Rhetoric & Homiletics: Passion — by C. S. Lewis

You may have heard some variation of the statement . . .

 Error is halfway around the world before the truth has put its boots on.

It is a reminder of how important it is to work on being an effective communicator. Few other individuals in our society spend more time speaking than a pastor-preacher-Bible teacher. That should mean that some of the most effective communicators, by time and experience, would be the most effective.

And, by far, they are, compared to many other individuals and professions throughout society. Pastors-preacher-Bible teachers are generally very comfortable preparing a message and withstanding before an audience.

However, time and experience do not an effective speaker make. Time, informed experience, and “criticism” are required to be an effective and improvingly effective speaker.

Over time, we all get better at public speaking, if for no other reason than repetition. While repetition does not make perfect, it does “perfect.”

However, it may perfect some bad habits as well. That is why informed experience matters. Old patterns are not challenged or replaced with more effective methods without some education and input on an “academic” level. To only read theological books and not be challenged rhetorically, may result in some pretty bad habits, which repeatedly inflict damage to one’s effectiveness.

Add to the mix some good and fair criticism. One of the reasons for “Fundamentals of Speech – 101, or “Homiletics” class is exactly that — outside criticism. Nevertheless, those classes addressed very little about us as life-long communicators. Far more criticism is needed to become more effective! That criticism may be self-generated as one re-listens to his message, or come from another listener.

Taking the time to read about ways to be a more effective communicator may not be one of the two wings of the airplane, but it is at least one of the engines in the plane.

“Error is halfway around the world before the truth has put its boots on,” or as “The Lamp-Post” stated, concerning C. S. Lewis . . . .

“Lewis . . . . wants to warm his readers that rhetoric without truth is both powerful and dangerous, that sometimes the worst people are the best rhetoricians, and that some audiences are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. To paraphrase a Yeats poem, in the last days of Narnia, the best lack the power to persuade, while the worst are full of passionate intensity and convincing rhetoric.”

This, by the way, highlights how important the element of passion is in order to be an effective communicator. To be thoroughly convinced of a biblical truth, and passionately desirous to communicate it, will help with “the putting on the boots” a little quicker!



1. The Lamp-Post is a publication dedicated to the works of C. S. Lewis
The Lamp-Post, Vol. 38, No. 1. pgs 5-17, pg 16

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