To Persuade or Alienate … that is the Question
Written by Gabriel Rench on July 11, 2017
As Christians, we are to be salty. Christians are to be winsome, but we’ve become increasingly unsavory. Let’s face it, most Christians are not known by what they are for, but by what they are against. Relentless criticism is never a good platform to persuade anyone.
Long ago, Aristotle defined rhetoric as the art of persuasion. As Christians we are in the business of persuading and as human beings, we are always attracted to the beautiful. Does our rhetoric overflow with gratitude and praise? If you knew us, would you recognize us by our love for song and a contagious generosity?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said this in 1970:
“If the too obvious, so straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three. And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoevsky to say that “beauty will save the world,” but a prophecy.”
Beauty will save the world. It is God’s beauty that disarms. Similarly, Romans 2:4 tells us that it is the riches of God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. God’s goodness leads us to do everything in the Christian life.
To be sure, for those who are perishing, the gospel is an “aroma of death” to them. We are salt and we are light. Salt in open wounds is highly unpleasant. Light to eyes accustomed to darkness is painful. When the darkness of the world has the light of Christ shine on it, it is often hostile. We all know this. However, when we suffer for persecution, it ought to be for doing what is right, and not for being belligerent.
The problem is, we get used to hostility. So used to it in fact, that we begin to look for it under every bush. What happens when we live and speak from a perception that we are always under attack? We’re like cruise missiles; ready. fire. aim – something like that.
It is easier to cast stones into the cultural marketplace of ideas rather than show others the sheer delight of God. It’s easy to be critical, harder to persuade. Our rhetoric and our lives should exude the good life that Christ brings, and that in Him are pleasures forevermore. Our family life ought to show everyone that heterosexual marriage and the children it tends to bring is the rich life, not same sex relationships. It is very hard to slander a family culture that is filled with laughing children, the aroma of good food on the table, and family dance nights after dinner. It’s easy to lose the “Christianity” of a family that is chock full of petty rules, criticism and condemnation.
G.K. Chesterton said that, “It is easy to be solemn, it is so hard to be frivolous.” We take ourselves too seriously. We think our words and thoughts are too important. In short, we are still too proud. We’ve been shown truth by the grace of God, but the battle for our culture is not just saying the right answers, it’s how we go about persuading others through word and deed.
If you are Reformed let me ask you, what are we known for? What’s our predominant image? I think the scales might be tipped towards divisiveness and contention. There are still too many personality cults and petty rivalries among us. We have a problem with authority in reformed communities and we are quick to condemn.
There is a time to be critical. What I want to remind us though is that we shouldn’t be known for a spirit of criticism. A spirit of criticism is proud and it is demonic. Even the word “Satan” means accuser. He is the great accuser of the brethren, and this spirit should not be what defines us.
As Christians, God has filled our lives with wonder, not condemnation. He is poetry, not rants. God is playful and intriguing, as He is holy and frightening. God’s love for us outweighs His disgust with our sinful baggage. We alienate others too much, but God reconciles people to Himself. The Apostle Paul said that God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation,” not the ministry of offense. We “appeal” to mankind, that there really is a way to flourish such as they have no idea. Do our lives show this?
Let me conclude with a baptism party scene from Valenti Angelo’s book The Hill of Little Miracles. The Italian family is gathered around the table when an Irish policeman stops by
“The group shouted with joy when a huge platter of rice, cooked to a golden brown in a rich sauce of olive oil, mushrooms, tomatoes, chopped onions, and chicken livers, was brought in. Soon after that, a large round platter of fritto misto, a mixture of chicken, zucchini, celery, young artichokes, eggplant, all fried in egg batter, took the place of honor on the table. So Patrick (the policeman) stayed a little longer, just to praise Mamma Santo’s fritto misto. Incidentally he washed the fritto misto down with another glass of zinfandel. The Santo house was filled with friendliness, and everyone praised and enjoyed the good food. Papa Santo sang happily as he went down into the cellar. He returned with three bottles of wine. And Patrick stayed just a little longer…”
A persuasive Christian culture is one characterized by a winsome gladness. Let your rhetoric disarm. Let’s bless the socks off others through more attractive lives, not for having astute cultural critiques.
Reformed people obsess over the failings and faults of others. This has to change.