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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Spiritual Growth through emotional manipulation?
Some speakers are very practiced in the art of emotional manipulation. That is, they are considered powerful speakers because they have learned to excel in producing a desired outcome.

When a movie affects us emotionally, whether it makes us sentimental, or happy, or causes us to tear up, or even get angry - we typically conclude that the movie was well done, even if we don't agree with some aspect of it, or if it isn't our preferred genre. The studios that make mainstream movies know this. In fact, most of what you see on film, regardless of the content, follows (at the same time) several patterns and formulas in order to maximize the movie's impact. Studies are done on attention span and on cadence, so that depending on the genre, no one camera shot last more than fifteen seconds. There are "milestones" of activity or interest set every few minutes, and never too close together, so that the viewer's attention is held. The science behind holding the audience's attention, is matched by the science of manipulating emotions. Enter the orchestra. You know when it is time to laugh, time to cry, time to worry, or be afraid - the music drives you there.

My point is not to rail on all the "behind the scenes" effort that goes into maximizing the impact of a Hollywood movie. It is to say that some speakers employ the same emotional manipulation when they speak.

Okay, we all know the tired Christian clichés by now. You know, the sermon ends, and the speaker starts to talk softly and apparently more earnestly - like the whole point of the sermon was to get to this place where the band could start playing the lulling music over which the speaker's suggestion you all bow your heads and keep your selves from looking about so that some of you can just slip up a hand for a second so that the speaker will know who he ought to pray for.

I am not talking so much about the kind of emotional manipulation that most of us can see from a mile off. Rather I am talking about the polished variety, the kind that is woven into the whole of the message, the kind where the speaker calculates beforehand when he will say what he says, how he will frame it, what pitch his voice should rise (or fall) to, when to let his voice crack a little with emotion, and when to pause for effect. These are the tools, we might say, of a great orator - and we would be correct, these are the tools of a great orator, but not necessarily the tools of a great communicator.

Consider the preacher who expounds the text, "God is the head of Christ" - he shows that while God and Christ are equal, God has authority, ie. headship over (is-the-boss-of) Christ, and that Christ by no means rails against this authority. He paints the picture of how chaotic it would be if Christ rebelled against that authority - creation would not have come into being for Christ would not have obeyed God's command and created creation. In fact there would be an eternal war that more than anything would define the Trinity. What if Christ only jumped ship during the incarnation - and there rebelled against God's authority - the end is the damnation of mankind. Now the speaker pulls on the emotions a bit - can you imagine God's heart? God wants to save mankind, and trusts in Christ to do that, but His Annointed One rebels against Him - what is going on in God's heart when that happens? then there is a calculated pause as the hearers are left to ponder that. Perhaps he paints the picture even more vividly before he turns it around and says that Christ is the head of man, and looks to the men in the room. How does Jesus feel about having trusted you with ministry? Is our Lord weeping in heaven over your hardness of heart? Or is our Lord standing up with the swollen chest of a proud father whose son just won the game - when our Lord looks upon you, is he disappointed, or full of joy... Now you wives,... What is going on in your husband's hearts. Are they rejoicing daily because you submit yourselves to them, or do they regret having married a stubborn old witch? Silence. Then Thunder: DO YOU GIVE THEM CAUSE TO REGRET?!? Is your rebellion so important to you that you destroy the chain of command? Does your husband have to "settle" for less in you than God intended to give him because you refuse to get over yourself? Are you a daily disappointment to your husband (and to your church!)? blah, blah, etc. etc.

The wife who is suddenly made to "feel bad" about failing to submit to her spouse's authority in spiritual matters may well try to put a bandage on her failure, but her effort is very likely going to be entirely carnal. Even unsaved wives who hear that kind of emotional appeal may try and be better wives to their husbands just because they feel bad about being poor wives - that is, they are not moved by God's truth, but by the idea that they are bad at something, and it is affecting others.

Yet after the speaker leaves the podium, he is flocked by people who were powerfully "moved" by what he had to say. His message was "well done" as far as motivational speaking goes, and even as far as some judge such things. No one lost interest in the middle, and everyone became thoughtful. Isn't that the hallmark of good preaching?

There is nothing wrong with passion in the pulpit, or genuine emotion, and a good speaker knows how to use volume, cadence, and pitch to communicate and punctuate what is being said. Anyone who has even been in a conversation knows that you whisper some things, and you yell other things, you smile at somethings, and you get sober and serious about others. It is good and proper to let your passion flow into your preaching. What I am discussing may sound like I am saying you shouldn't be passionate or emotional when you preach - but I am not saying that.

What I am saying is that you should guard yourself (preacher) against appealing to the emotions of your hearers as a pragmatic device by which you hope to bring about some desired behavior. Do you want to stop some sin in your church? Expound the scriptures that speak against that sin. God's word is a hammer and a fire, it is not merely sufficient, it stands alongside prayer as one of the only efficient weapons in your arsenal. Obedience that flows from emotional manipulation is temporary and superficial (at best). The person who tries to overcome sin in their life by trying to work up an emotional fervor, is going to eventually find himself or herself emotionally spent, and spiritually bankrupt because they tried to overcome sin with emotionalism rather than as prescribed by scripture.

Godly sorrow leads to repentance, but Godly sorrow is not fostered through making people feel especially bad, it is fostered by making people see that God is not "okay" with their sin now that they are Christians. Godly sorrow is found in the one who hates his love for sin. It is produced by the certainty that a thing is sin, and that God demands our obedience. It is the work of the Holy Spirit which is centered in the core of who we are and not in the superficial emotions that might dress up that core. Feeling bad is different than feeling evil. No one ever repented because they felt sad - people repent because they feel guilty.

Sometimes I feel like I am hitting around the bulls-eye, but not nailing it in the middle. Usually I just give up on a post like that. I have 243 unpublished posts to date that fall into that category. But I was thinking about how subtle and easy a thing it is, for a preacher, to try and invent the most effective way of making a point. To want an outcome so dearly that we try and hop over the fence to get there rather than enter in at the narrow gate.

I think of how many people fumble in presenting the gospel because they are so focused on the desired effect, they are willing to do anything (including watering down the gospel) to increase the odds of someone "accepting Jesus".

So my encouragement to you is two-fold. If you are a preacher or someone who shares truth regularly - don't try and force your end game on people by manipulating their emotions - stick with the word of God, and the conviction of sin and righteousness which is the Holy Spirit's ministry, the very power that works in you if you truly are ministering in Christ's name. The other, take care how you hear.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:17 AM  
  • At 10:01 AM, October 19, 2010, Blogger David said…

    I'm lost. How am I supposed to follow these posts if you don't number them?

    As you might know, this is one of my greatest hates, having been manipulated like silly putty myself. Why is it so hard to understand that the power is in the message, from the sender, and not in the messenger?

  • At 10:18 AM, October 19, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, I think it is one of my all time pet peeves also.

    Nothing sets my teeth to grinding a Christian who attempts to bring about some spiritual change through emotional manipulation. It is worse when I hear it in the pulpit, yet does not lack that same horror when I am exposed to it casually. That sort of pragmatism betrays either a profound ignorance or a profound lack of faith in God's word, and God's ways.

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