The Evidence Of Faith’s Substance The Art of Persuasion
June 14, 2014
By Ed Croteau
Rhetoric and the Gospel of Jesus Christ Acts 19:8 “He went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for 3 months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.”
American has gone through a major cultural shift. We have moved from a world of absolutes and objectivity to one of relativism, subjectivism, and tolerance. The greatest commandment in our society today is ‘thou shalt tolerate one another’. But does the behavior of the apostle Paul in Acts 19:8 still hold true today – is Christianity persuasive as a worldview in today’s supposed ‘enlightened’ America? That raises more questions: how do you choose between so many different beliefs out there? What criteria do you use to decide what is believable? They all can’t be right.
While many of my skeptical friends like to claim they live according to the evidence and form their worldview based on reasoning alone, Aristotle, credited as the ‘father of Western civilization’ and ‘the originator of today’s scientific method’, would disagree.
He believed that a person’s worldview is shaped by much more than logical reasoning. In his famous treatise called ‘On Rhetoric’, he explains how people are persuaded toward belief. First of all, let’s define ‘rhetoric’. It’s really an art form, where the goal of the speaker or writer is to inform, persuade, or motivate their audience in specific topics. Aristotle explains the three ways you or I are persuaded by rhetorical arguments towards believing something. He calls these three ways ‘Logos’, ‘Ethos’ and ‘Pathos.’
The first, ‘Logos’, is where we get today’s word ‘logic’. This form of persuasion is evidence-based, where the depth of the facts presented gives strong reasons for believing. This is the appeal Luke makes in Acts 1:3 when he writes “to whom He (Jesus) presented Himself alive after His suffering by many unmistakable proofs…”. Christianity, unlike other world religions, opens itself up to scrutiny by the skeptic and invites anyone to test its claims.
The second form of persuasion is ‘Ethos’, where the speaker's personal character or their depth of knowledge on the subject persuades us that he or she is credible. ‘Ethos’ can be achieved in many ways. One could be a noted expert in the field, like a college professor or a company executive. Or the speaker may have a vested interest in the subject, like a couple who has been married fifty years and is a source of wisdom on marriage. Or the speaker could use impressive ‘Logos’ that shows he or she is knowledgeable on the topic. Jesus Christ often employed this ‘Ethos’ persuasion, as Matthew 7:28-29 tells us: “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
And finally, Aristotle’s third form of persuasion is ‘Pathos’, which appeals to the audience’s emotions.
We get the words ‘pathetic’ and ‘empathy’ from it. Pathos can be very effective when it appeals to audience’s hopes - where the speaker paints a scenario of positive future results of following the course of action proposed. This is the distinguishing element of the good news of Jesus Christ, and the essence of the most beloved verse in the Bible, spoken by Jesus Himself: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).
Now you can understand why Paul, in Acts 19:8, was so bold to proclaim publically the gospel of Jesus Christ. It meets Aristotle’s criteria for the three elements of persuasion. Are Christians in America like Paul, boldly sharing the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ? Or is it that we as Christians have not put in the time and effort to examine our beliefs and discuss them in open with others. We cave into our culture, which tells us to keep our Christianity at home or on Sundays in church. Our faith resides in our private world, safe from the critique of those around us.
There is no good reason a Christian can give for why their faith in Jesus Christ should blend into American culture as just one of the many beliefs to be tolerated. Based on Aristotle’s dictums, Christianity stands alone. And more importantly, based on the historical reality of the Person of Jesus Christ, it is true. Share it.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.