Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Faithful Writer redux

Haydn over at The Giraffe Pen has written a summary and offered some reflections about the writer's conference on Saturday that I mentioned back here. His footnote about whether Christians ought ever to be deliberately 'aggressive' and 'annoying' (as was suggested during one panel time) has generated an interesting conversation.

UPDATE: I didn't get a chance to offer my own opinion on this matter as I was in a rush when I posted this last night. While I am all for being provocative and subversive, I do not think that these straightforwardly equate with being aggressive or annoying. Paul says Let your speech always be gracious, seasonsed with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4.6). It is the very graciousness of our speech that is most tasty. This doesn't necessarily mean being 'polite', but we are not gospel shock-jocks, out to provoke any reaction we can. To think we are assumes that apathy is the greatest problem our hearers face. However, in my experience, apathy can itself often be a protective mechanism to avoid repeating the pain of previous ungracious speech.

The discussion has also been raging over on MPJ's blog (and here).


michael jensen said...

So, what's your take Byron?

byron said...

I think anyone who was there will have some idea of my take. I was the one who raised it in question time: is all attention good attention? I don't think I differ significantly from your comments in the discussion over on Haydn's post.

byron said...

I also didn't have time to write more (was rushing out to hear Hurtado speak - he was great. I'll post more tomorrow).

duncan said...

Do you think that there's a danger of thinking the job of a preacher / writer / blogger etc is primarily to convince people that Christianity is 'true' (and thus open slather on rhetorical devices, of using the force of personality) rather than out of the security of love proclaiming the gospel as as something accomplished which invites and commands people to enter into it? Or is that a simplistic distinction?

I've been fascinated lately by reading through PT Forsyth's 'Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind'. Here's some juicy bits that might be relevant:

"The authority of the pulpit is thus a personal authority. Yet it is not the authority of the preacher's person, or even his office... The personal authority of the pulpit is the authority of the divine person who is its burthen." (30)

"The church does not live by its preachers, but by its Word." (41)

"But the cure for pulpit dullness is not brilliancy, as in literature. It is reality... The preacher is not there to astonish people with the unheard of; he is there to revive in them what they have long heard." (62)

and finally (he's so quotable!)

"But his charge is to educate those people not in a correct theology, old or new, but in a mighty Gospel. He is a minister of the Gospel, not a professor of scientific theology." (74)


byron said...

Duncan - yes, although it's a cliché, to separate truth from love (or to assume that to speak the 'truth' is love (without further consideration)) is to fail to be an evangelist.

I like the quotes about preaching. To what extent do you think they are applicable to an evangelist?

duncan said...

Yes i was unsure about the connection. Forsyth is writing to preachers not evangelists, although he does make some interesting points about the difference. He sees a preacher's job as relating to the church, not the world, to equip it for its task of evangelism.

I would think that the principles are substantially the same for evangelists though - the Gospel they proclaim is mighty not in its rhetorics or personality or 'edginess' but in the power of Jesus and his cross.

I guess the question is what does it look like to give a cruciform evangelistic talk (or blog post or article), and how does this relate to using 'gifts' such as rhetoric in service to this end? I think that it would mean not speaking so as to coerce or impress by the force of your words... recognising that a hearer's primary struggle is with God himself and not with me.
What do you think?

p.s. i realise i've strayed from talking about writing to talking about speaking... sorry! There might be some cross-over though.

Gordon Cheng said...

I think anyone who was there will have some idea of my take. I was the one who raised it in question time: is all attention good attention?

Interesting. Your position wasn't clear to me at all, however, until I read this comment. This is not a complaint, and may easily be a function of my own obtuseness. But it may also highlight the possibility that a less blunt style of communication may not end up saying as much as the communicant believes it to be saying.

I think you have a task reconciling your apparent application of Colossians 4:6 with several fairly 'cutting' (almost literally) comments made by Paul in other places.

I did enjoy making the personal acquaintance of a fellow Rusian though, even if you are not Asian. You don't have any Swedish blood, do you?

byron said...

a less blunt style of communication may not end up saying as much as the communicant believes it to be saying.
I strongly suspect that this is true of all communication styles. This is one reason why we need to keep talking. Communication is difficult. Talk of 'clarity' can itself sometimes hide misunderstandings (or semi-understandings) by giving the impession that if something is said 'clearly' then it will be entirely understood by anyone (or by anyone who is listening carefully and charitably). Not so, and I believe this is why it is important to remember that the ambiguity of language and the possibility of miscommunication is a function of being creatures, not simply of being fallen. Sin is not the only cause of miscommunication.

I think you have a task reconciling your apparent application of Colossians 4:6 with several fairly 'cutting' (almost literally) comments made by Paul in other places.
Criticism, even strong criticism, can be gracious. And as I said, being gracious is not always the same as being polite. And whatever Paul did, the injuction directly applied to his readers is that grace is to be the primary modus operandi of their conversation.

A question I've been pondering a little over this whole discussion is - what does it mean to not be quarrelsome? (e.g. 1 Tim 3.3) I assume it doesn't mean never disagreeing with anyone, but is more to do with whether you love argument for its own sake. How is it to be diagnosed?

Gordon Cheng said...

Yes, well part of my confusion over your comments then is surely explained by my agreeing fundamentally with you (as with MPJ) at the level of principle. No-one with the possible exception of the nutters over at the sydneyanglicanheretics site is going to argue that Christians ought to be ungracious or quarrelsome.

I think that we have to find a way for Christian leaders to say something along the lines of 'I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves' and not get stomped on for being ungracious. We must believe that Paul followed his own principles in this matter of gracious speech when he was writing Scripture (even if not necessarily when he was off-camera having a barney with Barney).

I'm pleased that over on the giraffepen site, the blog author has graciously apologized and edited some of his comments on this subject, along with the acknowledgement that he may have been slightly hasty in passing judgement in the matter that started the discussion. One thing I sometimes wonder is whether the complementary 'sin' to rudeness is the hastiness of others to judge a particular behaviour as being 'rude', instead of weighing up more charitable options.

On your question about quarrelsomeness, I suggest that it be diagnosed carefully and cautiously, as indeed with any sin that we suspect others to be guilty of, but not we ourselves.

byron said...

Gordon - with respect, I am not yet convinced we do agree at the level of principle. I may have misunderstood you, or misread your tone, but on the panel on Saturday, you seemed to say that you were proud of being thought "aggressive and annoying", and gave me the impression that it was an achievement of merit to be kicked off the Ship of Fools website "for trolling and crusading" since it meant you were 'writing for impact'.

I may have misunderstood, and so later in the day I asked a few other people who had heard the panel. Most had received the same impression. My apologies if this is not what you intended. If so, please correct my mistake.

I agree about diagnosing sin. I had myself in mind as I asked about quarrelsomeness - how can I tell if I am quarrelsome?

I also agree that Christian leaders ought to be able to criticise when necessary without being stomped on for being ungraciousness - and find that many seem frequently able to do so. As I said before, criticism, even strong criticism, can be gracious.

However, neither the one who speaks politely and avoids any criticism nor the one who accurately criticises a genuine wrong are thereby guaranteed graciousness of speech. How can we maximise the graciousness of our communication?

Gordon Cheng said...

The tone of my comments was intended to be lighthearted, and some at least of the hearers managed to pick this up. See Tony Payne's comments in regard to this on Giraffepen's blog

On the other hand, for various reasons I do consider it a badge of honour to be disapproved of by (at least some) of the people at Ship of Fools, even though my reference to this was also intended somewhat lightheartedly. The wry smile together with the exaggerated language, in the context of a panel discussion on 'writing for impact', would I thought have indicated this.

In fact, I don't accept that I was ever trolling or crusading on Ship of Fools—note that this is me speaking carefully now, and without exaggeration. I realize that my comments here will be being read by hostile eyes as well as friendly ones, and because the context is different my language is (in this place) far more cautious. The inconsistencies in their treatment of the people within the SoF forums is, to my mind, somewhat accounted for by their aversion to evangelical theology.

byron smith said...

Thanks for clarifying. I noticed the lighthearted tone and the context, yet I'm afraid I still felt discouraged by the panel. I'll have to keep reflecting on why that was so.

I enjoyed your piece on Paris Hilton in the Tele, BTW. I thought it was very gracious.

Gordon Cheng said...

Thanks Byron,

And I apologize if the tone of that last post came across badly. I have too much work to do and so I'm managing to get irritated at lots of people—it's nothing personal!

Grace and peace.

Anonymous said...

Is that an apology?
Or an excuse?
Or a justification?

Sounds like:

I apologise Mr Police Officer,
I am in a hurry to work,
so I keep speeding.
Its nothing personal.

And the police officer says?