Is Rhetoric Christian?
Should Christians be studying rhetoric? After all, most of the books about rhetoric were written by idolatrous pagans, like Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian. Why would we study such men? Shouldn’t we just be reading our Bibles? Is the Bible not good enough for us?
This is a legitimate question, and deserves consideration. If we can’t give a biblical defense, then we shouldn’t do it, no matter how scholarly or noble it sounds. We live by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth, and we must submit to the authority of Scripture in everything. So, we should be asking whether we should study rhetoric or not. Should we follow the advice of pagans in our approach to discourse? Is rhetoric Christian or pagan?
First, we should note that not all rhetoric is Christian. In fact, much of the rhetoric of our day is very pagan. That includes much of the rhetoric of modern Christianity, which amounts to nothing more than relativistic drivel. The modern Christian should stop and listen to himself talk from time to time. Does he find himself saying things like, “who’s to say that we are right and they are wrong?” Does he chafe at the “absolutism” of Christianity? Does he assume neutrality when he deals with the world and seeks to persuade men of Christ? Then he has joined up with the pagans in his use of rhetoric.
Rhetoric, you see, is inescapable. All men use rhetoric. The question is not whether you should use rhetoric, but rather, how should we use rhetoric. Should it be Christian or should it be pagan? But we have no choice about whether or not we will use rhetoric. Imagine someone arguing that we shouldn’t use rhetoric. How would he explain it? How would he persuade us? Would he avoid using rhetoric in his arguments? All men use rhetoric. The rhetoric we use must be Christian. And in order for our rhetoric to be Christian, in order to speak like Christians, we must first think like Christians, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.
When did rhetoric begin? Did Aristotle or Socrates or the Sophists “invent” rhetoric? They discovered it, they observed it, they structured it, they organized it, but they did not invent it. Rhetoric has been around since the foundations of the world. Adam spoke artfully, even poetically, when God brought him Eve and he said, This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.
But Adam did not invent Rhetoric either. God created the world with rhetoric. We see the power of words in the story of Creation. God spoke, and it was done. He spoke the universe into existence. He spoke and the flowers appeared. He spoke and the mountains were fashioned. He spoke and birds flew, fish swam, and stars sang. But Creation is not the beginning of rhetoric.
Before God formed the earth, in eternity past, the Godhead took counsel together. Before time began, God decreed all that would happen, all that would be. Long before Creation, there was rhetoric.
Is rhetoric Christian? God used rhetoric, uses rhetoric, and demands that we his people use rhetoric. The gift of speech must not be taken lightly. God gave us speech, and promised to empower it. The preaching of the cross is the power of God to us that are saved. It pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. How shall they hear without a preacher? God manifests his word through preaching. And God sends us to persuade men.
For rhetoric to be Christian, Christians must reclaim it. It is theirs by divine right. Christians must study it, learn it, subdue it and have dominion over it, to the glory of God. When we learn to submit our words to the Lord, and when we seek his glory in everything, including our speech, then rhetoric can once again be truly Christian. Rhetoric must be to the glory of God.