The Christian Church has had some great rhetoricians over the centuries. The ones that come to my mind are Augustine, C. S. Lewis, Ambrose, and Charles Spurgeon.
(Personally, I would like to rank these four as the best, and probably in that order too. But I am unqualified to make that call; at any rate, they are among the best.)
Rhetoric should be understood in classical terms. It’s not just about delivering pretty speeches or writing pretty essays. It was the capstone of the education system of the Roman world for a good long while, taught to a student who had learned grammar and dialectic (logic). In other words, a good rhetorician has a good command of language and knows how to put words together (grammar); he knows how to argue for a position (dialectic); and he knows how to weave words and logic together in a pleasing way (rhetoric).
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion; a person who delivers a pretty speech or pens some lovely writing, but fails to persuade anyone, has failed as a rhetorician.
Lewis’ rhetoric is superb. He has a masterful command of the English language, an equal ability to reason, and an astounding way of putting it all together. The result is that he often says in a paragraph, one a child can understand, what an average scholar may take many pages to say–if not an entire (and perhaps tedious) book. The same scholar would immediately become mired in a long (and perhaps interminable) academic debate with other scholars over the matter. But for most readers of Lewis the academic debate is rarely necessary. We understand him right off; we understand the case he is making, and we have a working understanding of the position he is articulating without the benefit of much hard study.
My point is not that there’s anything wrong with hard study, academic debate, and long books. My point is that a good rhetorician can frequently communicate with most of the advantages of scholarship, but with the added advantage of being able to make a big idea make sense to the rest of us non-experts.
This is another reason Lewis is worth reading. If you haven’t read him yet, try reading Mere Christianity and see for yourself. You shouldn’t read only Lewis. But for heaven’s sake, don’t neglect to read Lewis!
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
Dr. Mark J. Boone is a teacher and researcher in philosophy, especially the history of philosophy, primarily the ancient and medieval eras, writing his dissertation on Saint Augustine. Dr. Boone is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Forman Christian College. Mark is an occasional book reviewer for the journal Augustinian Studies and has written articles dealing with Plato, William James, theology and the arts, and religious epistemology. In some of his precious little spare time Mark makes animated cartoons based on famous speeches and dialogues in the history of philosophy, available on YouTube and Vimeo under the username TeacherofPhilosophy.