Recovering The Art of Persuasion

“Of all things that human beings do,” Mortimer Adler once observed, “conversing with one another is the most characteristically human.” Unfortunately, in our day, we no longer have many opportunities for meaningful conversations. Virtual conversations abound—we watch talking heads on television or listen to people debate the issues of the day via talk radio or the internet—but how often do any of us really get the chance to discuss the truly important things in life? Too often, when we do have the opportunity for actual face-to-face interaction, we steer away from politics and religion, since we know those conversations often produce more heat than light. And as a result, small talk rules the day.

When media professionals end up having important conversations for us, they typically do so in brief segments, frequently interrupted by advertisements. Advocates of various positions are chosen to make segments more compelling, and the more fireworks the better! This is why we often see guests talking or shouting over each other, and why it’s actually quite rare to encounter genuine listening. The important thing isn’t for parties on either side to better understand one other or to come to any kind of resolution, but simply to make sure they get all their talking points in.

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been mentored and catechized by these “conversation surrogates.” So when differences of opinion emerge among friends and relatives, it seems natural for us to raise our voices, ridicule the other side, offer caricatures, and throw bombs. We’ve not only lost the art of persuasion, but because this has essentially become the new normal, truly meaningful conversations with people who don’t share our core convictions have in many respects become a thing of the past.

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Shane Rosenthal | “Recovering the Art of Persuasion” | June 15, 2023


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Posted by Shane Rosenthal | Monday, July 3, 2023 | Categorized in Apologetics, Christian Life, HeidelQuotes. Shane Rosenthal. Bookmark the permalink.

About Shane Rosenthal

Shane Rosenthal is the founder and host of The Humble Skeptic podcast. He was one of the creators of the White Horse Inn, which he also hosted from 2019–2021, and he has written articles for various sites and publications, including Modern Reformation, TableTalk, Core Christianity, and others. Shane received an MA in Historical Theology from Westminster Seminary California, and he lives with his family in the greater St. Louis area. Read more about The Humble Skeptic podcast: shanerose.substack.com

4 comments

  1. Hmmm…despite what the author of this essay says about Paul I don’t see him responding with those kinds of genteel mannerisms to the Corinthians 1 Cor 5:11 or to the Galatians Gal 1:18, Gal. 5:12. It all depends on the situation.

    When you encounter someone who is very opinionated and inflexible about things he doesn’t even understand, but can only regurgitate what he’s heard from media sources (I have relatives like that) and will push back against anything one says to him as though he gets it all correct and you don’t know what you’re talking about (or “that’s just your opinion”), it’s pretty tough having any kind of meaningful conversation. In those situations I’ve found that the best thing to do is just walk away.

    • George,

      That unreasonable people are beyond persuading only tells us that unreasonable people are unreasonable. That says nothing about the value of persuasion.

      Too many Christians go to quickly too political or governmental coercion or use of authority. We need to relearn the art of making good arguments.

      Before Christendom that is all we had.

  2. I also think that Paul’s comments in Col. 4:5-6 might be relevant here, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” There were times in which Paul was in fact quite stern with folks “within the church” who should have known better. After all, he was an apostle and he was holding them to the standard that they had already adopted. But when it comes to “outsiders,” I believe we should be extra careful not to be judgmental (both in words and attitude) because we first need to get agreement as to what the standards are.

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