Good Arguments: Learning how to persuade

Two chess pieces

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Two of the most enjoyable books I’ve read on Paul’s letters are Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians and Conflict and Community in Corinth: Socio-rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. These two books are fascinating because they use rhetorical analysis to dig deep into Paul’s logic and the choices he made in constructing his letters to persuade his readers to adopt his point-of-view.

Paul & the Art of Rhetoric

It turns out that Paul was a master of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speaking and writing. I’ve read somewhere that we have instruction manuals from Paul’s time period and that he follows them to a tee. He gets angry just when the manuals say to get angry. He appeals to his audience’s highest aspirations just when the manuals say he should. He appeals to example, to self-interest, to whatever the manuals say is needed, based on his purpose at the moment.

I always imagined Paul just sitting down to write and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pouring out his thoughts. When I learned at seminary how very carefully Paul constructed his letters, I was amazed at how sophisticated he was. He wrote with the Spirit’s inspiration, but he closely followed the best human advice of his day too. He was deliberate and careful, taking his letters quite seriously and investing the time and thought to do a good job.

Rhetoric & the Church Today

And that brings me to today and how we communicate to those outside the church. If we are communicating to the public hoping to persuade at least some to adopt our views, then we need to follow Paul’s example and invest just as heavily in our communications as he did with his.

Whether you are advocating for a new social policy, to change public opinion about your ministry’s cause, preaching a sermon, or even persuading donors to give, you need to craft your appeal to be so persuasive that people are convinced and adopt your position as their own. Good rhetoric is the tool you need. Without it, chances are high that you will not have an effective message.

  • Purely emotional appeals may get short-term results, but their effect will quickly wear off and people will be sorry for the decisions they made while in an emotional state.
  • Sloppy arguments won’t even get you that far. People will likely reject your message out of hand and your credibility will be damaged.

Fortunately, we have manuals to help us construct our messages just as Paul had. If we follow their advice, our positions won’t be easily shot down or discounted. Remember, “Because the Bible says so” may be persuasive to us, but it isn’t to anyone else. We need to make good arguments.

Good Arguments

I’ve just finished reading a book which will help you craft an effective case for your position. Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking┬áis an introduction to designing persuasive presentations using the art of rhetorical argument. In only 117 pages it covers everything from what makes a good argument to how to avoid logical fallacies. It shows how to effectively use analogies, reason, logic, belief, and fact. It contains many practical cautions and suggestions, such as being careful to define your terms, because so many words have different meanings to different audiences.

The book is co-written by an apologetics and theology professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian education at Liberty University.

An argument, according to the authors, is definitely not a battle to be fought and won, but a message to be communicated. This is a healthy reminder for Christians who might be too focused on crushing the opposition. The goal of a good argument is “to persuade someone to adopt the new belief because they believe it, not because they were mesmerized by rhetorical skill.” That’s how we can get long term changes in attitudes and beliefs. And if we aren’t successful at persuading our audience to adopt our viewpoint, the fallback goal is that our position would at least be accepted as a reasonable option among many choices.

Good Arguments will do what the title says, help you craft good arguments that will persuade people to do what you want them to do because they really believe it is the right thing to do.

“The book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller.”

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