Tuesday, March 12, 2013

persuasion: a fine art in mission

You are invited to read this while listening to some wonderful Kiwi music, a song called Persuasion, by Tim Finn.

As part of my sabbatical, I’m reading through Paul’s letter, Philippians. I like to bury myself in a Bible book, to read it in one whole go, then segment by segment, a number of times, over a number of months. It becomes for me a sort of recalibration, a reminder of priorities.

Once I’ve engaged Scripture, as a whole, and in segments, I then augment it with a commentary, which adds depth and original context. So over the last few days, I’ve begun reading Ben Witherington’s, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

He argues for Paul’s use of rhetoric, that in a rhetoric-saturated culture, one in which the “vast majority of people were either producers or eager consumers of rhetoric,” (page 24) that Paul deliberately learns, then uses, this culture way of arguing.

So for example, a feature of Philippians is the absence of Old Testament bible verses. Paul is writing to a highly Romanised culture and in that world, he uses different ways to persuade, including the widely practiced communication art called rhetoric, the art of discourse, the study of how to engage head and heart, skillfully, with spoken words.

Why? Because of mission.

“One cannot command people to believe the gospel but must persuade them … [ever after conversion] … Paul knew that it continued to be better to persuade than to command one’s converts … The objections and the mental and emotional obstacles in the minds and hearts of the listeners had to be answered and removed.” (Ben Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary 23)

We live in a culture that uses different forms. Not rhetoric, but digital storytelling, art and social media. So, mission in the way of Paul includes giving up on commanding belief, and being willing to not only learn, but also use, the fine arts of persuasion.

As Tim Finn sings,

I will always be a man
that’s open to persuasion

Posted by steve at 09:22 AM

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