Internal & External Causes of Action
The Topoi of “Within & Without”
If there is any concept which past and present homiletical teachers know little to nothing about because of their lack of a classical rhetorical background (see our first post), it is the use of “topoi.”
Aristotle is typically identified with the concept of “topoi.” He would have his students argue a for a position (pro or con) on an assigned subject. The students were taught to call up “topoi” by which to make their argument. Simply, “topoi” are ways to generate content in a speech or for an argument.
Topoi help you mentally generate ideas. They help generate ways to develop an idea, an application, a principle, a truth, a point, an illustration, an introduction, a conclusion, or an argument.
Let me identify another “topoi” — it is a “topoi/topos” or “= place” to . . . .
- help build content,
- develop an idea,
- expand a concept,
- broaden an application,
- push an argument,
- add meat to the bone
- flesh out a biblical principle
- broaden the understanding of a biblical truth
- generate content beyond the main points**
. . . . This topos is called — “Within & Without.”
In The Aristotelian World: In the life and times of Aristotle, this would have been used in a court of law. In defending the actions of a client, the argument made would be that his actions were caused by external forces. He had little to no choice when he did that.
The Nature Of Actions: The “topoi” of “within & without” involves calling up two generally understood and accepted elements of action or activity – free or coerced.
The Accepted Premise: The nature of an action is typically seen as either an internal decision or the result of an external force. Sometimes this is characterized as “from the heart” versus “duty,” “obligation,” or “legalistic.”
The Formula: The basic formula is — “It can be internal or external, from within or from without.”
- “Sometimes, you will be moved by an inner compulsion. At other times it is an external motivation which is producing this.”
- “If this is internally driven, it will look like this ______. If it is externally motivated, you will notice that _____.
- “The danger is that we do ____ because we have felt the need to or been forced to act like that.”
- “God sees the heart, not the behavior, what is going on inside, not what we do.”
- “However, where is that coming from? Inside or is it external?”
- “This can come from within or without.”
- “The Lord wants us to do it from the heart, not out of duty.”
- “When it is not from the heart, it is legalism.”
- “Sometimes it is an internal decision. Sometimes it is external dynamics at play.”
- “It may have begun externally, but then it became a series of internal decisions.”
- “It may have begun internally, but then external forces begin snowballing and . . . “
- “This doesn’t happen by chance, by accident. There must be a decision that accomplishes this. It comes to pass by ntention.”
- It’s not going to change in your life without you deciding that it needs to change.”
Now, take that “topos” and use it . . . .
- to add or develop content
- to clarify a concept, principle, or truth
- to illustrate an idea, concept, or principle
- to introduce your passage or topic
- to frame a conclusion
- to explain what is happening
- to create a point
- to develop applications
- to explain how it works in real life
- to introduce the message
Now, the Scriptures also recognize and address both the internal and external. There are whole messages which are built on biblical passages, passages which directly teach that there is both “the internal” and “the external” . . . .
- the heart and the action — Hate in your heart (internal) is compared to murder (external) / lust (internal) is compared to adultery (external).
- the world, the flesh, and the devil — Two are external, and one is internal.
- out of the heart proceeds — There are external actions which come out of the internal.
- “and he thought within himself (internal), as he was experiencing the pig pen (external) — The external began him thinking internally.
Clearly, the Scriptures recognizes that there is an internal and external motivation for man’s actions. However, using this “topos” is NOT for identifying such passages or to validate the existence of these motivations for action, from the Scriptures. We are NOT attempting to identify this particular “topos” in order to find and/or identify these kinds of passages in the Scriptures – passages which indeed directly teach the internal and external motivations for action.
Rather, we are looking at the use of this “topos” (“within and without” / “internal and external”) – to generate or develop content when we are preparing a message from a passage which never calls up the internal or external. Whether or not a passage directly identifies the presence of “the internal and external,” this topos can be used. It can be used because of the universal nature of these two categories of actions, which is likewise validated by the Scriptures, specifically.
Let’s illustrate that by going to a passage that does not refer to “the internal-external.” That is, let’s chose and use this topos for developing a message from a passage which does not bring up either one of these two motivations for action.
• If we were preaching on Matthew 28:18-20 (“As you go into all the world, preach the Gospel”), a passage which does not mention the internal or external, you can generate content with this topos . . . .
When it comes to sharing the Gospel, there will be some who are motivated to follow this admonition externally — that is — because Jesus “commanded” it. It is what we ought to do because before the Lord left this world, he exhorted His disciples to bear witness to the truth of sins forgiven.
However, there should be and ought to be an internal motivation for following this exhortation — because Jesus set His hand of grace on our lives first . . . .
• If we were preaching on Psalm 23 . . . .
The reason there is a shepherd is because some sheep get pulled away from the flock and the shepherd has to keep an eye on them, lest they wander too far away. The shepherd has to restore them back to the fold because they move from green tuff of grass to green tuff of grass. They are not willfully seeking to get separated, but it happens because they are sheep. . . .
• If we were preaching on a Romans 3:23 kind of passage. . . .
Not all sinners are of the same cut of cloth. Some who know not Christ as their Saviour are just ignorant — they have just not heard the Gospel. We could point to examples of those who heard and responded upon hearing.
There are others who are feeling external pressures — they know that their friends, their job, their family, their lifestyle choices are going to collide with a decision to follow Jesus.
Yet others are hard-hearted, or rebellious. They know and understand the Gospel, or if they heard a clear presentation of the Gospel, they have no interest. Inside, there is nothing that resonates when they hear about the forgiveness of sin through Jesus.
The seed is the same, but the soils are different. Don’t paint all who are lost with one brush. When it comes to what is happening, there are different internal and external dynamics at play. . . .
• If we were preaching on Gehazi / or Achan / or Lot, it would be a simple to call up this topos of internal and external.
There were some external forces which were creating a situation of tension. Both Abram and Lot’s households were growing exponentially.
However, no one put a gun to the head of Lot to move closer and closer towards Sodom. Those moves were his own decisions. If he wanted to stay closer, he could have and would have come up with a way to work that out — and it is obvious that he should have when you look at the end result. Nevertheless, Lot kept moving closer and closer to — and thereby, further and further away from.
However, Lot’s decisions were Lot’s decisions — Unlike that first decision, he made all the subsequent decisions internally. There was nothing pushing him closer and closer to Sodom. But from the beginning Lot was moving on the inside — attracted by pleasant and the material.
Sometimes in life, we don’t have much of a choice but to separate. It just cannot be worked out with this-or-that boss, with this-or-that roommate, with this-or-that relationship. The external situation is pushing us, and it is not resolvable — and it is good that the events which have happened have pushed us another direction.
Lot may have started out feeling externally pushed to separate. But it was internal decisions after that which kept moving him with his family.
Sometimes in life, it’s time to separate, to leave home and pursue our education, move where our career is taking us, start a family — and we — by the flow of circumstances, time, and events — move us away from home.
But there are times when we could have worked it out, but we don’t want to. It’s our decision, and our decisions keep moving us further and further away from where we should have stayed.
How telling and ironic that it would take external pressure at the end to move Lot and his family out of Sodom — yet also – not back towards Abram — who had believed that there had to be at least four other believers in Sodom, along with Lot’s family, which would then prevent that city’s destruction.