Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ethos Is Everything

Andre Agassi once said, "Image is everything."
But Andre (or the ad developers at Canon who put those words in his mouth) was wrong.

Because ethos is everything...especially when it comes to how we know what we know.

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle saw persuasion as the combination of three factors:
1) Ethos (Credibility) - The character of the speaker/writer
2) Pathos (Emotional) - The persuasion of a speaker/writer
3) Logos (Logical) - The reason of a speaker/writer

We like to think we are persuaded by logic. We like to think we come to beliefs through the use of reason. But I'm coming to believe that pathos and ethos impact us at a deeper, more subconscious level than logic ever will.

If you're anything like me, you trust certain people way too much. And you distrust other people way too much.

One person I trust entirely too much is Randy Harris. I first met Randy as a student at Abilene Christian University. Randy was my professor and continues to be one of my closest mentors to this day. He is one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

Randy has tremendous ethos with me. I have never known a disciple of Jesus who is more serious about listening to God, developing a relationship with him through prayer, and living into a kingdom ethic than Randy.

So, when Randy steps into the pulpit, I have a tendency to take everything he says as truth without question. If I have a question I'm struggling with, I want to know what Randy thinks. Because if I know what Randy thinks, I know what I think. He has that much ethos with me.

On the other hand, there are others who have no ethos with me. John Piper would fit in that category. Now, I don't know him personally, but our understandings of God are worlds apart. I am not a Calvinist and cannot understand how anyone could be (though I have good friends who are Calvinists).

In my view, John Piper has made harmful statements about masculinity and femininity. John has made statements regarding the sovereignty of God that trivialize suffering and harm the cause of Christ.

If I have a question I'm struggling with, I want to know what John thinks. Because if I know what he thinks, I know what I don't think. He has that little ethos with me.

I say all of this not to set up Randy Harris as the only credible theological voice or John Piper as a heretical enemy of God. Both of these men sincerely believe in God. Both of these men seem to be men who are trying to follow Jesus as well as they possibly can. Both of these men are fallible, imperfect men who cannot fully know God on this side of eternity.

Simply stated: One has ethos with me and the other has no ethos with me.

I'm guessing you have political commentators you agree with 99% of the time. You want to know what they believe in order for you to form a better opinion. And I'm guessing there are political commentators you disagree with 100% of the time and their opinion is important to you for different reasons.

But as much as I want to believe Randy is right about everything and John is wrong about everything, that would be an incorrect statement. We love to think in extremes, but the truth is somewhere in between our radical wishes.

Randy's ethos with me blinds me and keeps me from objectively challenging his thoughts.
John's ethos with me blinds me and keeps me from hearing the truths God speaks through him.

On the one hand, I listen to Randy Harris waiting and anticipating for a time to say "Amen." I listen to Randy's sermons ready to take copious notes. I come to Randy's sermons to hear from God.

On the other hand, I listen to John Piper waiting for a chance to disagree with him. I listen to John's soundbites ready to hear one more harmful statement I can add to my list so I can further judge him as the worst theological voice of his generation.

And those predetermined biases keep me from growing in wisdom.

Now, Randy Harris and John Piper might not be your opponents of choice. You may have never heard of Randy Harris and John Piper before reading this blog. That's not the point.

You have your own voices that you agree/disagree with. And they are keeping you from growth.

So, here's my suggestion.

Would it be beneficial to enter into every conversation (encounter, sermon, blog post, etc.) looking for what you can say "yes" to rather than looking for what you can say "no" to?

Now, I'm not suggesting that we ought to lack a critical discernment at some point. But I'm asking if starting from a position of saying "yes" first might lead us to hear things we couldn't otherwise hear when we dislike the person who is sharing.

Because that person you disagree with knows things you don't know. That person is created in the image of God and might just give you a new perspective if you were open to listen to him/her well.

I plan to try this.

I want to listen for common ground instead of justifying my labels.
I want to say "amen" rather than being known as a naysayer.

I want to remain open to the fact that my enemy knows something.

Because if I believe I have something to offer my enemies, I have to remain open to the fact that they likely have something to offer me as well.


No comments: