The Topoi of Silence
I was listening to William Lee Barefield III this past week. Someone recommended him to me and indicated that he was a great communicator. So I went online and listened to him preach. – Link.
- He is a graduate of Cairn University and Boyce College (the college division of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky).
- He interned under Mark Dever, of Capitol Hill Baptist Church
- He has been nominated for numerous GMA Dove Awards and won in 2017
- His first book: The Good Life – Moody Press
- His second book: Rise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story
- He was speaking at the 5Alive Conference of Passion City.
- His message is from the book of Ephesians.
- His professional name: Trip Lee
- Yes, Trip Lee, a well-known Christian Rapper
Whether as a speaker or performer he is your “cup of preferred tea” or not, he is an interesting speaker worth listening to and whose theology of salvation is clearly stated. A speaker can always learn from speakers who are effective, and he is effective. I should say that a great deal of his effectiveness comes from his background and notoriety.
While listening to him, I highlighted a rhetorical technique which he illustrated in his message. Interestingly, in other places within the message, he reflected a weakness which repeatedly shows up. At different portions of his sermon, there is a way he could have been even more effective – I will try to demonstrate how.
First of all, Lee Highlighted, Magnified or Amplified a truth by an interesting Rhetorical Technique. Whether he realized it or not, he did that by using the “Topos of Silence.” As I have stated before, one does not need to know what they are doing or understand Classical Rhetorical Theory to do what they do. Good-great speakers will pick up such concepts instinctively or perceptively. They think that way naturally or grab that methodology as they see it used “whenever/wherever/however.”
The topos of silence calls-up or uses the fact that in a particular situation there is little to no information about this-or-that, and that absence of information speaks or makes a point.
Argument From Silence:
Now, before I proceed I need to separate “an argument from silence” (which is a so-called a fallacious argument*) from this rhetorical technique. In argumentation theory, the argument from silence states that the absence of information does not mean there is not any. Just because we cannot show “evidence” that does not mean that there is none, or that its lack proves anything.
This argument is best understood in a court of law. If a defendant refuses to take the stand and testify on his or her behalf, refuses to explain what happened, that does not mean that his silence proves his guilt. Or just because we cannot produce the weapon which killed an individual, or that the weapon does not have any fingerprints on it, such does not mean that the defendant did or did not use it against another individual.
The judge will probably instruct the jury that they should not assume any guilt by the silence of the defendant. Now let me assure you, that even with this instruction, silence on the part of a witness still has the ability to affect the thinking of the jury. In fact, that is even why the instruction must be given! And it is that reality that illustrates and supports the “topos of silence.”
The rhetorical technique is one of highlighting what is absent, the silence. That is, there is information that we do not have and that absence speaks. What we are NOT talking about is filling in the information which is absent. Rather, it involves pushing or driving a truth, a point, or a principle which we are making by calling-up the fact that it is absent. With Scripture, “silence” indeed matters since we believe that what is included and what is NOT included is purposeful. There is the utmost thought which stands behind the words of Scripture. The Lord is the Creator of language, logic, thought, and meaning.
Here is the clip from Trip Lee’s message – “5Alive” . . . . . . . .
Dead people don’t do anything – right – and sometimes we try to act like we raised ourself up – back to life – but – but the notable part of our story is what Jesus did.
What we did in this passage – we rebelled against God
We followed – we strayed!
What did God do? – He made us alive – He saved us – He raised us – He seated us with Him
You know the story of Lazarus – ya’ know who Lazarus is?
He was dead Mary and Martha – say hey our brothers died.
Jesus gets there and he’s already dead – right – and you know Jesus weeps.
and then Jesus raises him from the grave – and Lazarus is well known
Do you know why Lazarus is well known?
It has nothing to do with Lazarus did.
Tell me something about what he did in his life? – you don’t know nothing.
You don’t know what Lazarus looked like.
You don’t know if he had a girlfriend.
You know nothing about him.
Lazarus is famous not because of what he did – because he was a dead man.
Lazarus is well known because of what Jesus did.
Jesus raised him from the grave – right.
Jesus rightly deserves all the credit and the glory in that situation.
and it is the same thing for us – God actively raises us from the grave, and he deserves all the glory – and it talks about God making us alive.
As you can see/hear, Lee calls up the absence of information about Lazarus — i.e., Here is a man who was raised from the dead and there is very little information included about him.
Lee makes the point that there is little known about Lazarus because it is not about him; it is about HIM. It is about the glory of Jesus.
Interesting point! It is an effective way to highlight, magnify, or amplify a truth, no matter how you would like to frame or state Lee’s point or truth that . . . .
- “God deserves the glory for and in our salvation.”
- “Dead men are not the focus, but the One Who raised up dead men.”
- “It is not about us! It is about what Jesus did in our lives.”
Now I stated that Trip Lee’s example of this rhetorical technique has a weakness, and it shows up here and other places throughout the message. As I listened, I a repeated pattern, and I imagine that was he made aware of it he could easily correct it. It may be an easily corrected weakness in your speaking as well.
Trip Lee fails to “run with it” when employing various effective techniques or illustrations. By that I mean, he is using the technique (again – whether he understands it or not – it does not matter), but he doesn’t “run with it.”
As I am listening, I am saying — “Yes, that is good! – Now run with it. Don’t just touch on the technique – Drive that point by calling up the absence or silence of __”
Do this . . . .
Do you know why Lazarus is well known? It has nothing to do with Lazarus did.
Tell me something about what he did in his life? – you don’t know nothing.
- You don’t know what Lazarus looked like.
- You don’t know about the strength of his faith.
- There is nothing about how he came to know Jesus.
- What was he thinking or saying as he got sicker and sicker?
- Did he ask Mary & Martha to call Jesus?
- There is nothing recorded about his background – his lineage.
- Was he one of the ones who responded to the call of John the Baptist.
- What did Jesus ever say to him – we know what Jesus said to Nathaniel. Surely “Lazarus come forth” were not the first words spoken around the table at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus house to him.
- Was he tall, short?- we are told that Zacchaeus was short – we don’t even know that about him. We don’t even know if he was healthy as an individual – that would be good to know with this kind of account!
- You don’t know if he had a girlfriend.
- We know more about the mad man of the Gadarenes than we do about Lazarus.
- The only thing we know about Lazarus’ life is that he had two sisters
AND WE KNOW that Jesus — loved him! Because it is about Jesus’ love, not about Lazarus!
Probably many have used of “topos of silence” in a message. You just may not have recognized it.
“Notice that the legitimate kinsman redeemer in Ruth 4 is never mentioned by name. The Lord doesn’t even care to mention who he is because he refused to do what was right!”
“The name of the handmaid in Exodus 1 is mentioned, but not the name of the Pharoah over all of Egypt! –‘And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah’“
Here is another clip from Lee’s message. In this clip, I am just highlighting one of his uses of an illustration. However, again it would be better if he would “run” with the imagery of the illustration in order to drive the illustration.
Lee gives this illustration relating to “The Director’s Cut” on a DVD.
Remember the D.V.D. — when the menu would pop up – and they would have some different options — and one of the options would be like “The Director’s Cut.”
— and if you watched the Director’s Cut it would like show the movie — but it would also have the director given commentary on how they did a certain thing — or why they did a certain thing.
– and nobody wanted to watch it because it was boring – uh – Why would I want to watch the movie which your voiceover – that’s not entertaining
but they would put it on or just pretend like it was extra features to you about the D.V.D.
This last reason is kind of like that – except it’s not boring — God is telling us how he saved us and why he saved us – he’s giving us some of that background information – so let’s look at Ephesians 2:8.
Notice how he both includes certain keywords as well as pulls the words down from the illustration — “how” “why” “boring” — “except it’s not boring” “how” “why” “background information.”
Nevertheless, Lee would be more effective if he ran with the imagery of the illustration more, as effectively as Tony Evans.
Do something like this . . . .
but it would also have the director given commentary on how they did a certain thing — or why they did a certain thing.
How did they get that scene to look like it did, or that character to appear like he or she was so powerful? How did they change that character to look like – or they would show how the makeup artist worked for hours to make a character look so awesome!
The Director’s Cut would tell us the whys – why did they bring this person or event into the storyline. Why did they use that method to create the scene – sometimes it was because they had no other way to do that. . . . so they had to do it that way.
The verses found in Ephesians 2 is “The Director’s Cut” — It tells us the how – How did God do it – How did he work it out so that all men could be saved if they – by faith – called on Jesus. How does the Savior look so weak on the cross and then look so powerful in the resurrection?
How does the Lord change His people from looking hopeless to confident – by faith, not works!
No makeup artist needed when the Lord works in the heart – by faith. That’s “the works approach” – It is “works” requires artists to make people look good. . . .
Jesus was brought into the storyline because there was no one else who could save His people. The Father and the Lord Jesus knew there was no other way to do that – to save us and change us – to look more and more like Jesus as we grew in Him. . . .
Listen to the whole message, and you will pick up this tendency — i.e. when Lee speaks about “friends our mom did not want us to hang with” or as he speaks about “flashy rich rappers” – In both cases, he could have run with it more effectively!
*You can google “fallacious arguments” and it will reveal a list of “so-called” arguments which are deemed erroneous. However, let me suggest that not all such so-called arguments are fallacious. There are situations which we are in every day that require that we operate on these arguments if we want to be effective and wise. The argument from silence states . . .
“Drawing a conclusion based on the silence of the opponent, when the opponent is refusing to give evidence for any reason.”
“Refusal to share evidence is not necessarily evidence for or against the argument. Bob’s silence does not mean he took the keys. Perhaps he did, or perhaps he knows who did, or perhaps he saw a Tyrannosaurus eat them, or perhaps he just felt like not answering.”
I would suggest that in life if you asked someone if they did this-or-that [took the keys you laid on the counter / know where the can of soda is which was in the frig] and he or she refused to answer, you then know the answer. Forget “the Tyrannosaurus ate them.”
Real life operates, logics, thinks about the meaning of silence.