Kritik is a the German word for “critique”. A kritik is an a priori (Latin, meaning “from the earlier”) argument, or an argument that must be address by both sides before either can advance the broader discussion. In short, a kritik attacks the foundational premise of a debate as being fundamentally flawed.
A couple excellent examples of this tactic be found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgement.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgement. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell (Matt 5:21-22, NET).
You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:27-28
It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matt 5:31-32, NET).
The examples continue with oath taking (vs 33-37), retribution (vs 38-41), treatment of enemies (vs 43-48). All of these statements of Jesus challenge the foundational premise of a position and offer a counter-position. Many of the exchanges between Jesus and the pharisees involved Jesus challenging the fundamental premises of the pharisee’s argument.
Another brilliant example of this tactic can be found in Paul’s address on the Areopagus in Acts 17. Paul takes the “agnostos theos,” or unknown god, and challenges the premise of that position as well as their entire religious system by making the unknown god known to them, as well as challenging the idea that a god that can be made by human hands can be considered a god and is worthy to be worshiped. We can see here how effective this tactic can be.
Here’s some examples of how this tactic can be used in every day conversations:
Calling on the name of the Lord – Many Christians think this means the “sinner’s prayer” and accepting the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior. A kritik of this position would be to look at what the Bible actually means by “calling on the name of the Lord.” This phrase is typically taken from Romans 10:
But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we preach), because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. for with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13, NET).
To properly understand what Paul means by “calling on the name of the Lord” we need to take a broader contextual view. In Acts 22, Paul gives his defence to his fellow Jews about his conversion, in which he recalls the words of Ananias, another Jewish believer in Jesus, who said, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16, KJV). To a 1st Century Jew, these words would immediately bring to their mind the prophecy of Joel 2, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32, KJV). We see the initial fulfillment of that prophecy in Acts 2, “This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel … And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:16; 21, KJV).
So by employing the kritik tactic and challenging the fundamental meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord” we can communicate the truths of the salvation message. “Calling on the name of the Lord” is necessarily connected to water baptism.
Abortion – In the abortion discussion, the foundational premise of the pro-choice side can be found in their misnomer itself. The kritik of this would be to ask, “What are we choosing?” By focusing on the object rather than the action, we can clarify the immoral nature of such a “choice”.
If we are choosing what tie to wear, or what to eat for breakfast, or where we live, who isn’t “pro-choice”? But that’s not the choice at all. The choice is whether or not to terminate a human life.
Homosexuality – I heard it in the GOP Presidential debate on Wednesday. Dr. Carson stated, “I believe that our Constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.” In this statement, Dr. Carson has accepted the false premise of a “sexual orientation”. A kritik of this premise would be to challenge the idea that such a thing as “sexual orientation” exists.
The only biological system in a human body that is incomplete is the reproductive system. The male reproductive system is completed by the female reproductive system. Humans are born either male, or female. By accepting the “sexual orientation” premise, Carson undermined his own argument. If we are identifiable by our “sexual orientation” then our biological gender is subjective to the orientation with which we choose to identify. As such, marriage cannot be “between one man and one woman.”
Speaking of the GOP Presidential debate, a brilliant example of this tactic was employed by Ted Cruz when he challenged the very questions that were being asked by the CNBC moderators. Carlos Quintanilla directed a question to Senator Cruz regarding the waging budget battle in the House and Senate. Instead of accepting the question and responding accordingly, Cruz challenged took the kritik approach and challenged the motivations of the moderators:
“You know, let me say something at the outset, the questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ … How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and wise?’ Let me be clear. The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.”
From that point on, the debate participants clearly had control of the evening. Ted Cruz single-handedly turned the tables on the moderators and salvaged the rest of the debate from becoming a bigger joke that it was by refusing to continue to accept the foundational premise of the questions.
These examples show us the effectiveness of the kritik tactic. When engaging in formal discussions and debates, never, never, never accept the premise of your opponent’s arguments.