We sometimes have a view of Jesus as a safe and gentle teacher but forget that the pages of Scripture reveal him as person of enormous controversy and debate. And many times it was Jesus himself who sought out that controversy – repudiating religious customs, upturning tables in temple markets, and castigating religious leaders for their moralism and hard-heartedness. For any Christian who thinks that we should always avoid confrontation or argument, Jesus’ life is a powerful reminder of the importance of discourse that embodies both truth and grace, salt and light.
Joe Carter and John Coleman have written a recent post at Relevant Magazine about how we can follow Jesus’ example and debate in a disarming and civil manner. If we want our communication to have the most impact, Carter and Coleman suggest that we should learn to be able to conduct a conversation that doesn’t raise voices or blood pressure. The “rules of rhetoric” they offer for effective communication have been distilled from their excellent book; How to Argue Like Jesus. Joe Carter is the editor of the First Things magazine and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. John Coleman is a former national public speaking champion pursuing a concurrent MBA/MPA at Harvard University.
- Start with examples your audience will understand: Always start with an example or concept your audience knows, understands, or finds interesting, and connect it to your core message.
- Speak your audience’s language: When you speak to an audience, to the extent possible, you must speak their language.
- Use witness: Consider the use of witnesses essential to the construction of an effective message based on narrative and ethos. Wherever possible, elicit testimonies.
- Know when to speak: There are a lot of important topics in the world, and it is not necessary that you have something to say about all of them—particularly if speaking on the topic would hurt your credibility or detract from your primary goal.
- And know when to be silent: Silence is one of the most powerful forms of communication. It shows that you are in control and gives the person or people a moment to think for themselves and consider how they will respond to your message