Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 6, Number 2


October, 1995

Ed Mathews

For the most part, people have become leery of rhetoric. In a positive sense, rhetoric refers to the study of structure and style in writing or speaking. In a negative vein, rhetoric implies pretentious language.

Political rhetoric has this negative aspect. It is similar to thunder--much noise but no light. Pretentious words conceal rather than reveal truth. They have little or no application to the realities of a situation, little correspondence to the facts. But, by design, such rhetoric is powerfully persuasive.

What about missionary rhetoric? It, too, may sound convincing, yet have little or no application to mission field realities. Words without real life reference is like cotton candy--a lot of bulk with very little substance.

Perhaps, more dangerous than rhetoric as words is rhetoric in action. It is not generally realized that an action can also be a form of rhetoric. Sometimes we hear a zealous missionary say, "Enough rhetoric. Let's do something!" However, the something often has little or no application to the realities of the situation. Therefore, it also, in a real sense, is rhetoric--impressive though empty.

Actions are like words. They may lead toward or away from what should be accomplished. Or they may leave you standing in the same place. Actions are not inherently better than words. It all depends on what is said and what is done and what is achieved because of them.

In pointing this out, there is no intention of denigrating the actions of any missionary. Certainly conferences, correspondence courses, and campaigns have generated much interest. Nevertheless, they can be as unproductive as direct evangelism if they do not address the realities of the mission field.


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