Persuasion and Emotions
Persuasion is never about dry facts. One can list all the facts of a case and yet not really engage in true persuasion. Persuasion must make the connections and seek to get these into the hearts of the hearers. Becoming a Christian is not only a decision of the intellect, but also of the heart. Being a Christian is more than the acceptance of raw facts but is a commitment that encompasses every aspect of one’s being. Emotions must be brought under subjection to Christ as much as the intellect.
There is, then, an emotional component to persuasion, and rightly so. Intellectually, the head needs to understand and put facts together, but emotionally, the heart must also concede and submit to that truth. Without this, one might mentally know that something is right, but emotionally be unwilling to let what they know change how they act.
The emotional component is one reason why many do not accept the truth about Jesus. Much of what Jesus teaches and says is, indeed, difficult. Think, for example, about Jesus’ teaching in John 6 about Him being the bread of life come down from heaven. Jesus taught (v. 53), “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” People misunderstood Jesus, saying, ““This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They then turned and walked away (v. 66). They could not grasp the real point Jesus was making, and it was easier to walk away than to try to understand.
Likewise, Jesus’ teaching about marriage was difficult. Jesus pointed out that God made male and female in the beginning and joined them in marriage, and man had no right to separate those who are joined by God. Jesus then said (v. 9), “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” This was a hard saying, and the disciples said, ““If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus acknowledged it was hard, even indicating that not everyone can accept it. That does not mean they are justified in not accepting; it means that some were not prepared emotionally to accept it.
Some reject the gospel message for emotional reasons. For them, the issue is not so much an intellectual rejection, for they have no real counter-arguments to make. Emotionally, however, the nature of the gospel challenges them in such a way that they simply do not want to make the necessary changes and commitment that they know are required.
Interestingly, unbelievers often charge Christians with being guilty of “wish fulfillment.” They say Christians just want Christianity to be true, so they believe it is true despite evidence to the contrary. James Sire, in his work Why Good Arguments Often Fail (2006:50), make the point that “if belief in God is a product of wish fulfillment for those who believe, atheism (utter nonbelief in any supernatural) is just as likely to be product of the same kind.” Why would he say this? Because, Sire writes, “The Christian God is not a God anyone would at first wish for, not because of his vindictive character but he demands total surrender.”
Coming to the Lord is free on the one hand, but also comes at a high cost, and emotionally this can be difficult to swallow. Jesus said it very plainly in Luke 9:23-25:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
Emotionally, some will simply not want to give themselves up to Christ. Some will not want to comply with the hardship and difficulties that choosing Christ will bring. One must be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to endure the opposition that is sure to come their way. For many, the emotional burden is more than they are willing to bear. Scripture addresses this very problem in detail in books like Hebrews, where some Jewish Christians were tempted to return to their old way in order to avoid the persecutions that were coming. Emotionally, bearing reproach for Christ is never what anyone would want. The commitment of the heart must be on board with the intellectual acceptance of the truth.
Persuasion, then, is more than presenting facts. Christians also appeal to the emotions, not in order to make purely emotional arguments (which can be fallacious if not careful), but to make sure that others know that being Christians is a commitment of the whole person, which includes their emotions. They must count the cost in order to be with Christ (Luke 14:25-33). At the same time, they need to count the cost of remaining in sin and rejecting Jesus. The decisions they make can and will be emotional, but they also need to understand that emotions should properly follow the truth rather than determine the truth. Emotions are good followers but can be terrible leaders. Nevertheless, Christians must not ignore the emotional component in seeking to persuade others of the truth.