Home > Discourse, Voegtlin > A Few Words on Discourse

A Few Words on Discourse

November 27, 2006

So, here I am. I’ve crawled out of my hiding spot, and I’m here to give a few words concerning discourse. The first word stands alone and it is listening. It may seem ironic that listening is an important word to the subject of discourse, but it is true.

Proverbs 15:28  The heart of the righteous studieth to answer…

Proverbs 18:13  He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.

Proverbs 29:11  A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.

Proverbs 29:20  Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.

James 1:19  …let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

It seems clear that a good portion of heat could be taken out of many disputes if the people involved would just listen to what the others are saying. In my observation of many “spats,” most of them end up with the people involved no different than when they started.  That is because the two parties never really wanted to understand anything. They just wanted to voice their strong opinion. I’ve seen this on the issues of calvinism, salvation, ecclesiology, standards, fundamentalism, and others. Many times, people are too concerned with what they believe or are going to say, to stop to listen to the other person’s point of view. It becomes humorous and painful to follow some discussions because no one is listening.

This also applies to monologues. “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer.”  There is hardly a thing more distressing than hearing someone I essentially agree with, tearing up (and down) a straw man. This shows that he did not study to answer. Sure, he may have studied his presentation for a long time: but there are different types of things that need studied, and studying delivery styles and the words you’ve prepared must come after you’ve studied the topic you’re addressing. If you’re going to fight a battle, you may as well be shooting at the real enemy. You’ll look foolish (even to your friends) if you waste all your time and ammunition on a dummy outpost. You also don’t thwart the enemy at all. So whether we are trying to persuade a friend or defeat the enemy, we must listen to know what’s going on.

The next two words are related to each other: satire and sarcasm.

Satire: A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.

Sarcasm: A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.

These two words are quite similar and at times, may be identical on the surface. The difference is the intent. Satire’s intent is beneficial, and sarcasm’s intent is harmful. Many times, the off-handed comment is sarcastic. It may be true, but the spirit of the delivery is only to make yourself look better and to demean the person that receives it. It is quite difficult to distinguish between satire and sarcasm on paper, but it seems that prepared wit and irony is satirical, and reactionary wit and irony is sarcastic. At the same time, there are some who see the folly immediately and can deliver the satire quickly.  The point is that on paper both look the same on first appearance. We must be God to immediately be able to judge intent. So, if you see the irony in everything, and you like to deride, be sure to use your skills to edify believers or crush enemies–don’t look for self-approval because of your wit.

The Jackhammer Crew

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Categories: Discourse, Voegtlin
  1. November 28, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    It seems to me that on-line forums lend themselves to “swift to speak, slow to hear” more perhaps than any other venue. One reason that I haven’t gotten too involved in forums (and probably won’t) is because when we have a topic that is worthy of debate, and it becomes hotly contested, the debate can reach 20 pages in less than a day. I simply don’t have time to read what is being said and then put in my two cents.

    By the way, I have a thought on “crushing enemies” in my next post… but a preliminary question: shouldn’t enemies be receiving special treatment (according to Scripture)?

  2. November 28, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Yes, I guess the enemies themselves get special treatment. We are to love our enemies. But the enemy’s thoughts, and philosophies need to be ridiculed and mock in a righteous fashion. I think we get a hint of that in Psalm 2.

  3. November 28, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. I was leafing through a book on the NY Times bestseller list entitled Delusions of God. It was a defense of atheism. It seemed that he was simply mocking his version of God and the Bible. Some rhetorical devices, I think, are borderlines satire or sarcasm, not intended to be as biting as they are taken. For instance, let’s say someone said that hammers were sharper than knives. Let’s say I wanted to argue against that, and I said in the midst of that: “I’ll make sure to give you a hammer the next time you eat a steak.” That is attempting to prove something to the person, to make him think about what he is saying, but saying something either satirical or sarcastic. They may not like that I said it, but I still think it is an effective and permissible device. What do you think?

  4. November 28, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    You don’t use a hammer when you eat steak?

    Really, I think the difference is in intent. When you use that phrase, you’re not trying to belittle him, you’re trying to make him think about what he is saying.

    And that’s why I say it is hard to judge with just words and paper.

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