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Five ways to argue like Jesus

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.

You can read the whole post here. Crossway Books have also provided a brief overview on their blog:

  1. 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.
  2. Speak your audience’s language: When you speak to an audience, to the extent possible, you must speak their language.
  3. Use witness: Consider the use of witnesses essential to the construction of an effective message based on narrative and ethos. Wherever possible, elicit testimonies.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

The First Last Great Christmas Movie

If there is one subject or theme that filmmakers repeatedly fumble, it is Christmas. For every good Christmas film there is a Bad Santa, Elf, or The Santa Clause. Yet, for a generation that prefers cynicism over sentimentality and values objects and people only for what they can contribute to pleasure, Christmas will always be misunderstood. The message of contemporary Christmas film, Love Actually, characterizes this predicament tellingly: ‘love actually is all around’, is its catchcry. Love, invisible and irresistible, can take any form. It is has no anchor, no zipcode in moral reality. But if love is everything, then it is nothing. When the objective realm has been supplanted by subjectivity, it is no wonder that moral principles evaporate and the heart of Christmas lost.

Joe Carter, over at First Things, gives a good argument for why Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life rightly upends the moral vision of our time and deserves its place as the best Christmas film. It’s a Wonderful Life is the translation of an older myth into a post-World War 2 world. That original story is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the tale of a miser who is given a shot at redemption.  It’s a Wonderful Life features not Scrooge but George Bailey, played by James Stewart, who is contemplating death after a financial crisis and the prospect of impending disgrace.  It takes a vision of a world in which he was never born to make him realise that life is indeed worth living and rediscover the spirit of Christmas. Carter, in comparing the work of Frank Capra to Ayn Rand, says:its_a_wonderful_life

What makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in film is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires—and suffers immensely for his efforts.

Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. In the end, George is saved from ruin but the rest of life remains essentially the same. By December 26 he’ll wake to find that he’s still a frustrated artist scraping out a meager living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. In fact, all that he has gained is recognition of the value of faith, friends, and community and that this is worth more than anything else he might achieve. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: it is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness.

This theme makes Wonderful Life one of the most counter-cultural films in the history of cinema. Almost every movie about the individual in society—from Easy Rider to Happy Feet—is based on the premise that self-actualization is the primary purpose of existence. To a society that accepts radical individualism as the norm, a film about the individual subordinating his desires for the good of others sounds anti-American, if not downright communistic. Surely, the only reason the film has become a Christmas classic is because so few people grasp this core message.

You can watch the whole movie online at Google Video.