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.