Using A Basic Premise
There are some basic premises that are part of Christian thought and/or biblical thinking, from which one can argue a point. Because we recognize these premises within the Christian community, we are able to call them up in various situations.
The classical rhetorical theorist called these stated or unstated premises – “topoi” – “places” or “topics” which a speaker could and would call up in all kinds of situations, which is pushing his argument.
For instance, in American culture, we typically and almost universally believe in human rights, and in the Christian (and generally even in the non-Christian American world) we also believe that these rights come from God. We believe in
- the pursuit of happiness
- private property
- sanctity of life
- the value of an individual
- equal justice under the law
Knowing those generally held beliefs, a speaker can call one or more up — as a stated or unstated premise of an argument.
Now there is a difference between stating the actual premise in an argument and leaning on a premise. Let me contrast the differences . . . .
Here is the situation . . . .
A public official or extremely popular and/or rich individual has committed a crime – a drunk driving accident. However, they “get off” or experience a minimal penalty from what would be typically associated with that criminal behavior.
You now say . . . .
“We believe in equal justice under the law and this is not equal. This is wrong! If I had done this, or you had done this, we would still be in jail.”
or . . . .
You do NOT state the premise, but still lean on the premise, in essence, relying on the audience to call up the premise (knowingly or unknowingly) because you well know that Americans believe in “equal justice under the law” (or stated in the negative — money, position, and/or popularity should not buy you justice).
So you say . . . .
“How come if you or I did that we would still be in jail, probably still waiting to even get a hearing!”
Something smells. They were caught and merely got a slap on the hand.
In these two examples, you never mentioned the premise. You are expecting an American audience to fill in the premise which has been left unstated and you are expecting the audience to draw the conclusion that this is . . . . “wrong” ( because there was not equal justice under the law).
If you were to be asked, “Why is it wrong?” The answer would be the statement of the unstated premise . . . .
“Because in America lady justice wears a blindfold. Everyone ought to be treated, under the law, the same way no matter who you are!
“Because everyone should be treated the same under the law, no matter who you are or how much money you have!”
But that premise was NOT stated, but it was well assumed by an American audience!
Likewise, there are Christian premises, and consciously knowing that they exist and/or specifically identifying them in your thinking can be useful when preaching.
For instance, there is an unstated premise behind a statement such as this.
“If you’re going to live immorally and take the chance of having a baby, then you need to marry that man or women and provide a family for that baby.”
The assumed, but the unstated Christian premise which stands behind such a statement and which may be unidentified in the listener’s thinking (maybe even in your thinking) could be called — “personal responsibility” or “personal accountability.”
Personal responsibility is the idea that when we choose to take actions of which we are free and volitional, that we should also accept the moral and legal consequences of such actions.
Now, Christian premises are not necessarily limited to Christian circles. The premise of “personal responsibility” may be found in secular arguments as well . . . .
“If you’re going to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, then pay your own medical bills when you get injured.”
The premise of “personal responsibility” is assumed when making such an argument, even when made to a secular audience (clearly not to all secular audiences). Nevertheless, “personal responsibility / personal accountability” is generally a strongly held premise within most Christian circles.
Another Premise: Just Change My . . . . And everything will be okay.
Another Christian Premise: You will not and cannot solve your problems by a change of environment, circumstances, geography, or the people around us.
- Note: Interestingly, that premise is NOT held within the community of those who hold to a liberal sociology.
- Note: In the quote below, Andy Stanley will also use the premise of “time” – (time does not heal all wounds!). We will address the premise of “time” in another blog on the rhetorical use of biblical premises.
Andy Stanley’s Message, “Dealing With Anger” — Andy Stanley both bolsters the premise and argues from that premise. . . .
“All I need is a different environment and some time and I’ll be okay
- If I can just get out of that marriage
- If I can get out of that job
- If I can just get a new roommate
- If I can just get a new neighborhood
If I can just change my environment and you give me a little bit of time then I’ll be okay regardless of how bad I’ve been hurt
But, you know what that’s like . . . .
That’s like being in an automobile accident, and being injured and when the paramedics get there . . . . saying,
“Look – if you’ll just get me away from the accident site and give me some time, I’ll be okay.”
and of course they would say to you . . .
“No you won’t . . . . because you take your injuries and your hurt with you wherever you go.”
And see – ladies and gentlemen, many many Christians . . . . not meaning to . . . . have left some accident sites of their home . . . . they have left some situations where they were very very damaged . . . . and they have thought . . . . now that I’m away from her . . . . now that I’m away from him . . . . now that I’m away from that environment . . . . just give me some time and I’ll be okay.
And over time they forget the source of their hurt . . . . but they carry it with them . . . . and eventually it begins to spill out on the people around them.”
As soon as Andy begins saying “All I need is a different environment,” you are probably already saying in your mind — “Nope, that is not the answer. The environment is not the problem or the cause, and therefore not the solution.”
Knowing and understand some of the “premises” which we believe, and which we believe are taught in the Scriptures, can prove helpful in . . . .
. . . . some of the points we make in a message or lesson.
Applying This Premise To A Different Passage
As we stated in previous blogs, once we understand how a rhetorical technique works, we can then grab that technique and use it different ways.
This Christian premise, “If I can just change my location things will change” – is a biblical premise and we could easily support this premise throughout the pages of Scripture.* We can use that premise; we can either state it or lean on it when preaching a completely different message, a message that has nothing to do with anger.
We may be able to add meat or content to our message by calling this premise into play.
While Andy Stanley’s message was about “Dealing with Anger,” the premise is also true when it comes to . . . .
- commitment / devotion
- comfort / satisfaction
- singleness / marriage
- giving / greed
- etc. . . . . . . . .
“You will not resolve ________ by changing your environment.** We just bring “us” along to the new situation, location, relationship, church, ministry, etc. . . . . . . .
Let’s give it a try . . . off the cuff . . . Here goes. . . .
If you lack peace when you are single, being married will not resolve your lack of peace. You will just bring it with you!
Stopping gossiping is not changed by moving to a different neighborhood or a different church, not even by changing the audience of friends you talk to. You may find some who refuse to listen to it, but you will move on to others who will listen or agree.
If you are lazy at work, you will be lazy in your marriage. If you are lazy in your marriage, you will bring that to your child-rearing.
As we identify various rhetorical techniques, we will continue to include some of these Christian premises, and illustrate their use and usefulness.***
* We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. That’s our nature. Our problem is us.
The Millennial Kingdom will be a change of environment, and the devil will be bound, and at the end, men will still rebel against God.
Change my heart of God!
** [Disclaimer – there are some changes of people around us that can and do affect temptation and/or help us become more Christ-like by being influenced by their example.]
*** Sometimes as I listen to various sermons I think — “What he is saying is true, but you will agree only if you also believe ______. . . . If the listeners do not hold to the unstated premise they may well disagree with the speaker at this point, whether they know why or not.”
It may not be that I disagree with the unstated premise, but I am not sure that the audience or the speaker grasps that it is the “unstated-ness” of a premise which is driving the argument and causing it to succeed or fail.
At times a premise is left unstated because it is unidentified even in the speaker’s mind, even though the speaker is actually leaning upon it. In using premises, knowingly or unknowing both the speaker and/or the audience are agreeing or disagreeing with a premise. At times an audience will disagree with the speaker even if they cannot identify “why.” However, it is due to a disagreement about the unstated premise.