Ethical Rhetoric And Divine Power: Reflections On Matthew 10:17–20 (And Parallels) -- By: Kenneth R. Chase

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 22:4 (NA 2012)
Article: Ethical Rhetoric And Divine Power: Reflections On Matthew 10:17–20 (And Parallels)
Author: Kenneth R. Chase

Ethical Rhetoric And Divine Power: Reflections On Matthew 10:17–20 (And Parallels)

Kenneth R. Chase

Wheaton College

Appearing four times in the Synoptics, Jesus’ warning to his disciples that they will be coerced into a witness involves a command not to worry about what to say and a promise of divine assistance. This is direct instruction about rhetorical practice, yet few scholars have made explicit the connection between Jesus’ logion and the broader range of Christian strategic communication. By considering the communication assumptions embedded in Jesus’ command and promise, I uncover how time and power can serve as coordinates for an ethic of Christian rhetoric. These directly affect how a disciple is to conceptualize normatively the strategic preparation and presentation of the gospel.

Key Words: rhetoric, agency, Mark 13:9–11, Luke 12:11–12, Luke 21:12–15, 1 Cor 2:1–5, homiletics, power, time, strategy, Augustine, witness


Any attempt to articulate a Christ-based rhetoric runs headlong into a fundamental question: What is the role of divine power in human rhetorical practice? If our persuasive messages (preaching, teaching, evangelism) ought to be fully dependent on divine direction, then the focus of message preparation ought to shift from a strong sense of human agency to a weaker sense of that agency. What does this shift mean for the speaker’s rhetorical training, preparation, and performance? Does divine power require speakers to minimize or relinquish the intentional strategizing of rhetorical power? How does a Christian communicator faithfully enact rhetorical effort while maintaining dependency on divine inspiration?

An answer to these questions will take the shape of a normative theory of Christian rhetorical practice. I accept as a starting point that the Christian advocate ought to submit reverentially to divine power. Therefore, these reflections on the role of intentional strategizing in preaching or teaching will point toward an ethic for persuasive discourse, namely, a description of how one is to practice rhetoric under the rule of Christ.

This is a well-worn path of inquiry and I do not presume that my answer adds novel ethical insight to the centuries of reflection on these matters. Rather, I will bring Matt 10:17–20 and its Synoptic parallels—Mark 13:9–11,

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