Saturday, February 09, 2008

Aristotle on Evangelism

I'm starting to think that my super-power is bringing together ideas that no one has connected before. Usually, if no one has ever brought together two ideas, there's probably a good reason. But at least part of the time I might have an original, and useful, combination. (With a power like this, maybe I could join the Mystery Men. What would my name be?)

So, Aristotle makes a keen observation about persuasion in his Posterior Analytics. He uses the term "demonstration" the way we might talk about an argument. "Principles" refers to the premises (I think) and these are just the basic starting points of your argument.

"Anyone who is going to have understanding through demonstration must not
only be familiar with the principles and better convinced of them than of what
is being proved, but also there must be no other thing more convincing to him or more familiar among the opposites of the principles . . ."
Here Aristotle is simply telling us that when we want to demonstrate something (like the gospel) to someone, we won't be able to persuade them to accept the conclusion (that they need to give themselves to Christ), unless they agree with the claims we used to build up to that conclusion. What are these building-block claims (for the gospel)? (1) That human beings were created by God for a relationship with Him; (2) that apart from that relationship, they cannot experience true life and happiness; (3) that the only means to restoring this relationship is through faith in Christ and his redemptive work.

Again, there's nothing revolutionary here. But by considering these ideas in a fresh way, we can refresh and sharpen our perspective on evangelism. So what are the implications for us? First, when talking to someone, you might ask them whether they agree with these basic claims. If they don't, then there isn't much hope (at this moment) of leading them to Christ. They simply aren't ready. Whether you hold a Reformed or Arminian view, the principle is the same. Either the Holy Spirit needs to do some plow work, or that person needs time to come to see their need.

Second, we should look at each of these basic claims as conclusions that need to be argued for themselves. We should be ready to explain and defend these claims with Scripture, reason, scientific evidence, etc. After all, the Holy Spirit seldom works ex nihilo with a non-Christian. The Spirit takes our words (especially The Word) and arguments and uses them to persuade.
Third, when we share the gospel, we should try to start from ideas that non-Christians are likely to accept. Here are a few possibilities:

(1) That the world is ultimately unjust and needs to be made right
(2) That no one lives up to even their own standards of morality
(3) That good and evil are real and not illusions
(4) That history is moving toward a conclusion and that our lives have purpose
(5) That human beings are more than just meat-machines
(Those are just off the top of my head. Feel free to add more in the comments. )

So, to sum up, we shouldn't be banging our head into the proverbial wall when a friend, family member or coworker just won't accept the gospel. Until the Spirit (often through you) leads them to the truth of the basic premises of the gospel, they will never accept the conclusion. So spend less time repeating the conclusion to them, and more time persuading them of the premises.


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