Friday, February 13, 2009

How to Argue Like Jesus - Book Review

If you speak to do well - but also to do right - Joe Carter and John Coleman's How to Argue Like Jesus is a worthy addition to your library. I say this not only as an occasional instructor of public speaking classes but also as an agnostic who, nonetheless, is impressed with the message contained in this book.

The authors lay out an impressive goal: to employ an Aristotelian framework that unpacks the rhetorical strategies of Jesus (even as Jesus offers a means to illuminate Aristotle's notions of ethos, pathos, and logos). Given my interest in logos, I am particularly drawn to the reminder that, "While many modern anti-thesists argue for the irrationality of religion, Jesus is an exemplar of reason, rationality, and logic" (p. 44). The authors then expand their gaze to explore Jesus' use of imagery, his strategies for message dissemination, and the ways in which his rhetorical principles may be applied to contemporary speaking challenges.

This is, after all, a practical book. The authors expertly shift from historical context to rhetorical analysis to personal application, demonstrating how even complex concepts and strategies may be employed in familial, academic, and corporate environments. Notable contributions include a rich description of argumentative strategies and a section exploring the five C's of effective parables that will prove useful to those who would motivate people in both businesses and places of worship (pp. 94-95) -- though I would add that the bright line between grows ever more dim.

Perhaps the most fascinating component of this book appears (at first) to be its least rhetorical: a discussion of the cellular process or organization growth and maintenance. The authors state, "So Christ commanded his disciples not only to stick together but to disperse" (p. 119). From this point, the authors offer an insightful discussion of the role of communication in a world of increasingly detached human relationships.

While written as a textbook - with a list of key terms, questions for consideration, and even footnotes - How to Argue Like Jesus is designed for a "lay audience." It is not for scholars or would-be scholars; it is for those who simply wish to be more effective speakers. The authors wisely write in a manner that is not pedantic but is rather practical, direct, and engaging.

I would further add that How to Argue Like Jesus may be termed a sort of ministry for folks like me who have not thought carefully about the various lessons, warnings, and opportunities offered by Christ but, in studying his words from a technical perspective, gain some sense of the deeper purpose of the work. As such, I can highly recommend this book.

Amazon link: How to Argue Like Jesus

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