Interview with Joe Carter and John Coleman

I recently wrote a review on the book How to Argue Like Jesus. The authors, Joe Carter and John Coleman, have agreed to do an interview with Christian Book Notes regarding this helpful book.

1) Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

John ColemanJohn: Right now, I’m a Masters in Business Administration and Masters in Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. My wife, Jackie, and I attend Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, MA, and we stay connected to our old church in Atlanta, North Point Community Church, via podcasts. My web presence has declined significantly over the past few years, but I’m an occasional writer, I still maintain a personal blog (infrequently updated) and I try to post updates about How to Argue Like Jesus at the book’s website, Argue Like Jesus.

Joe CarterJoe: I’m the online editor of First Things magazine and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. My family and I attend Reston Bible Church in Reston, VA. We are active in the food mission helping to feed needy families in our area. I blog at First Things’ main blog “First Thoughts” and at Evangelical Outpost.

2) Could you each please share your testimony of how you came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Joe: I have been a believer since the age of seven, when I gave my life to Christ and was baptized in my local church. From that humble beginning 32 years ago I’ve stumbled and struggled to develop a deeper relationship with my Lord. I’ve been blessed to beyond measure by a Savior who gave all for me.

John: I grew up in a Christian home in Georgia and Florida, and some of my earliest memories were of vacation Bible school, Christmas caroling with family, and praying around the dinner table. I first made a public commitment to Christ when I was in elementary school, but like so many people who come to Christianity at a very young age, my walk since has been long and winding. To me, faith is often as much about mystery as it is about certainty. The path I’ve taken has been a journey of exploration.

3) Why did you decide to co-author How to Argue Like Jesus?

Purchase at Amazon!John: The idea for How to Argue Like Jesus really arose out of a series of posts Joe wrote for his blog, Evangelical Outpost, several years ago on Jesus’ use of logic. Joe and I initially became friends through our blogs in 2003. We started blogging around the same time, and I quickly grew to respect Joe’s thoughtfulness and style. We talked for several years about writing something together, and when he approached me around Christmas 2006 with an idea for a book about Jesus’ communication style, I was thrilled.

Joe’s a great writer, he’d been incredibly successful with Evangelical Outpost, and his idea offered a unique opportunity both to study a passion of mine, communication, and to explore the words and actions of Christ. I believe the coauthoring was essential to our success. Writing a first book can be intimidating, but working with Joe kept me honest about making deadlines, and it was incredibly useful to bounce ideas off each other throughout the process. I think the end product benefitted from the different perspectives we brought to the topic.

4) There are many great speakers and rhetoricians throughout history, why did you choose to study Jesus Christ solely as a communicator?

Joe: To answer that let me first give the reason why we almost did not choose to study Jesus Christ solely as a communicator. When you focus on an aspect of Jesus other than His role as Savior and Reedemer there is the danger that people will think you are reducing Jesus to something less than the second member of the Trinity. This is especially true when focusing on aspects of Jesus’ humanity. Some Christians believe that any discussion of Christ that doesn’t include his salvific role is illegitimate. Although we’re sensitive to this perspective, we disagree.

We think it is possible to study one aspect of Jesus in addition to, not in exclusion of, his other attributes and roles. And in his role as a communicator Jesus was, as we say in our subtitle, “history’s greatest communicator.” Other speakers and rhetoricians could serve as useful models but no one has been more effective in getting his message spread across the globe and throughout every age in history (the apostle Paul and Mohammad are a distant second and third). Obviously, the role of the Holy Spirit deserves credit for this effectiveness. But we find in Holy Scripture a model of a communicator that is worthy of emulation.

5) The first chapter of your book is about pathos; i.e., emotion. In recent years, and one can only assume since the founding of the church by Christ, there has been an outcry against “emotionalism” whereby a preacher attempts to garner a “decision for Jesus” based on emotion. Yet, you say on page 19 that “Jesus Christ was an exemplary practitioner of the appeal to pathos” and then you prove that claim from Scripture. Where, then, would you draw the line in appealing to one’s emotion when speaking—especially when presenting the gospel?Aristotle

John: Pathos has always been a critical element of communication. When the Greek philosopher Aristotle detailed his three essential components of communication – logos, pathos, and ethos – he acknowledged both the need to reach people on an emotional level and the positive role emotions play in human life and decision-making. We are emotional beings, and while we need reason to make good decisions, our emotions and intuitions can likewise inform those decisions and serve as catalysts to move us to action. All great writers and speakers – men and women like Martin Luther King, Peggy Noonan, and Abraham Lincoln – recognize this and use emotional appeals effectively.

The danger, I think, comes when people either rely too heavily on emotional appeal or use emotion to manipulate people. While we are emotional, we’re also beings gifted with reason; and when people complain about the emotionalism of the modern church, I think their complaint isn’t simply that pastors spend too much time on the hearts of their parishioners. It’s that those same pastors don’t adequately appeal to their congregants’ heads. Throughout history, Christianity has boasted a number of fantastic scientists and philosophers – Pascal, Augustine, Aquinas, and others – and the reason behind religion (a topic most recently explored by Pastor Tim Keller) is something deserving of further exploration. I think it’s incumbent upon the church and Christians to make the emotional and intellectual cases for Christianity in tandem. Both are important, and only by employing both can we effectively mirror the complexity of the people with whom we’re speaking.

6) Chapter two is titled “Logos-Jesus as logician.” Much has been made of the Greek word logos used in the first chapter of the Gospel of John and whether or not Christ is the root of all logic. Is there a connection between the logos and the logic you discuss in your book? Why or why not?

Joe: The Gospel of John’s use of the word “logos” in reference to Christ is endlessly intriguing. But since neither of us are theologians or biblical scholars we’d be hesitant to claim too much about how that passage should be interpreted. I think where I see the connection is in the third verse of John’s first chapter: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Because all things were made by and through the “Word” they have a structure and order that is comprehensible and internally consistent. Our minds—even though they are affected by the Fall—can still use reason because Christ has created us as rational creatures. Logic is simply the natural internal rules that apply to reason and our minds, just as natural laws such as gravity apply to our physical bodies. Logic is important because it is the rules of reason established by Christ himself.

7) Chapter six is about discipleship and communication. The last paragraph of that chapter reads,

It [discipleship] isn’t there solely to reach others for Christ, though that is a critical mission. It is there, more broadly, to help people—struggling, fragile people like you and me. It ended slavery. It subverted the cruelties of the Roman Empire. It is fighting poverty and disease in Africa and beyond. And it [discipleship] has the power to be the most revolutionary force on the planet if we choose to use it well (p. 121).

Could you explain that in more detail? It would seem to me that the discipleship you refer to throughout the chapter is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that that, the gospel, is the most revolutionary force on the planet.

John: Discipleship is one of the most exciting topics we explore in How to Argue Like Jesus. We see discipleship in two ways. First, there is Christian discipleship – the actual process of following Christ, reaching people with his message, witnessing to the power of his words and actions, and shepherding one another on our spiritual walks. Second, however, there’s the process of discipleship – the structures and methods Christ and Paul employed to spread the Christian message from a small province of the Roman Empire to the farthest reaches of the globe. With reference to Christianity, the two are inseparable. Christ gave us a model for effective discipleship and then commanded us to share the good news – a message Joe and I believe to be both thrilling and revolutionary.

But we also believe that process has wider applications, and Jesus’ model has been repeated by a number of modern movements, organizations, and leaders. The abolition movement in England followed the model closely. Effective training organizations – like the United States military – employ similar principles and techniques. And intuitively, we all grasp for many of the same tools Christ and Paul demonstrated in their own walks. Correspondingly, our chapter on discipleship shows how Christ and the early Christians employed certain principles to spread their message, then it takes modern examples and tries to show how those same methods might be useful in other situations. I’m consistently fascinated by how the methods of Jesus echo and have been echoed by so many other communicators and by how practical some of those lessons can be.

8 ) How can this book benefit the pastor in the pulpit or the Sunday School teacher in the classroom? How can this book benefit the blue-collar working man or woman or the stay at home mom?

Joe: The question “Why should I buy this book?” is always the toughest for me to answer. After all, if I’m not persuasive enough to talk people into buying our book on persuasion how effective can it be? But the best reasons I can give are because whether you are a student, salesman, pastor, or plumber this book will help you become better at arguing—and that arguing is a skill you should improve.

Unfortunately, the term “argue” has taken on an almost exclusively negative connotation. People tend to associate arguing with confrontation and disagreement. But the word really means “to persuade, to give reasons for or against a thing.” Every day we give reasons for our actions and try to persuade people to our point of view. Whether you’re a preacher trying to persuade people to give their lives to Christ or an employee attempting to give your boss reasons to give you a raise, you use arguments all the time. The purpose of the book is to learn how to be better at persuading people based not on what we as the authors can teach but rather on what can be learned from modeling Jesus. And since we all use argument and persuasion whey wouldn’t we want to learn to “argue like Jesus?”

9) Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to take part in this interview.

Joe and John have graciously autographed a copy of How to Argue Like Jesus to give away here at Christian Book Notes.  In addition to the autographed copy, Crossway Books has given a second copy to be given away.  Here are the instructions to enter the contest:

  • Ask the authors a question germane to the book using the comment box below–they have agreed to answer additional questions from you.  The winner of the autographed book will come solely from the questions that are asked (one entry per email address, please).
  • Blog about this interview. Spread the word.  If you write about this interview and link back to this post (please email me the link via the contact form) you will get an entry.
  • Twitter: tweet about the interview using @ChristBookNotes in your tweet (one tweet per day).

Every question, blog post, or Twitter post will be an entry to win the copy provided by Crossway Books. We will do our best to monitor as much of this as we are able–it is always best to take the extra step of contacting us if you link to the article–and will pick the winners on Tuesday, June 30.

14 thoughts on “Interview with Joe Carter and John Coleman”

  1. Which of logos, pathos, and ethos do you believe that Christ uses most effectively? What is the evidence of this and why do you believe he chose this type of argument to make his point?

  2. Do you use specific examples of Jesus interactions with others to demonstrate a style of argumentation that is more effective?

  3. Keep them coming, folks! These two questions are great, and Joe and I are going to give them a full treatment all at once.

  4. I’m super excited about reading this book, especially the part on pathos. And that’s related to my question: perhaps you deal with this more in the book, but could you detail more what you see to be the difference between emotional appeal and emotionalism? I can see where I might think I’m appealing to emotions but a listener thinks I’m manipulating, so I’m not sure how to differentiate well. Thanks!

  5. I am the Executive Director of a pregnancy care center in South Carolina. We deal on a daily basis with women who find themselves overwhelmed with crisis and, quite frequently, are making impulsive decisions based solely on emotion. It is extremely difficult to use any logic to reach a person who seems to only be thinking emotionally . What is the most effective way to transition their thoughts and actions from just pathos to encompassing all three (pathos, ethos, and logos) without seeming insensitive or manipulative?

  6. Thanks for the great question, Jessica. I’m afraid any brief advice I have will be horribly inadequate to the variety of situations you encounter, but I think Jesus’ interactions in the New Testament provide a lot of insight into dealing with people who are experiencing pain.

    One of thing we point out in the “heuristics” section of our book, for instance, is that Jesus was an incredibly good listener. He asked questions. He genuinely cared about peoples’ situations, and he took the time to understand them on their level – whether they were rich or poor, content or in crisis. Often, before he ever preached to the people around him, he spent time with them, healed them, and heard their stories.

    In communicating with someone experiencing this type of emotional crisis, you may have to walk through a sequence of pathos, ethos, and logos, rather than simply seeking to start with logic or engage all three at once.

    Perhaps by listening to people on whatever level they’re on and communicating that you understand their emotions, situation, and pain you can build credibility with them which can lead to calmer and more logical discussions. In our chapter on pathos, we talk a lot about finding shared values and experiences that allow you to better identify with others – something that might be incredibly useful in the situation you describe. If the women then learn to trust and identify with you, they might be more willing to engage on a rational level. But that trust may only be achievable if you can first connect with them on an emotional level. I think that when you do this for the right reasons, it’s empathy not manipulation. Of course, I’m sure you know better than either of us the kind of patience and persistence it can entail.

  7. Hi,
    I’m an English teacher at a new Christian high school in Denver, Colorado–Valor Christian. My colleagues and I created a unit this year on Jesus words, the “red letter” words, and taught rhetorical strategies alongside these lessons. What a pleasant surprise to discover your book and see that someone else had the same ideas!
    I have purchased a copy for each member of my department, and I look forward to using it in future years. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, time, and effort creating this important and timely book.

  8. @Kim Radersma
    Thank you for your comment, Kim. I am excited to hear that you are basing a curriculum based precisely on the Bible! Please allow me to point you to another resource I have reviewed entitled Red Letters by Timothy J. Beale. It is simply the “red letters” from the Bible accumulated into one resource without everything else. It would be perfect for what you are seeking to accomplish with your students.

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