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(As part of the course on Business Law at The Masters College, I include a discussion on how to make an effective and persuasive argument. The following are some notes on the emotional content of a persuasive speech.  Learning how be a more effective communicator is useful for all sort of activities — including Christian ministry. By including appropriate emotional content, you are seeking to make your proposition clearer and more accurate. For example, a sermon on the majesty of God which induces an emotion of levity as opposed to reverence would misrepresent the text. Or, a sermon on joy which does not make an emotional space for joy would misrepresent the topic.

One cannot read the Bible without noting that the book of Lamentations seeks to produce sorrow and then hope through sorrow — it is not a disinterested theological tract on suffering. The story of Ehud and Eglon (Judges 3:15-30) is written to produce a sarcastic smirk about idolatry followed by welling triumph.

In counseling, the counselee will typically come overwhelmed by emotions. While the goal is not merely the transfer of emotions to some new state, biblical counseling must take into consider the emotional content of the counsel. To ignore the emotional state of the counselee would be deny the explicit command of Scripture , “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Such emotionally appropriate information must entail more than tears and smiles, it most also infuse one’s speech.

As part of their training, I have the students read the book How to Argue Like Jesus, by Joe Carter and John Coleman. I happily recommend the book to anyone seeking a good introductory text on persuasive speech. The notes below are meant as a supplement to the material contained in the book.)

Pathos: Emotional content and emotional connection are necessary elements to be persuasive in communication. Before going further, note that persuasion does not mean to deceive.  In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul writes, “we persuade men”. In in 5:20 he implores others to be reconciled to God. 

A logical talk devoid of passion will not persuade. An emotional speech devoid of truth and logic will swindle: you will persuade for the short term, but when the trick is found out, you will be hated.

Elements of pathos:

Imagery: We are largely moved by sight: if we see a starving baby we weep. If we merely hear about a starving baby, we may feel a twinge, but little more. A fine writer will cause you to see the circumstance by means of words.

Jesus uses extremely graphic language to make his point. Here is an exercise: take the text of the Sermon on the Mount and mark every single instance in which Jesus paints a word picture. Note how Jesus does not just say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, God is sovereign.” Rather, he points you to animals and plants – which likely would have been present when he was speaking – and uses that picture to demonstrate his point.

Shared emotional ties: If you share some content, some value, some story, some “artifact” with the audience, use that shared element to connect to the audience. Now, it is perfectly possibly to manipulate someone by means of such a trick. Perhaps the most famous or infamous instance of this is waiving the bloody shirt:

bloody shirt,  in U.S. history, the post-Civil War political strategy of appealing to voters by recalling the passions and hardships of the recent war. This technique of “waving the bloody shirt” was most often employed by Radical Republicans in their efforts to focus public attention on Reconstruction issues still facing the country. Used in the presidential elections of 1868, 1872, and 1876, the strategy was particularly effective in the North in attracting veterans’ votes.[1]

Thus, stories about George Washington – or stories about “your neighbors” being foreclosed upon; stories about growing up in a poor neighborhood (before I became a millionaire politician) and thus can “feel your pain”[2] or understand your circumstance – all can be very effective to tie you to the audience. They feel they can trust you, because you are similar to them.

Expressing emotion: When persuading, it can be very useful to express appropriate emotion. By expressing emotion you show yourself to be human, to be like the audience. You also cue them up on how to understand the statement. Movies do this when there is a sad scene and the camera cuts to someone crying: since we tend to imitate the emotions we see (we catch the emotion), showing emotion makes it easier for audience to share and then to express the same emotion.

Conversely, not showing emotion, or showing the wrong emotion, can be devastating for one’s standing with an audience.  George H.W. Bush famously looked down at his watch during a debate and gave the impression that he didn’t care (emotionally) about what was happening (he may have just wanted to know the time, but it was the impression that he created which mattered)  http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2008/01/17/a-damaging-impatience

Four years earlier, Michael Dukakis was asked a question about the death penalty and his own wife being the victim. His response made him sound like some sort of automaton (I certainly do not attribute that lack of love to the governor): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxKFJ3UAbco

Creating emotional content by rhetorical structure: Something as simple as repetition, when rightly done, can create emotional content.  Here is an example, taken almost at random, from Thomas Brooks:[3]

Look upon death as a rest, a full rest.

A believer’s dying day is his resting day . . .

  from sin,

  from sorrow,

  from afflictions,

  from temptations,

  from desertions,

  from dissensions,

  from vexations,

  from oppositions,

  from persecutions.


This world was never made to be the saints’ rest.

Arise and depart, for this is not your resting place,

because it is polluted! (Micah 2:10)


Death brings the saints . . .

  to a full rest,

  to a pleasant rest,

  to a matchless rest,

  to an eternal rest!

To see many more such examples (this was a matter of which Brooks has particular skill) look for the “choice excerpts” from each of the books:




et cetera.

Here is a strategy for making an argument: I heard a variation on this technique explained by a senior lawyer when I was just a clerk, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them.”

State your proposition: Do not worry, because God is sovereign.

Elaborate, demonstrate, prove.

Restate your proposition: If you can do this in a pithy and clear way, even better.

In the first few sentence, Brooks raises the proposition:

First, There is a stoical silence. The stoics of old thought it altogether below a man that hath reason or understanding either to rejoice in any good, or to mourn for any evil; but this stoical silence is such a sinful insensibleness as is very provoking to a holy God, Isa. 26:10, 11. God will make the most insensible sinner sensible either of his hand here, or of his wrath in hell[4].

Having raised the proposition, Brooks next tells a story which demonstrates his point that a Stoical silence is actually wicked:

It is a heathenish and a horrid sin to be without natural affections, Rom. 1:31. And of this sin Quintus Fabius Maximus seems to be foully guilty, who, when he heard that his mother and wife, whom he dearly loved, were slain by the fall of an house, and that his younger son, a brave, hopeful young man, died at the same time in Umbria, he never changed his countenance, but went on with the affairs of the commonwealth as if no such calamity had befallen him. This carriage of his spoke out more stupidity than patience, Job 36:13.

And so Harpalus was not at all appalled when he saw two of his sons laid ready dressed in a charger, when Astyages had bid him to supper. This was a sottish insensibleness. Certainly if the loss of a child in the house be no more to thee than the loss of a chick in the yard, thy heart is base and sordid, and thou mayest well expect some sore awakening judgment.

Brooks interrupts the examples to stop make a comment upon the situation. By doing so, Brooks is showing you how to respond. Note the graphic language used express his outrage.

This age is full of such monsters, who think it below the greatness and magnanimity of their spirits to be moved, affected, or afflicted with any afflictions that befall them. I know none so ripe and ready for hell as these.

Having made his comment, provides yet another example (this time citing to Aristotle and Seneca, who would be understood as great human authorities – though certainly not as great as Scripture):

Aristotle speaks of fishes, that though they have spears thrust into their sides, yet they awake not. God thrusts many a sharp spear through many a sinner’s heart, and yet he feels nothing, he complains of nothing. These men’s souls will bleed to death. Seneca, Epist. x., reports of Senecio Cornelius, who minded his body more than his soul, and his money more than heaven; when he had all the day long waited on his dying friend, and his friend was dead, he returns to his house, sups merrily, comforts himself quickly, goes to bed cheerfully. His sorrows were ended, and the time of his mourning expired before his deceased friend was interred.

He makes another valuation, thus showing one should respond and then restates the original proposition: the silence commended in Scripture is not the silence of the Stoics:

Such stupidity is a curse that many a man lies under. But this stoical silence, which is but a sinful sullenness, is not the silence here meant.

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 295.


[3] Thomas Brooks was a literary genius. If he had not been a Puritan, he almost certainly would be required reading in any literature department. He was Spurgeon’s favorite writer. As you read Brooks, you will see where Spurgeon learned his style of speaking and writing. In addition to be an extraordinary writer, Brooks was a profound and practical pastor. The quote is from a book of his called The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod. The book concerns how a Christian may properly respond to trials brought by God. In the first stage of his argument, he begins by explaining the possible meanings of the concept of silence in the face of trials. The section quoted is the first kind of “silence” which could be meant.

[4] Note the word play: Brooks works off of both the sound and the meaning of the words:

                God will make

                                The most insensible sinner sensible [note the “s” sounds]

                                                either of his hand here,

or of his wrath in hell.