The Biblical Ideals of Rhetoric and the Beautiful Gospel
Our ideals for communication should flow out of our Biblical Theology of the Scripture. They should reflect the whole gospel of the whole Bible, for the whole person, for the whole world. Therefore, we take the wondrous gift of communication with grave sobriety, matched only by our great joy. We do not often achieve our ideals, but is it not possible to have substantial success? Sadly, we must admit, we too often communicate in such a way that others might conclude that our God is not worthy of their admiration or praise. It is, consequently, all the more imperative that we make every effort to rightly represent him as he truly is. To do so, our communication, our rhetoric, should accurately exemplify the character of Christ: that is, he loves perfectly, and communicates his love perfectly. As God, he loves the truth perfectly, he loves his creation perfectly, and he loves his people perfectly. As God, he communicates perfectly his character and his purposes. He communicates his holiness to unholy creatures perfectly.
Nevertheless, unlike God, in our sinful state, we can only humbly strive to represent him in our character and communication, praying that he will give us sufficiency and strength of character beyond our ability. One important aspect of our representing him in our love for him, his truth, and his creation, is that our rhetoric in all aspects should be beautiful. When our rhetoric lacks beauty, it is of course ugly. Though this is an “unscientific” assertion, lacking completely objective definition, it can be fair to say we all know when we are being unkind, unloving, uncivil, ungracious, unforgiving, impatient, insulting, discourteous, harsh, cruel, close-minded, arrogant, pompous, cynical, and ugly. Consider even the most severe judgment texts in the Bible: they are never demeaning, degrading, insulting, impatient, or arrogant, etc. In fact, they are written in the most beautifully exalting prose and poetry known to humankind, in language that expresses all of the beautiful perfections of God’s character. Importantly, the Scriptures are the only perfect place to find a model for rhetoric, since God has given us there the most extraordinary, and perfect, balance of love and holiness, of mercy and judgment. Even where the prophets, and Christ, most strongly excoriate there is never any degrading or demeaning of the audience/recipients since God always communicates from his holy, loving, and glorious nature. His communication is therefore always perfectly loving and perfectly just. We, on the other hand, recognize that in ourselves we are unjust and unloving, and our communication is so often corrupted by our sinful hearts. Therefore, we must all the more give careful attention to our rhetoric as a matter of obedience to Christ. In this way, we pray to be affirming, complimenting, encouraging, humble, kind, gracious, patient, courteous, civil, forgiving, gentle, open-minded, long-suffering, and loving, and thereby approximate a modest representation of his most beautiful character.
It is also true that perceptions vary from one culture and generation to another. For example, in what might be regarded as harsh at one time might be perceived as witty and persuasive at another time. What might be insulting to one generation might be received as a powerful polemic to another. This does not mean that our biblical ideals are relative, but that we must attempt to understand our own generation to discover what best exemplifies biblical standards of rhetoric so that our communication presents Christ and his gospel with as much love and beauty as is humanly possible (by the help of his Spirit). Knowing how often we fail (when we do not depend on his help nor follow his example), should incline us to even greater humility, patience, kindness, gentleness, and love as we fervently pray to better communicate the beauty of his holiness. In our desire to follow Christ our King, whose teaching and rhetoric was unparalleled in every aspect, we must work especially hard to best communicate in our rhetoric so as to proclaim, to demonstrate, and to teach the glories of his truth with the immeasurable
and unmatched beauty of his love.
In so doing, we present him as he truly is, as the one most worthy of all love and praise.