Rhetoric in Christian Theology


Pattie Crider

WRT 305

Article Reviews

October 28, 2013


Perfomativity and Persuasion in the Hebrew Book of Psalms: A Rhetorical Analysis of Psalms 116 and 22

            This journal article focused on oral poetry as hymns of praise used to foster social and cultural cohesiveness within a community. Psalms are treated as a speaker enacting the role of a king or prayer leader in effort to persuade God to take action, in other words, an appeal to God for action through prose. Great historical figures were celebrated for arguing with God as the persuasion is determined by the hearer, not the speaker, and the Psalms were found to be effective as a poetic appeal.

The purpose of reciting Psalms was to praise God and to testify to the continued faithfulness in him. They were also a public declaration of giving thanks and fulfilling one’s vow of faith and as a testimony to the purity of one’s motives and attitude with God as the primary audience. Psalms were designed to persuade the speaker as well, and place them in the right frame of mind to call out to God in prose from anywhere repeating as to reaffirm oneself in faith. This was also a proclamation of trust in God, as God will attend to those who have been humiliated, deprived or casted down in society.

The journal places importance of continued praise to God through Psalms for future generations as God responds to the faithful. The praising clearly draws on the appeals to ethos, pathos and logos. Psalms fosters social and cultural cohesiveness within a community and God will enter into conversation with the lowliest of individuals, allowing the angriest or most traumatized of people to be capable of praise.


Religious Reasons for Campbell’s View of Emotional Appeals in Philosophy of Rhetoric

            This journal article focused on the use of emotional appeals in preaching. Saint Augustine used emotional appeals to cure disorder while John Locke believed they created disorder by moving a crowd to tears. George Campbell focused on emotional appeals in preaching and in scriptural interpretation. Campbell prepared future ministers to preach and defend the authority of revealed religion while addressing key assumptions about reason and passion. He believed religion is an appropriate situation to use emotional appeals as emotion is a central feature of religion.

Campbell stated the separation of emotional appeals from logical appeals was important because emotional appeals are considered weak, can warp judgment and are the equivalent of verbal force while appeals to logic are based on knowledge and found to be more effective. The purpose of a sermon and the expected audience should be used to determine if there is use of an emotional appeal. For example, to advocate certain doctrines, move a congregation to do what they know they should be doing, and to convert non-believers. Campbell advocates a warm, gentle persuasion, but supports the use of fear if necessary.

Zealous preaching in the grand style may cause a difference in opinion in the congregation and breed division, therefore, a sound mind and gentle delivery is ideal, rather than a frantic or disorganized delivery. Campbell stated arrogance of fanaticism should be avoided and preaching should encourage the promotion of unity. Preachers must be able to execute their own plans with a careful blend of emotional and logical appeals to universally reach their audience. The main interest should be maintaining order and managing uncertainty. Reason and passion are inseparable and must be used in the correct balance to achieve the desired emotions of one’s congregation.


Truthing it in Love”: Henry Ward Beecher’s Homiletic Theories of Truth, Beauty, Love and The Christian Faith

            This journal article focused on Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th century pastor in Brooklyn at the Plymouth Church. Beecher wrote from the style of contemporary political appeals of social values and the notion of American homiletic theology. He believes the tropes of traditional Christian evangelism are alien in modern day. Rather, influences and religious beliefs of the preacher must access an audience through contemporary experiences of the world and link it to an experience with a higher power. Beecher believed one must not argue the gospels but set the gospels in a lived experience so the truth will be acknowledged by the congregation.

Beecher’s new theory of preaching declared its goal to be a fundamental transformation of the listeners. A divinely inspired experience linked to logos and pathos referred to as the “Doctrine of Love”. This divine taste should result in changes to the listeners conduct because it should alter the character of its possessor as a cooperative project between the preacher and the convert. Emphasis is based on love-truth, a truth based pathos, against the traditional logos oriented knowledge of other preachers. A truthful appeal to the congregation, rather than preaching based on the learned knowledge of the pastor.

Beecher considers love, truth and knowledge and the nature of true Christians in his concept of preaching, relying heavily on emotional versions of truth to provide rhetorical theory to overcome the rationalist and doctrinal limitations of American religious discourse. Early Puritans believed reason and natural science served to bolster the understanding of religion and to help bring one to faith. Sermons were organized to appeal to the rational faculties and preachers used a plain style of speech. The audience was expected to listen carefully and analyze the spoken words. These appeals of the “heart” combined intellectual abilities and emotional senses of the congregation.  The use of fear to gain adherence was to be avoided. Rather, a preacher should strive to move an audience to experience and internalize the beauty of Christ’s life, live by his example and feel Christ in their heart, not just know the doctrines in their mind.

Beecher focused on the natural, sinful human condition and their needs and interests in order to move the congregation toward being better humans. His task was to arouse the audience, build their moral condition and continue building until he has completed them as a whole; a “reconstructed manhood” generating a noble idea of how people ought to live and ought to be. Beecher believed he must build up humanity to live up to its God-given potential and make religion attractive, like it was to that of the disciples. He desired to allow the audience to feel Christ’s love, to improve their character by helping them understand their lives, sympathizing with their plights, loving them in Christ, modeling their lives after Christ, and inspiring them to live their faith daily.

The “fire and brimstone” preaching was found to be a sad perversion of the function of imagination to Beecher and he was absolute that Christ must be within the preacher in order to build up the ability of the congregation to appreciate the meaning of Christ through the act of love-truthing. It is the illustration of God’s love and beauty through the preacher that is the fundamental basis of Christian thought and preaching, transforming Christians in the way that believers knew the world and had experienced the manifestation of God’s love. Beecher wanted his audience to have a heart so alive and able to sympathize, that they could relate to everything on the globe and have the power to enjoy this emotion. This sense allowed all to feel included in the love of Christ and in Christian ministry.

Preaching Christianity is not about propositions or sets of rules, but about understanding and expressing God’s love in action. It is based on hope, not fear and Beecher wanted to give all preachers the tools to inspire their listeners to believe in God so they could experience first-hand the beauty and the love-truth of God in the world and in the people around them. This, according to Beecher, is the possibility of rhetoric in theology.


Works Cited

Charney, Davida H. “Performativity and Persuasion in the Hebrew Book of Psalms: A Rhetorical Analysis of Psalms 116 and 22.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. June 2010:          247-268. Print.

Manolescu, Beth I. “Religious Reasons for Campbell’s View of Emotional Appeals in Philosophy   of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Apr. 2007: 159-180. Print.

Souders, Michael. “Truthing it in Love”: Henry Ward Beecher’s Homiletic Theories of Truth,        Beauty, Love, and the Christian Faith.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Sept.          2011: 316-339.        Print.

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