Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. (goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most intimidating aspects of being a Christian for many people is talking about their faith and practicing evangelism. One of the joys of attending seminary came in learning the meaning of the many “churchy” words that I had heard all my life.[2] Learning new words helps express ideas that may previously have gone unexpressed. Rhetoric is even more helpful by making it possible to use words, even common words, more persuasively.

Seasoned Speech

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler organizes his presentation and case studies around the liturgical calendar and worship because he sees rhetoric necessary for the ordinary practice of Christian witness. He writes:

“My use of Paul’s metaphor of seasoned speech should not be taken to mean that I think rhetoric’s scope ought to be limited to matters of presentation … Practicing rhetoric is not simply about flavoring the truth with a dash of eloquence; it involves discovery, invention, analysis, interpretation, construction, recollection, arrangement, and presentation of information, knowledge, and wisdom.” (19)

Worship and the liturgical calendar assist in focusing on the seasons of witness which we find ourselves in. It is hard, for example, not to think of resurrection in the spring as trees gain their foliage and flowers are blooming.

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on. The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis

Although I have read a number of Lewis’ books, I never thought of him as focused on rhetoric even though he is widely thought of as deeply philosophical. Beitler’s observation therefore surprises me writing:

“I contend that a primary way that Lewis establish ethos is by demonstrating what Aristotle referred to as eunoia, goodwill towards one’s audience. Lewis’ rhetoric of goodwill—which involves addressing audiences on their own terms, adopting a forthright yet humble stance, and cultivating communities of goodwill, helps him achieve one of his chief aims as a writer: ‘preparing the way’ for the coming of the Lord into people’s lives.” (30-31)

Thus, Beitler sees Lewis embodying a spirit of advent. He does this by keeping ‘his own Christian persona off-stage”, by practicing “self-abnegation”, by peppering his comments about Christianity with “expressions of the delight”, and, in general, by adopting a humble spirit in writing (30-34). During advent, like Mary, we long for the coming Christ and, like John the Baptist, we engage in self-examination and repentance (49).

 Dorothy Sayers

Sayers is known as a Christian playwright with an interest in the energy of Christmas and a passion for teaching Christian dogma.

In response to the widely held view that the creeds are irrelevant, Sayers blamed the clergy who failed to share it with their congregations, explain it poorly, and neglect to translate them into the vernacular (60-61). In our day the idea that having a personal relationship with Jesus is a substitute for the creeds and biblical literacy seems ridiculous because it is hard to have a relationship with someone that you know little or nothing about. Sayers work to marry calling and creed through her dramatic presentations (64).

Beitler highlights Sayer’s focus on energy relating her work to that of Quintilian. She writes:

 “Enargeia involves depicting an event so vividly that the one who speaks and, thus, one’s audience feel as they would if they were really there, experiencing the moment. Such vivid depiction is clearly connected to the emotional appeals of pathos, but it also is related to ethos.” (66)

Quintilian wrote about the need for attorneys to seize the attention of the judge (67). In my own homiletics class, one of the most effective speakers was a prosecuting attorney. In the Christian narrative, no story grabs one’s attention quite like the birthing stories of the baby Jesus at Christmas.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In part one of this review, I shared Beitler’s assessment of the rhetorical conflict between Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler. Beitler’s writes:

“Finkenwalde [Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary] is a fitting ecclesiastical manifestation of the message of Epiphany: there the gospel was preached not with the backing of worldly power [in this case the Third Reich] but in the humiliation and hiddenness of the crucified Christ—‘A stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor 1:23)”. (97)

In this context, the incognito of Christ arises because in his humiliation, the godhead is veiled only to be revealed in the resurrection. This is not the absence of Christ’s revelation or the unwillingness to share the gospel, but the willingness to let people come to God on their own terms, not through a prostration to obvious power.

Desmond Tutu

Beitler sees Desmond Tutu’s prophetic witness during Apartheid in South Africa as a call for sinners to repent, the theme of Lent Preaching during Lent in 1988,

Tutu says:

“Your cause is unjust. You are defending what is fundamentally indefensible because it is evil. It is evil without question. It is immoral. It is immoral without question. It is unchristian.” (129).

The congregation got up and started dancing. They danced out of the cathedral past the police and military forces waiting to arrest them. Can you image such a sight?

Rhetorically, Tutu preached a radical form of interdependence captured in the African word, ubuntu. I am who I am and my identity is wrapped up in relationship with you, with the community, and with God (139; 205). Apartheid hurts me and by tolerating it you also are hurt and diminished.

Marilynne Robinson

Beitler describes Marilynne Robinson’s writing as inviting “readers to dwell with characters for whom the Christian faith matters deeply.” (162). Citing Jennifer Holberg who describes Robinson’s writing as a “resurrection of the ordinary”, Beitler sees Robinson exemplifying the Easter season (163) where particular times and particular places have special beauty and theological significance. He describes her work as a liturgy of praise for creation (175).

Assessment

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. A Pentecostal awakening where diverse voices speak the gospel together (212).

What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.

[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

[2] If you don’t believe me, what does it mean to ‘raise my ebenezer?”Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12 ESV)

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

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RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

While writing my recent book, Simple Faith, I discovered that an important distinctive of the Christian faith is that the Gospel is one of the best stories ever told. People do not come to faith through logical arguments alone; they come to faith when the heart and mind are both persuaded. Because rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the evangelist must learn to employ rhetoric in service of the Gospel in order to succeed.

Introduction

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler writes:

“The arc of the book’s argument is to move from a discussion of individual postures of Christian witness (ethos as an appeal to an individual’s character) to a discussion of communal ones (ethos as an appealing gathering place) … In brief, I want to encourage church members to reflect on various aspects of the rhetorical tradition, highlight important and practical ways of establishing ethos when witnessing, and bring rhetorical facets of Christian worship into relief.”(21-22)

In some sense, Beitler has turned deconstructionism on its head and set in service of the Gospel by providing five case studies of how Christian leaders have employed rhetoric in speaking Gospel to power! 

Postmodern Rhetoric

The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Desimond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson. In choosing two white authors, a black bishop, and two women authors, Beitler has deflated the criticism of Christianity as being a white man’s religion that oppresses women and people of color that has alternatively arisen from cultural Marxists, feminists, and Islamists.

Beitler never gives us a cultural context for his own application of Christian rhetoric, but he outlines a model in his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s interface with the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler. Beitler writes:

“Corrupting and parodying religious concepts, Hilter’s rhetorical strategy involved pitting the Rome-like capital of Munich [not Berlin!] against a diabolical portrayal of the Jew…Within this rhetorical geography, Hitler positioned himself at Munich’s center, presenting his ‘inner voice’ as the sole authority of the Aryan nation and demanding ‘the total identification between leader [der Fuhrer] and people [der Volk].”(99)

By contrast, Bonhoeffer spoke out about German Christians standing with Jewish converts (Messianic Jews), who were being excluded by the Nazis, he organized an underground seminary to teach traditional Christianity to church leaders, and wrote about the need for Christian community and Christian ethics. If our identity is in Christ, then we must identify as a community also with the people that Christ loves. (98-105)

Background and Organization

James E . Beitler III teaches writing at Wheaton College in Illinois. His doctorate is from the University of Michigan (2009) while his bachelors (2002) and masters (2004) are both from Wheaton College. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Preparing the Way: C.S. Lewis and the Goodwill of Advent
  2. Professing the Creeds: Dorothy L. Sayers and the Energy of Christmastide
  3. Preaching the Word: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Epiphanic Identification
  4. Calling for Repentence: Desmund Tutu and Lenten Constitutive Rhetorics
  5. Hosting the Guest: Marilynne Robinson and the Ethos of Eastertide
  6. Speaking in Tongues: The Church and the Heroglossia of Pentecost (vii)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on.

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.


[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

Also See:

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 2

Honor_and_shame_02192015Jerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Neyrey organizes his discussion of honor like an anthropologist into 7 categories:

  1. Definition of honor,
  2. Sources of honor,
  3. Conflict and honor,
  4. Display and recognition of honor,
  5. Collective honor, and
  6. Gender and honor (14-15).

Under sources of honor, for example, Neyrey notes that honor can be both ascribed as in being born into a well-known family or achieved as in earning special merit (15).

Shame, by contrast, is the opposite of honor—loss of respect, regard, worth, and value in the eyes of others.  A shameless person does not care what people think of them (30).  Because honor and shame are displayed publicly, our individualistic culture downplays both honor and shame.

Honor must, of course, be defended.  Neyrey notes 4 steps into challenges to honor and response—reposte:

  1. Claim to honor,
  2. Challenge to that claim,
  3. Riposte to the challenge, and
  4. Public verdict by onlookers (44).

Neyrey (51) sees many examples of challenge and riposte in Matthew.  For example in Matthew 9: 1-8 we see:

Claim to honor:  “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” [Divinity claim] (v 2)

Challenge:         “This man is blaspheming.” (v 3)

Riposte:             “Which is easier…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (vv 5-6)

Verdict:              “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid…” (v 8)

Much of Neyrey’s book focuses on the details of Matthew’s encomium of Jesus. For example, Matthew portrays Jesus as just in performing his duties to God, his parents, and the dead (109).  Jesus is faithful to God (his heavenly patron) even until death (Matt 26:39; 110).  He defended the rights of parents over traditions, like “korban” (Matt 15:5).  While Neyrey skips over the question of just for the dead, clearly Jesus’ teaching about eternal life would also honor the dead.

A key hypothesis that Neyrey advances is to read the Sermon on the Mount as reforming the honor code of his society.  Neyrey writes:

“Jesus did not overthrow the honor code as such, but rather redefined what constitutes honor in his eyes and how his disciples should play the game…For example, he forbade his disciples to play the typical village honor game by forswearing honor claims (i.e. boasting), challenges (i.e. physical and sexual aggressiveness), and ripostes (i.e. seeking satisfaction and revenge). Moreover, he attempted to redefine whose acknowledge (i.e. grant of honor) truly counts…Jesus , then, changed the way the honor game was played and redefined the source of honor, name, acknowledgment by God, not by neighbor.” (164).

Most importantly in this respect, Neyrey suggests that the Greek words “makarios” and “ouai” be translated respectively as esteemed or honorable (not blessed or happy) and as shame on or disrespectable (165-166). In this way, Jesus is redefining the honor code that applies to his disciples.

Neyrey also sees Jesus redefining shame in the last “makario”.  This verse in Matthew reads:  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute [drive out] you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5:11 ESV)  Neyrey sees this verse addressing the problem of a son being disinherited for becoming Jesus’ disciple rather than being generally persecuted (169).  In other words, what society took as dishonorable, Jesus redefined as honorable[1].

Following Neyrey, the Sermon on the Mount can be read as Jesus offering more than your typical a pep talk to his disciples who needed reassurance.  He was commissioning them to a higher calling.  This calling was something worth dying for or, more importantly, something to live for.

Clearly, this reading is as important today as it was then.

Footnotes

[1]Neyrey reads Matthew as implying that:  “Discipleship often meant cross-generational conflict within families.” (227)  Today we see this dynamic when a Muslim or Jewish child converts to Christianity or when a child from a “good family” suddenly “gets religion” and drops out of college to pursue social ministry.

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 2

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

Jeremey Neyrey Honor and ShameJerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A frequent comment in the church today is the need to stop using all those “churchy” words. While the definition of “churchy” may be up for grabs, the focus of these comments is usually on words that have in the postmodern context lost their meaning. Verses, such as—“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev 4:11 ESV)—almost certainly be classified as knee-deep in churchy words, because our buddy culture admits no one worthy of praise, glory or honor or of titles such as Lord and God.

Introduction

In his book, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome H. Neyrey states his objective plainly:  “This book focuses on the praise of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in narrative form by the evangelist Matthew.” (1)  Neyrey sees gospel as a type of ancient writing form called an encomium which is a structured biography designed to offer praise (2). The rules for writing such encomium were the subject of rhetorical handbooks, starting with Aristotle.  Neyrey (4) writes:

“Nothing in the exercise of praise was left to chance, for students were instructed concerning the form of speech of praise, as well as the specific content of each element in that form.  They learned to organize their praise according to the conventional manner of presenting a person’s life from birth to death and in light of specific rules for developing praise at each state of life.”

Honor (τιμη) is the “worth or value of persons both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the village or neighborhood”“concern for ‘honor’ as reputation and ‘good name’ was endemic to the ancient world…” (5)

An important, but questionable, assumption in some biblical interpretation is that honor and shame play a same role in our own culture as in biblical culture. Cultural anthropologist sometimes describe American culture today as a guilt-innocence culture where guilt is only triggered when a law has been transgressed and shame, if experienced at all, is trigger when a law is broken and publically exposed[1]. The shame and guilt so important in biblical culture has lost its meaning. Complaints about the meaninglessness of “churchy” words underscore an important cultural shift that renders aspects of the biblical witness out of reach[2].

Organization

Neyrey writes in 10 chapters divided into 3 parts:

Part One:  Matthew: In Other Words

  1. Honor and Shame in Cultural Perspective
  2. Reading Matthew in Cultural Perspective

Part Two:  Matthew and the Rhetoric of Praise

  1. The Rhetoric of Praise and Blame
  2. An Encomium for Jesus: Origins, Birth, Nurture, and Training
  3. An Encomium for Jesus: Accomplishments and Deeds
  4. An Encomium for Jesus: Deeds of the Body and Deeds of Fortune
  5. An Encomium for Jesus: A Noble Death

Part Three:  The Sermon on the Mount in Cultural Perspective

  1. Matthew 5:3-12—Honoring the Dishonored
  2. Matthew 5:21-28—Calling Off the Honor Game
  3. Matthew 6:1-18—Vacating the Playing Field (v).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

Neyrey is a tough read. Not only is it hard to follow the arguments, the arguments challenge important preconceptions that we hold in reading scripture. What happens if the “Jesus in our head” is not the Jesus of the bible?  What if our kids hear something different than what we do during the Sunday morning service? These are important questions which directly affect our interpretation of scripture and experience of church.  In Part 2 (look for the post on Monday, March 2), I will explore Neyrey’s arguments in more detail.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.knowledgeworkx.com/blogs/knowledgeworkx/item/141-three-colors-of-worldview.

[2] For example, read:  2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Ba).

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

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