How Do We Communicate with Winsome Persuasion in our Hostile Culture?
Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer are two of my colleagues at Biola University. Dr. Muehlhoff teaches Communications and Dr. Langer teaches Biblical Studies and Theology. They recently partnered up to tackle a vital issue for today—how do Christians communicate with winsome persuasion in a culture that seems to be increasingly at odds with Christian beliefs?
I had the chance to endorse their book Winsome Persuasion and highly recommend it for both its content and style. In particular, Dr. Muehlhoff has really challenged me to personally consider how to speak truth today with both kindness and graciousness. I love his last book I Beg to Differ, and even used it in a small group with high school students. If you want to be an effective communicator today, check out this brief interview, and then think about getting their excellent new book:
SEAN MCDOWELL: Why did you write Winsome Persuasion?
TIM MUEHLHOFF: As a professor of communication at a Christian university, I’ve wrestled with a powerful question: How should Christians respond to a culture steadily moving away from a biblical worldview? Biblical views concerning sexuality, abortion, marriage, and God are abandoned in favor of an accommodative stance that often intolerantly attacks, belittles, and ultimately silences opposing views. When president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A Dan Cathy answered “guilty as charged” when asked if he supported traditional marriage, he was publicly attacked and Chick-fil-A stores were defaced with “Tastes like HATE!” graffiti. As the minority, how can Christians engage those holding the dominant perspective in a way that is winsome, civil, and persuasive?
MCDOWELL: What mistakes do Christians make when sharing a biblical perspective?
MUEHLHOFF: If no one responds to our message, we often feel that the only option is to turn up the prophetic volume. So we shout louder, or stage more vigorous protests, or show more horrific pictures, or warn of increasingly apocalyptic disasters. But in the face of diminishing returns, it would be good to remember that there are other options than turning up our prophetic voice. We might adopt a pastoral or persuasive voice instead; sometimes gates that are barred to angry shouting can be opened by knocking and offering to help.
MCDOWELL: Why did you think it important to include historical sketches of Christian communicators such as Wilberforce, St. Patrick, and Harriet Beecher Stowe?
MUEHLHOFF: It is good to remind ourselves that every generation of Christians has faced opposition, and many have faced opposition even more pronounced than what we are facing. More importantly, these Christians have left us a rich legacy of examples in the way they rose to meet and conquer the challenges of their day.
MCDOWELL: What is the most important question Christians should ask as they seek to have an impact on their surrounding community?
MUEHLHOFF: A local church, or Christian ministry must ask whether it is perceived as vital to the community’s social capital or just a group of people who merely take care of their own. When hardship hits our neighbors can they count on us to help?
MCDOWELL: How do we unintentionally put people on the defensive during a conversation?
MUEHLHOFF: If you want to provoke anger from someone, respond to his or her convictions with emotionless nonchalance. In other words, I treat your conviction as merely a point being made in a debate. Rather than acknowledging the deep emotions that accompany your view, I dispassionately offer my counterargument. After all, there is a debate to be won!
MCDOWELL: You suggest that Christians should link arms with non-Christians to tackle community concerns. What do you mean?
It may surprise us that non-Christian groups desire many of the same things we do—caring for the homeless, organizing a food bank, promoting anti-bullying campaigns—and might be open to linking arms. If these temporary partnerships give voice to the needy and marginalized, not only will our communities flourish, but private sanctuaries— once thought impregnable—may be dismantled.
MCDOWELL: Why are Christians today so fearful to share the biblical perspective about controversial issues?
MUEHLHOFF: Rather than engaging in today’s hostile communication climate aptly labeled the argument culture, many Christians have adopted the attitude, “To stay silent is to be safe!” Or, better silent than sorry. Better to keep unpopular views private than to risk ridicule or hostile opposition. But what if you and your community want to engage? “Starting a quarrel,” suggests an ancient Proverb writer, “is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out” (Prov. 17:4). Winsome Persuasion explores how we can avoid quarrels with others as we seek to advance a position increasingly seen by many as unpopular and in the minority.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.