Thursday, January 29, 2009

Logos, Pathos, Ethos

My final thoughts on the issue of doubt and apologetics is really not some new insight. It is as old as Christianity itself. But it is something about which I think we need to be constantly reminded -- especially those of us who are drawn toward science, concrete evidence, proofs, logic, and the intellectual aspects of the apologetic project.

I fully admit that I am biased toward appeals based on these aspects of the art of persuasion. I don't apologize (pun intended) for any of them. But I am also fully aware that these are not the only -- or sometimes even the most effective -- means available. Persuasion consists of more than throwing what you believe are indisputable facts out in front of people and waiting for them to marvel at your brilliantly constructed argument, then fall prostrate in awestruck agreement with you.

Persuasion is a multi-faceted art. Aristotle called it rhetoric and it consists of a triangular (Logos, Ethos, Pathos) approach that cannot stand with any one side removed. As it plays into the discussion of doubt, these aspects of persuasion are perfectly suited to appeal to wherever that doubt may originate.


It is interesting that the Greek word logos consists of much more than our modern English translation into the single word which appears in capital letters in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That the logos was existent before the beginning of the world and became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth takes on a whole new meaning when we realize that the Greek concept of logos included the entire life of the mind (re: William Dembski, Intelligent Design):
  • The way by which inward thought is expressed (speech)
  • Inward thought or reason itself (reason)
  • Reflection, deliberation (choice)
  • Calculation, reckoning (mathematics)
  • Account, consideration, regard (inquiry)
  • Relation, proportion, analogy (harmony, balance)
  • A reasonable ground or condition (evidence, truth)
In other words, Jesus brought the mind of God into the flesh with all the wisdom and knowledge that goes along with that concept. The logos is no doubt vital to any attempt to defend the faith. This is the aspect of persuasion that most apologists gravitate toward. It is the appeal to the intellect that, in my humble opinion, must accompany every apologetic appeal at some level. After all it is in the renewing of our minds, Paul tells us, that our transformation toward Christlikeness begins (Romans 12:2). But it does not stand alone. It cannot.


This is the emotional aspect of our persuasive package. It can be expressed through true stories about ourselves or those we are close to that personalize our experiences and bring our real-world contact with God into places where those we are talking to may be able to relate. For a skeptic or doubter who holds their view for emotional reasons -- and, as we have seen, this is quite a prevalent reason -- this can be a powerful way to break through those emotional barriers.


This is the authority by which the speaker influences the audience as a result of his/her honesty, trustworthiness and respectability -- it is the measure of their character. In his book, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig refers to this as the "ultimate apologetic," the most effective and practically persuasive facet of the Christian faith. According to Craig, the ultimate apologetic involves two relationships: the apologist's relationship with God and their relationship with others. The former should be our preoccupation in life; an infatuation with God that seeps out into everything else we do. The latter should be the fruit of the former; a loving attitude that draws people toward us but, more importantly, toward God. This may be the only way that those who have rejected God for volitional reasons may ever come to know Him.

I have listed these in the order they seem to emerge from most apologists (perhaps I should only speak for myself). What is telling is that we regularly seem to have it completely backward. For all the accusations that we absorb due to the hypocrisy of many of our fellow followers of Christ (which, no doubt, includes me), the ethos of the apologist can do much to disarm the negativity that precedes our attempts to persuade. As someone once said, "What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say." Through our pathos we can appeal to those who may have emotional reasons, especially with regard to the ever-present problem of evil, for their doubt or disbelief. Those who are persuaded by emotion can be led by it in either direction. And finally, the logos gives us the evidence and factual information that builds the foundation for our case.

Maybe there is no "right" order to these methods of persuasion. I don't know. But I have come to realize, mostly through my own failures, that each of them is vital to the apologetic enterprise. We owe it to those who doubt to meet them where they are. And since we have no way of knowing where that is -- especially during a short encounter -- we must be prepared in every way to do so. As ambassadors we also owe it to the Sovereign we serve.

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