Persuasion and Reasoning
Since Christians need to be prepared to engage in the art of persuasion as they seek to teach others the gospel, they should understand something about the reasoning process. Remember, as demonstrated, that this was the apostle Paul’s normal mode of operation as he went from place to place preaching the kingdom of Christ.
Paul would go into the synagogue and reason with the Jews (Acts 17:3-4), “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” In Corinth (Acts 18:4), “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). At Ephesus (Acts 19:8), “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” Then, as some of the Jews at Ephesus were opposing Paul (vv. 91-10), they were “speaking evil of the way” and Paul “withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
When Paul was in custody after being arrested, he still had the opportunity to teach and preach before those who were ruling. For instance, when he stood before Felix, the governor of the region in Palestine, he tried to persuade (Acts 24:25): “And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’” Felix appears to be almost convinced, but, sadly, he put it off. While Christians want to persuade others, they will always have the choice of listening and responding or not.
The common connection is that of using reason to persuade. Reasoning, then, is critical to the process of persuasion, and disciples of Christ do well to learn how to reason properly both in personal thinking and in discussions with others.
Reason is the use of the mind to understand something, put together information, and draw conclusions. When it involves trying to persuade others, it includes the process of argumentation and the consideration of ideas that may differ from current convictions. In this context, argumentation is not bad. It does not mean, as in common usage, to just disagree with people and engage in a verbal fight with raised voices. Argument, in logical usage, is that of providing evidence and rational reasons why another should accept a given viewpoint. Argument involves setting forth propositions (like “Jesus is the Christ” or “The Scriptures are true”) and seeking to demonstrate how those propositions are statements of truth.
A proposition is a statement that can be considered true or false, and Christianity is based upon propositional facts. Take, for example, what the apostle Paul calls “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:1-4). The resurrection of Jesus is an historical reality that undergirds the Christian’s faith. The proposition is true or false and simply stated: Jesus was raised from the dead. Now either that happened or it did not. If it did not happen, if that proposition is false, then Paul shows a series of consequences that result (1 Cor 15:14-18):
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Now bad consequences do not in themselves prove a proposition to be true, but it is important to understand what is at stake in arguing for the resurrection of Jesus. To argue for the resurrection is to present reasons why one should accept that the resurrection really happened. This is based primarily upon documentation and eye-witness testimony. The resurrection is an historical argument, as Luke demonstrates in the first four verses of his gospel account. An historical argument can be investigated. People can weigh the evidence and draw conclusions from the given data. Proper argument seeks to persuade others by presenting the facts first, then considering what those facts mean.
Reason is a Christian’s friend, not an enemy. Some try to make reason and faith to be at odds, but the reality is that faith and reason work hand in hand. Christians do need to remember is that the goal is to save souls (2 Tim 2:24-26):
“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”