Walk Humbly: Power and Presentation

All posts in this series refer to the conversation found here.

“My understanding is also that he would not be so literally offensive (in the sense of attacking, on the offence) when actually talking to a non-believer.”

Damon writes here about the attitude of the speaker, Voddie Baucham, in the video that he shared with me about the trustworthiness of the New Testament (though the video claims to be about why the Bible as a whole is trustworthy, it only really discusses the New Testament in depth).  I previously made the point in our conversation that Baucham has a triumphalist tone when he’s discussing common concerns he encounters from non-Christians when he’s trying to proselytize and how excited he is to catch them in logical fallacies (I think the fallacies he calls them on are rather absurd and deal in false equivocation, but that’s beside the point), and that tone rubs me the wrong way.

To put it another way, I find it dismaying when a Christian says that they like to be in the position of power in relation to a non-Christian (for a fuller exploration of why this kind of eagerness for power is problematic, check out this article by Richard Beck).  That is bald-faced anti-Christ talk right there, and it makes me angry to hear that kind of bullying nonsense promoted by anyone who’s supposed to be a disciple of Jesus.

Damon points out that the attitude Baucham takes in his lecture stems from understanding his audience.  When you speak to your in-group, you are free to use all the jargon and communicative shorthand you like because you can assume your audience’s familiarity with such things.  That’s a reasonable thing to do, and a good rhetorical strategy.  My complaint is that Baucham’s not just dealing in jargon, but that he’s saying that he’s going to treat people not like him differently.  He’s going to argue with them; he’s going to try to catch them in logical pitfalls; he’s going to win.

Say it with me now:

That is bad evangelism.

It’s bad evangelism because, like I said last time, you need to care about the person you’re speaking to.  They need to be viewed as a fellow human being fully deserving of your respect and attention.  You can’t do that if you cultivate an attitude that you’ll be polite to their face, but behind their back you’ll joke with your friends about how you can catch them off guard and gloat about the way you can steer your conversations with them.  That kind of attitude is all about presenting a false face to a target while saving your real face for the in-crowd.  It’s the attitude of a used car salesman.  Nobody likes or trusts used car salesmen.

In fact, now that I think on the used car salesman analogy, it helps throw into better relief that answer I’ve been contemplating to Damon’s question about the purpose of Baucham’s addressing straw men in his lecture (“Why would one waste their time defending against imagined opponents?”).  The obvious answer is because knocking down straw men makes a clever speaker look smarter without putting in any real effort.  The more insidious answer is that Baucham is not a used car salesman intent on fast talking non-Christians into buying a sleek, slightly used Jesus, but the motivational speaker for a group of used car salesmen who is trying to sell them on his methods for selling all the sleek, slightly used Jesuses to non-Christians.  He’s lying to both his in-group and his out-group.

Perhaps that’s going too far in my assessment of Baucham’s intentions; I don’t know anything about the man beyond what I’ve observed in one video, so these suspicions may be unwarranted.  However, I think it betrays a certain naivete on Damon’s part that he wouldn’t question the intentions of someone who makes a living by telling people how they can better sell their product to others.

If I’ve gathered anything from reading that article by Beck that I linked above, it’s that Christians should not be actively seeking power, especially in relation to non-Christians.  If we happen to have power then yes, we need to use it responsibly, but we shouldn’t be looking to impose a hierarchy of “I’m right; you’re wrong” on people who disagree with us (especially when we’re trying to persuade them to see the merits of our position).  We shouldn’t be talking amongst ourselves as though outsiders are less than us, all the while stroking our consciences with fervent reassurances that we’d never be that offensive to their faces, that regardless of what heathens they are we’ll treat them better than that.  That kind of behavior breeds assholes.

And no one wants to listen to an asshole, no matter how polite they may be to your face.

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