How to Argue like a Polite American

Joe Carter the editor of First Things has posted an article along with John Coleman as a guest at Relevant Magazine. This article I find rather intriguing and one which I see as an invitation to a closer look.


In the article Carter and Coleman make 5 statements about how Jesus argued. But when you look at the actual headlines themselves, they’re less about Jesus, and more about being polite, which is just good etiquette.
1. Start with Examples Your Audience Will Understand
2. Speak Your Audience’s Language
3. Use Witnesses
4. Know When to Speak …
5. … and Know When to Be Silent


I think articles like the one being referenced are misleading and dangerous in that they simplify a rather complex man who was anything but tame.


They take away from asking people to read more and allow them to assume these five steps will legitimate their responses if they follow them, rather than lead them to the gospels for verification purposes and really reading Jesus as Jesus. He was not a nice man. He certainly was wise, but he breaks all our social conventions of politeness and even calls the pharisees the equivalents of sons of bitches.


The authors are certainly well intentioned but when we slap a how to on it we’ve turned the gospels into technology and not let them remain stories. We turn Jesus into technique, and ignore living in and with the story that Jesus is telling.


1. Start with Examples Your Audience Will Understand
Point 1 is a no-brainer and of course it’s helpful. We should all use examples that help people understand what we’re talking about. But people still don’t understand Jesus parables. we’ve got a written account of his explanation of one, but we’re still debating about intent, meaning and possible interpretations. Because it’s important to use relevant examples, when speaking to others, but Jesus intent was not to be relevant but to cloud deeper more powerful truths in stories that would challenge his hearers.


Jesus used clear language, but his meaning was not at all clear. He was a powerful speaker, but  His meaning often escaped and challenged people, even when they didn’t fully comprehend. The disciples are a clear and present case in point, especially the way they’re presented in the Gospel of Mark.


2. Speak Your Audience’s Language
Point 2 sure. But, let’s not get carried away now. Jesus spoke the audience’s language, at times. He often spoke in riddles, to force people to think. He spoke the audience’s language in a way that challenged them and was not at all clear. He had many times where people left because of things He said. Jesus was not user friendly, and He didn’t come with a  manual either. He is what He is, take Him or leave Him, but don’t change Him to suit your agenda for temperate coffee shop talks


Bread of life, eat my body drink my blood, get born again, i am the resurrection and the life, no one knows the Father except the son, Destroy this temple and i’ll build it up in three days. These were not easy sayings, and Peter acknowledges it. To follow Jesus means at times being confused, wounded and lost, but having to trust in Him anyways.


3. Use Witnesses
Point 3 i going to go over some heads, as far as the actual article’s language is concerned, but sure. it stands. although the legal metaphor does more to stir the idea of argument than reduce it. Also, the whole idea of using witnesses to me sounds like, have a wingman, in case the argument goes down funky and you’re about to throw your latte at the guy across the table.


4. Know When to Speak …
Point 4 “He was clear and concise…” when? where? where is this clear, concise Jesus, who is user-friendly, speaks both Mac and PC, and votes eco-friendly conservative? The Jesus I’ve studied is complicated, powerful, wild and baffling. I’m often left speechless at this man who challenges everything I think I know about him in or two phrases, in a simple gesture. and as far as the simplicity of render unto Caesar, that’s a misreading- completely.


Jesus is saying, let him keep his filthy money, I don’t care for it, God’s claim supersedes Caesar’s. That interpretation coheres better with the radical nature of Jesus’ mission, and presents a challenge to the powers of Rome, not a pithy, “well, i’ve got nothing to say.”


I think the point is well taken not to try to speak all the time, or convert everyone, but the presentation of that point is poorly executed in several ways.


5. … and Know When to Be Silent
Point 5- I see the whole point, putting an end to evangelical douchery, but again the points could have been made without slapping Jesus on it. My general sentiment on this point is, what’s so great about the news if it doesn’t cause a heated argument from time to time or raise blood pressures with the intensity of passion. This friendly, polite, feel good boiled down Jesus and its gospel is something I want no part of. Of course I’m tired of evangelical douchebags running around spewing hatred, violence and ignorance in the name of Jesus, but this is not the answer.

This is just another way of saying be polite, but there’s no actual gospel in this article. This polite, and tame Jesus is not the Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and I’m not inclined to take the Jesus that Joe Carter presents seriously. Though, I do think we should be polite, I think it takes other forms as well.
Of course the article is helpful for everyday Christians on one level, but it totally ignores actual contextual evidence. It has less to do with arguing like Jesus and more to do with arguing and debating politely. Which is ok to teach God knows Evangelicals need to hear this, prime example Pat Robertson. But this article and its presentation of Jesus are misleading. This 5 step, easy to please, streamlined neo-conservative white suburban hipster Jesus is not my cup of tea.


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