The things people say, the things we say around an idea, thought or theology that may never have been tested to see if the hold true to that idea.
I have been enjoying to learn to weld. Getting rid of the slag after doing some welding needs to happen before I can do the next weld pass. Sometimes it is just a matter of knocking off the slag on top to get at the good weld underneath, other times I have to dig in to the weld with a grinder to get rid of the slag. The slag must be gone before the next weld can happen.
Rhetoric is some what like that slag or like the boxing on a cermet pour. It is what allows the actual structure to be formed. Often, unfortunately, the rhetoric becomes the structure. Let’s say we set out to understand the theology of atonement. In the process rhetoric happens, that’s not bad or wrong, we have saying and terms, presuppositions and dogma that define our understanding of a thing. “He paid a price I could not pay.” “It’s the blood that sets me free.” “Penal substitutionary atonement.”
Using my welding analogy I want to introduce a different way of looking at this.
Rhetoric is a useful thing, like flux in welding or boxing in cement work. In the final structure the last thing you want to see is boxing or slag. What do you do with slag or boxing? Once the structure in question has been allowed to cool down or solidify you hit it with a bloody big hammer. Let the rhetoric be hammered to dust. If it has served it purpose well, underneath we will find a solid enduring idea, or we will find nothing and have to do better work next time around this idea/though to build lasting understanding. Holding the rhetoric up as the idea does no one a service.
Got a fancy little phrase, nice and pithy? Let me hit it with my pretty little hammer and see what is left after the dust settles. Here, use this hammer on my saying and quotes, let’s see if there are any usable idea underneath.
We have come to a place where we worship the rhetoric, and don’t you dare touch it, you fractious person you. People are told what they should believe and not why, things can not be questioned. It is any wonder that our structures seem rather precarious? It’s because they are being held together by boxing. We don’t get rid of the boxing, partly because we are afraid to see what little is really underneath, and partly because rhetoric is easy to create, easy to maintain, but supremely unhelpful and does not endure.
Question those things that so easily trip off the tip of your tongue. When presented with a difficult situation to not fall back on an easy answer, wrestle that thing to the ground and give it a good examination. Do not be intimidated by someone else’s statements, get them to explain themselves, define what they mean and validate what they say.
So often we are shamed into silence by the rhetoric of others because to question makes us look dumb. And that only because they have skilfully presented themselves is such a way as to dissuade questions. As Oz said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”