Rhetoric & Homiletics: The Value Of A “Pony Motor”

See the source image   Getting Started!

A “pony motor” is designed to get a larger motor going.  An automobile’s “starter” is a “pony motor.”*


Another Useful topoi:

Topoi are mental “pony motors”1 used to start the creative mental process.  They help start the “mental rhetorical generator” used to develop clarity, an argument, an explanation, an illustration, or an approach.


The Topos Of Relationships:2  The field of statistics seeks to measure the strength of a relationship.  This “topos” is about the relationship of “things which occur together.”

When thinking about an event, consider whether . . . .

#1 – something causes it
#2 – something contributes to it / compounds it
#3 – something combines with it
#4 – something coexists with it
#5 – something companions with it / couples with it
#6 – something coincides with it

While all of the above “C-words” help when considerating the possible relationships, the above list can be succinct divided into three basic categories . . . .

Causation:  #1 – X is caused by Y
Contribution: #2 – X contributes to Y (#3, #4, #5 can be seen as a subset of this)
Coincidence: #6 – X and Y occurred together by chance (#4, #5 can be seen as a subset of this)

A Secular Example:

For instances, there is a lot of discussion about the terrible event which took place in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Is . . . .

√ violent video games
√ the absence of God in culture
√ the political rhetoric of the day
√ the lack of an immigration policy
√ the inability to detect such individuals early enough
√ untreated or recognized mental illness
√ inadequate gun laws
√ all and more
√ etc.

. . . . the cause of such tragic events?

All of the above seemingly have a relationship to the event, and that is precisely the value of the topos.  Let me illustrate that with . . . .

Secular Examples:

•  Were someone to say,  “It is the absence of God in our culture and society that has produced such horrific shootings.”

The counter-argument could be made in response . . . .

“That is not the cause, but who could deny that it could well be a contributing factor?”
“It may not be the cause, but more often than not, it seems to coincide.  Terrorism is surely not marked by a fear of God or a day of judgment.”

• Were someone to say, “It is the political rhetoric of our day that contributes to these events.”

The alternate argument could be made  . . . .

“It does more than contribute, it is the cause!
“We can argue whether or not it contributes, but it sure seems to coincide.”
“People did this in the past — The Oklahoma Bombing — and there was not political rhetoric which contributed to it.  Today’s  political rhetoric is coincidental to these acts of violence.”


Sermonic Examples:

How does this play out in “homiletics”?

#1) Non-Sermonic: There are “arguments” which can be made outside of a sermonic presentation.  Whether it be in . . .

a casual conversation
an apologetical situation
an”argumentative” theological dialogue

. . . . this topos is useful.


#2) Sermonic: Understanding this “topos” helps in spotting examples of it in the Scriptures.  There are “causal connectives” in the Bible.  Understanding this simple “topos” helps to see those biblical “causal connectives.

Biblical Causal Connectives / Conjunctions:  

• because: “Because I was naked, I hid myself”
• since: “Now let me die since I have seen thy face.”
• therefore: “Therefore . . . be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always . . . ”
• when: “when the woman saw . . . . she took of the fruit . . . “3
• so: “so Noah knew that the waters were abated . . . “3
• now: “And now lest he put forth his hand on the tree of life.”3


(A) Spotting those causal conjunctions can help in driving a point which is being made in the sermon . . . .

i.e., “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

“The Lord makes sure that we understand that there was a clear connection between Eve eating the fruit and seeing that it was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and the thought that it would make her wise — God says, “and when”

Sin had a cause.  Temptations may be coincidental in our lives.  We can “fall into temptation” but when we move past the temptation, to consideration — our actions will now be caused by a series of factors!”

(B) Pointing out “co-exists” or “companions” can help an audience understand events in their lives.  The Bible does identify things which “companion” or co-exist together.

• The field of a lazy man co-exists with weeds.
• Being naive or simple-minded person “companions” with a seducing woman.
• A fool doesn’t have ears to listen.  Closed ears & foolishness exists together.
• A fool and not looking ahead are cousins.
• David & Jonathan were friends for a reason.

(C) There are biblical principles which speak of “compounding” / “contributing to” a situation.  Calling attention to them can clarify a truth, a principle or a point.

• A companion of the wise: Iron sharpeneth iron
• Riches and speaking roughly travel together – Proverbs 18:23
• Jealousy and the public praise of others  are cousins- Saul toward David
• Power and opportunity contribute to sinfulness — Samson
• Repaying good with evil compounded the wickedness — David & Nabal
• Sexual temptation and opportunity compounded the temptation – Joseph & Mrs. Potipher


Aristotle taught his students to think of “topoi” when standing to speak because they would help generate ways to clarify or argue a point.

Likewise, calling up this “topos” can help in developing content, making an argument, clarifying a point, explaining a biblical truth, pointing out what the passage is arguing, connecting truths, creating the BigIdea, etc.



* The concept of a “pony motor” has great potential for creating an analogical illustration.  People and events can play the part of a pony motor in life and in the lives of others.

1. A “pony motor” is used to start a much larger motor.

2. The previous post related to Trey Gowdy is different, but a close cousin to this “topos.”

3. “So,” “when,” and “now” are not always causal.  Context determines their causal sense and use.





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