Every blessing? (3) – truth and communication

5 05 2009

{After something of a delay, I’m returning to my previous posts on the Prosperity Gospel…}

“When you’re confronting error it’s not enough simply to speak the truth.”

I’m sure there’s lots of ways in which that statement is false.  But there’s at least one important way in which it’s true…

Here’s the issue: “to speak the truth” does not (necessarily) equal “to persuade”.

When you are dealing with an error like the Prosperity Gospel, there are lots of true things you can say in reply.  (Thanks to those who suggested several interesting ones earlier!) But – lots of approaches don’t seem to “work”.  You can say true things, and not persuade anyone of anything.  Discussions can degenerate into a barrage of proof-text-swapping, with neither side really engaging with the other.

When we want to persuade anyone of anything – truth is necessary, but its not sufficient.

On one level that’s obvious.  At the very least, we need to say things that are both true and relevant.  So, as a silly example, it’s no good replying to the Prosperity Gospel by saying “Genesis is the first book of the Bible.”  That’s true, but it’s not relevant.  But even truth and relevance together aren’t enough – if that’s all we have, we can still talk past one another.

What are the missing ingredients?  It’s not that easy to pin down exactly, but it’s got to do with “connecting” – saying something that makes sense, given where people are coming from, but also challenges where they’re coming from.  (Bruce is giving us an interesting worked example of this in his “Conversation with an Atheist Friend” posts.)

So for the Prosperity Gospel, that’s what I was attempting to do with my comments about death, and even more pointedly, that’s the direction that Michael’s suggestion about martyrdom leads.

Everybody knows about death.  You can try to ignore it, but you can’t suppress that knowledge very far.  I think the approach of speaking the truth about death “works” because it connects with something people already believe/know, and helps them realise there’s something fundamental they haven’t taken account of.  (And, ultimately, can’t take account of with the Prosperity system.)1

Why does truth often not seem persuasive?  Sometimes2 it’s because it hasn’t connected.


1 Even though I haven’t tried it out, I’m sure the same would follow with the issue of martyrdom, and might be even sharper.

2 Of course, this is not the only perspective we need to bring to bear on such matters. Not least there is 2 Cor. 4v4. But these perspectives are complimentary, not mutually exclusive. One of the ways the god of this age blinds the minds of unbelievers is precisely by hiding from them the relevance of the gospel’s truth.

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Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

23 11 2008
trois canetons / three ducklings

Image by OliBac via Flickr

Do you ever worry you are repeating yourself? If you are a preacher, you should be glad! You should be ecstatic. You should be overjoyed, when you find you are repeating yourself (did I already say that?). When you repeat yourself people take note. Repetition is a powerful way to emphasize something in a talk. But I wonder if you every thought about the different ways you can repeat yourself:

Epanaphora occurs when one and the same word forms successive beginnings of phrases expressing like and different ideas, as follows: “To you must go the credit for this, to you are thanks due, to you will this act of yours bring glory.” In Antistrophe we repeat, not the first word in successive phrases… but the last as follows:… “Gaius Laelius was a selfmade man, a talented man, a learned man, to good men and good endeavour a friendly man; and so in the state he was the first man.” Interlacement is the union of both figures… “Who are they who have often broken treaties? The Carthaginians. Who are they who have waged war with severest cruelty? The Carthaginians. What are they who have marred the face of Italy? The Carthaginians. Who are they who now ask for pardon? The Carthaginians.” (from Rhetorica Ad Herennium, 1st Cent BCE)

Why not think about using one of these at a climactic point in your next talk?

Bruce Lowe

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