— Another Topoi
There are a variety of “topoi” which are common in our culture and society. When one makes an argument or a point, those topoi are assumed and unconsciously accepted by the listeners.
For instance, if a person were to say, after hearing a son or daughter make a sharp or unkind comment to his or her mother. . . .
“While I was standing there. Right in front of me — They said: “Don’t be a jerk!” — to their mother! They said that to their own mother! — That is terrible.”
There are an accepted “topoi” in our culture which completes and makes the argument. The whole argument is based on two shared beliefs which are unstated, but they are accepted by the listener . . . .
It is not appropriate to embarrass people in public, and
One does not disrespect their mother.
Those two shared and accepted beliefs do not need to be stated, only leaned upon in order to make the point. In other cultures, these topoi may or may not exist.
The topoi that one does not disrespect one’s mother exists so strongly, that if another person were to verbally disrespect your mother, a fight might well ensue! — “You will not talk about my mother like that”– without a confrontation and even an actual physical altercation! If a law enforcement officer were to arrive and asked what happened, one would only have to say, “He said this-or-that about my mother!” It could even be added, “And he said that in front of everyone at the event!”
Likewise, there are Christian topoi which operate in a “Christian culture” or what we might call a “Christian subculture.” Points are made, and arguments are advanced in a message using these Christian topoi. The topoi are typically unstated but assumed as the argument or point is made. The Christian audience just fills in the accepted “premise(s).”
It should be said, that the American culture might also agree with the Christian topoi because we in America have a Christian heritage and generally a biblical mindset. I understand that it is changing, but there are many Christian topoi which our world would equally assume without thinking.
Interestingly, it is when the world we live in no longer assumes these “topoi” that they mentally and actually identify them as being unshared. Make the point – the argument —
“They say they are Christian and yet they are living together.”
You might expect some to respond with words such as . . . .
- “What is wrong with that?”
- “You can’t be a Christian and live together?”
- “That assumes you believe that living together makes you not a Christian . . . . “
- “I don’t think that is wrong! In fact . . . .”
Nevertheless, there are cultural topoi which the world unconsciously accepts and even leans upon, which come from a Christian world-view, and there are topoi which are part of this world’s world-view which are also accepted which Christians also accept and from which they argue.
Some of those topoi include . . . .
heart versus mind — It is not just that you believe it in your mind, but that it is in your heart.
works versus grace — You cannot gain God’s favor by working for His favor. He is a God of grace.
God is faithful — He will never fail, let one down, leave a promise unfulfilled, etc.
external versus internal — The internal will show itself on the outside — or — It cannot just be external, it ought to be what we are inside.
All things are possible with God — There is nothing He cannot do, consistent with His character.
Pray! — Always pray about everything
God cares about the insignificant — There is nothing that is outside of God’s concern, no matter how small it may seem.
All these “topoi” are assumed, and in just making them (and many others) in a message some of them will elicit an “Amen” — even in a Baptist church.
If I were to say . . . .
“With Saul, it was only an external obedience.”
“David never prayed about the situation. He just . . . “
The point or argument would be made because both lean on an unstated, but accepted the belief. The grounds upon which they are understood are shared by the audience. In fact, a new or young believer may not initially grasp the point being made.
NOW — this all serves to flesh out a rhetorical technique. We can take a topoi and use it to develop content within a speech or a message.
As you identify the various topoi of our culture and/or specifically of the Christian culture, you can build on them. We will take a number of these various topoi in the future and develop them. Each one has its own distinct ability to develop content in a different way.
Let’s take the “topos” which we will call “motive matters.” It is clearly a Christian topos and is also generally shared by our cultural.
“Motive Matters” — In evaluating something, it is not just what was done, but what was the motive behind what was done.
I can argue from this topos or I can develop content from it.
Arguing from this topos:
“Rahab lied to messengers who were sent to her house. Yes, she lied. However, it was because she had come to believe in Jehovah God, the God of Israel. It wasn’t for personal advantage or gain. In fact, her lying put her life in greater jeopardy. She lied to protect God’s people.”
Note — Nothing has been said about the actual topos of “motive matters.” The topos is understood, unstated, and is being assumed — motive matters in evaluating wrong and right doing. One could clearly state and/or specifically identify the topos — “The motive of our actions matter to God. Rahab’s motives were selfless, and that is far different from lying for gain or advantage.”
Developing content from the topos: Understanding a particular topos can serve as a “mental content generator.” As you are working on a message, think about this particular topos – “motive matters.”
The biblical passage does not have to be addressing the actions of an individual or his/her/their motives. It does not need even to mention “motive” (i.e. because Rebekah loved Jacob and Isaac loved Esau). Rather, it is a useful mental generator when engaged in . . . .
“We are talking about ______. Let me park here for a moment and clarify this. It would be easy to think that I am saying we need to ______. That doing _____ is what the Lord wants from our lives. However, it would be a mistake to think that way. “Why” we do ____ matters in our lives. The “why” matters. What is motivating us? Who are we doing it for? What are we doing it for?
“As we serve there can be two motives. In fact, there can be mixed motives. Have you ever questioned your motives for serving? You may have been self-aware enough to recognize that you were doing it for the wrong motive. Or you may have recognized that there were pure motives, but there were also other motives — that the motives were mixed when you . . . . ”
“Have you been here ??? Doing _____, but also know that your motivations could be perceived or understood as self-serving. That wasn’t your motive. You honestly wanted to help. But there might be — may be — would be — some who would misread what was happening. Is there another way to accomplish the good end and avoid misunderstanding or do we just say – “That’s their problem. My motives are pure.”