straw Man Fallacy

  1. Brilliant Mike. I was just trying to write this same piece to explain a discussion I’ve been having. Thanks for beating me to it, now I just have to link.

    Thanks brother,


  2. Didn’t read the whole thing, but it made me realize something.
    I’d write more, but any attempt to reason with one so learned would be futile.


  3. Mike,

    It’s extremely revealing that such people typically use ALL or MOSTLY CAPS WHEN WRITING TO YOU. I realize that you probably get more of such comments than me, and would just like to encourage to persevere on. Depends on the content, I may delete them if they violate my blog rules, but of course that may not help us to reach them (Dilemma…). Anyway, you are in good company, because they so revile the prophets and our Lord also when He was on earth.


  4. Truly a great post. It reminded me of the first strawman argument I had encountered. I was told I had Mormon beliefs because I am a Calvinist! All because the scriptures and explanation I gave about foreknowledge got twisted to make it sound as though i believed we know God before the foundation of the world. I got flustered at that remark. I have half my family that are Mormons. I know that I am not a Mormon! But, as we see, they use scriptures, too. One thing I notice by those who present strawman arguments is there is a spiritual haughtiness coming from them. One does have to be careful not to go down the path they want to take you. I don’t answer strawman arguments but ask for scriptures and their explanation of them. These debates must stick to interpretation of scripture (as in what is God’s intent in them), not some fallacious idea of what someone’s beliefs are. If it is the latter, then you just go around in circles. I don’t mind being shown I am wrong, but if yoiu force on me what I must believe (the Y of X ) then I won’t listen to you. You won’t win me that way. You will only have succeeded in keeping me in error, if I am, in fact, in error.


  5. You and I disagree about “election”, Mike, but you are a Godly man who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. The truth is God has used you in my life not only in your devotional writings, but by teaching me patience and humility when disagreeing with a brother.

    This commenter seemed to be somewhat unbalanced, and when someone plays the “salvation” card it usually removes any credibility. I can understand why some have problems with others in the discernment camp but I have never understood how people view you as arrogant and even unsaved. My assessment is that they come with an agenda and what you say will not change that.

    From an entrenched Arminian (even confrontational at times), you are a blessing to the body Mike.

    PS – I am 70% sure you are saved!


  6. Sherry C,

    These types of comments that I used in this post are usually deleted because they violate the rules for comments. The Straw Man form of argument is fallacious and deceptive. That is not of God and we will only find ourselves being drawn into a cesspool of arguing that is totally fruitless. Their goal is to discourage and intimidate and silence the truth. Therefore, we must not play the game, but continue to fight the good fight without becoming tarnished by using their tactics.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  7. Thanks Rick,

    70% huh? 🙂

    You are right about those with an agenda. That is why the rules for comments on this blog exist.

    I pray that we simply learn to obey God while seeking to line ourselves up completely with the word of God until He takes us out of here.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  8. Great post, Mike. You have given me a lot to think about in the way I approach discussions with others. It’s so easy to spot the Straw Man when it comes from others, but I know that I have been guilty of using it myself. God has been getting me to slow down, be patient, and not resort to such tactics. But once again, being able to take the cheap shots but not respond in kind takes time (sanctification in this journey) and it requires knowing who we are in Christ.


  9. Mike, I keep reading your blog because your writings match the Word that I read. You have been ever so helpful to me by sharing the insight that the Lord has blessed you with.

    Thank you for being faithful to this ministry that the Lord has given you.

    In Christ,


  10. Yes, those are reasons for their use of strawman arguments, Mike. But I would add that there are times that they just want to discredit you, especially when you’re on their site. I am not much of a debator but I have loved the digging in scriptures to see where they are coming from as well as finding the right scriptures in the right context for the subject being debated.


  11. Will the real Paul please stand up!

    I’m Paul but I need a new name that does not conflict with the real Paul 😉

    My daugther calls me TOG, the ole goat.



  12. Mike,

    I face comments like this in varying degrees all the time too. I am often caught in a jam – delete or publish.

    I must say that I only look to God for wisdom. Its a pretty complicated minefield; yet we must walk it.

    Also, just as you said, it sometimes gets pretty discouraging, and there have been days I thought I’d just shut up and all that.

    However, presenting a Biblical alternative to the wrong teachings of our day is important. Shining light in the darkness is impprtant.

    Be strong, brother! If you are not saved, the chances are that I have a place in hell waiting for me too! Lord have mercy 🙂

    The Lord will keep us, and help us do all the good He wills for us to do. We must keep looking to Him.


  13. Yomi,

    Welcome to the foxhole brother. Perhaps its a bunker. I don’t know, but, as you said, we must fight the good fight despite our anguish and doubts. That is why we must draw as close our Lord as possible during this for only in that are we covered in the armor that comes from our faith and devotion and submission to Him. Let us pray for wisdom and discernment. Our protection is assured as we obey our Lord.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  14. Hi,

    Tony (GalatiansC4V16) referred me to your blog. Nice post – it is important for us to be able to identify and not use bad arguments like the straw man. I get those a lot, especially when people realize they don’t have facts to back up their position. And I try to avoid them myself, as I’ve found that one bad argument can undo ten good ones.



  15. Last night I received an email from a friend who has a teaching ministry on the net. He had exposed the false teaching of unknown tongues (no where in scroiptures is there such a practice ), and being slain in the Spirit by the laying on of hands, and he shared an email he had received concerning it. He was told to repent or he would go to hell. It was the nastiest letter I had ever read from a so-called christian (save my brother’s letter ). I thought to myself, “Wow! And I thought it was only ‘our side’ who supposedly question someone’s salvation for erroneous beliefs!” Thing is, we rarely do that. But they are so quick to be an accuser of the brethren! It shows me on whose side they are on! My friend explained every point to the emailer’s letter and when it came to the part of him going to hell, he told the person to go look in the mirror! The mirror being God’s Word. It is one thing to disagree, but to use the enemy’s tactics as defense makes evident that the person does not know God’s Word as he ought.


  16. Amen Sherry C! Yes, that is exactly right. We are not to use deceptive tactics or intimidation, etc. We only speak the truth from God’s Word. It is the sword that pierces the heart.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  17. Mike

    What you were dealing with in the quotes above is a person with a religious spirit…… is the attack and destroy method of humiliating you with insults so you will give into them. They twist everything and falsely accuse you. There is no use in even talking to them.. They are too far gone. Just be glad you have the peace of Christ in you, and that you are not like this. Peace and love are gifts from God. We should cherish them and protect them, from those who would like to take them away from us.



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