Rhetoric and Homiletics: Another Topoi — “Two Kingdoms”

search places - topoiA critical classical rhetorical concept is called “topoi.” The word “topoi” is translated “places” and transliterated “topics.”

There are “places” a public speaker can go to develop content or make his “argument.” There are general and specific “topics” that can be considered and then used and repeatedly reused in “speech” preparation, in arguing for a position, or in making an application.

“Topoi” are mental “places” worth visiting when developing the content of a speech, or in our case — a sermon.

Some are “General Topo,i” which are not unique to a culture, era/age, or audience.  Others are “Specific Topoi;” they resonate with a particular audience, culture, age group, or era/age.

The simplest way to exemplify that is by comparing one of the “General Topos” called “What It Is Not,” which can be used in any speech or message, versus a specific topos, unique to the Christian community.

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A General Topos: “What It Is Not” :  From a message by Tony Evans . . . .

In fact Matthew Chapter 16 says,  Let your light so that men will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven 

in other words  . . . a good work is something that benefits others, and in particular the body of Christ, and I’ll explain that the moment, and it benefits the family of God and it brings attention to God

a good work backs up and become a good thing when I deflect the glory for the work from God, back to me. 

The next line . . . . a very important line . . . .  which he had created before hand.

So what does that mean 

    • We’re not talking about things you have to come up with. 
    • We’re not talking about things you’ve got a dream about 
    • We’re not talking about things you have to make happen 
    • We’re not talking about things and doors you have to force open 
    • We’re not talking about things that are beyond your ability or capacity to achieve because they have already been created 

they already exist. 

The purpose of God for your life has already been designed.  You don’t have to come up with it.  It’s been created before you ever got saved . . before you were ever born.

— Tony Evans August 2006 — “We are all ministers”

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A Specific Topos:  A specific topos works with a unique audience, era/age, or culture.   

I will call this “topos” — “Two Kingdoms.”   It could also be titled —  “In This Life.” / “In Our World” / “In this life” — Whatever works to help call it up during sermon preparation!

1 – This “topos” finds its usefulness with a Christian/Bible-believing audience.
2 – This “topos” can be truncated and separated.
3 – This “topos” can be briefly stated or extensively developed.
4 – This “topos” can be used to generate and develop the content of various biblical passages.

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I could exemplify the use of this topos with many sermonic clips.  In recent days I have been enjoying the preaching of Dr. Steven Smith – Immanuel Baptist Church.  Here is the audio link, the transcription, and the extended audio link.

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Audio Link: 30-Second Clip Of Message on James 1:9

In this life, your financial state will determine your status.

How you are valued, according to the world in which we all live, is dependent upon how much money that you have.

Now the challenge with this is that in the real kingdom that exists — the invisible kingdom the kingdom of God — that is not the case.

Aren’t you grateful that in the kingdom of God your financial state — doesn’t determine your status — Isn’t that encouraging.

The kingdom of God — the one that passing — the one that’s the real kingdom — this world is passing away —  but the real kingdom — and ultimately our eternal home —  in that place and in that state, our financial state does not determine our status.

And the church —  in so much it represents the kingdom of God  — should be the place that before you walk into these doors you sense — you feel it — as I do and as you do —  that you’re’ evaluated by how much money you have — but when you walk in these doors — that — that ends — that evaporates  — because the truth is — is our status is determined by God as someone — if we are a believer of Jesus Christ — has a very high status no matter what type of money that we have — how much or how little. [1]

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1 – This “topos” finds its usefulness with a Christian/Bible-believing audience: This “topos” resonates with an audience that believes that we are in the world, but not of this world, that we are members of another kingdom, as we live in this world’s kingdom, that we are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed.

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2 – This “topos” can be truncated and separated:  It only takes a reference to one or the other for the audience to fill in the other side

“In this world”
“In God’s world”

“In this kingdom”
“In God’s kingdom”


“From the world’s vantage”
“The world thinks”
“To those who know not the Lord”
“This world”


“This world is passing”
“In life here”
“This side of eternity”
“From God’s vantage”
“In this life”
“The real kingdom”

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3 – This “topos” can be briefly stated or extensively developed:  In our 30-second clip above, Dr. Smith exemplifies the topos.  He does develop it further ( extended audio link) and you could even develop it even further if you thought it was beneficial.

Note: To further understand the use of “topics,” let me point out that Dr. Smith did not need to inject these contrasting kingdoms or make these points.

It is not that the passage demanded that these contrasting  comments be made! It is not that other preachers would find it equally necessary to make such references.  It is “inventive” in the truest classical rhetorical sense.

Topoi are an “inventive” (‘inventio’) classical concept!  Select different topoi, and you come up with different content!  Go with “What it is not” and different content results.

That is the point!  Topoi can be used to add, develop, generate previously unconsidered content, clarify, introduce, conclude, drive the BigIdea, make the argument, etc.

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Note: Topoi can be used for argument or for content development.

Used As A Short Form Argument:

        • “That is how the world thinks about it!”
        • “That’s not how God’s people think about it!”
        • “We are called to see it different from the world!”

Used In Preparation As Content Generating Question:s

        • “How does the world see this?”
        • “What is the difference between the world and God’s people on this?”
        • After being transferred from the kingdom of darkness  to the kingdom of His Son, there is a change.
        • God’s people see it differently.

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4 – This “topos” can be used to generate and develop the content of various biblical passages:  Let me try this off the cuff . . . . Genesis 37 — Joseph and his brothers — here goes . . . .

Before Joseph was born, or ever became the favorite son of Jacob, his brothers were solidly entrenched into this world.  The birth of a brother like Joseph, their evil actions, envy, and deep hatred of Joseph only revealed which kingdom they belonged to.  They came to realize that Joseph was not part of their world, and the more as he reported their behavior to their father.

Joseph’s dream only heightened their antagonism because in their world, the older do not serve the younger.  In their world, the agreed upon solution was obvious — kill him — well, leave him to die — well, sell him into bondage in a far and distant land.  They never imagined that in God’s world — He can —  and He does lift up whom He will!

Joseph stood in stark contrast to them.  Because his feet were rooted in a different kingdom, he believed in his dream — and he believed in that dream for decades — and that is also why he successfully navigated through this long, painful trial.

Little did they realize when they sold him into Egyptian bondage  that he would represent the Lord’s reign in his heart.  they never imagined they would be the recipients of Joseph’s grace, mercy, and kindness — only because he understood that the Lord meant it for good! — that is how different kingdom thinking is from the thinking of this world.

Little did they know or understand that their worldly decision to sell Joseph down into Egypt resulted in even greater years of bondage to the kingdom of Egypt.  The sin of those brothers would bring them as a nation into a kingdom which would use and abuse them for hundreds of years!

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1. Again, notice how different writing is from public speaking!  Only those who read from a prepared manuscript, or rely on a previously prepared and written out manuscript, will be easy to transcribe without a great deal of grammatical alterations.  Even then, when a speaker-preacher relies on a prepared manuscript, as they get off-script and begin to sound natural, the style changes from written-sounding to a conversational tone.

2. Other previous posts on topoi:

Topoi:  Becoming An Idea Generator
Topoi: The Topoi of “Place”
Topoi: In It Alone
Topoi: A Critical  Concept Part #1
Topoi: A Critical Concept Part #2
Topoi: Topoi of Process
Topoi: Topoi of Responsibility
Topoi: Vertical & Horizontal
Topoi: Another Topoi: The Missing Link
Topoi: Another Topoi: Contributed or Caused
Topoi: Another Topoi
Topoi: Another Topoi: Definition
Topoi: Here But Not There
Topoi: The Extremes
Topoi: Reality
Topoi:  Another Useful Topoi
Topoi: Critical To Options
Topoi: The Motive
Topoi: Intentional or Accidental
Topoi: Degrees
Topoi: Where
Topoi: What
Topoi: Unless

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