Book Review: How to Argue Like Jesus


“Our ability to communicate is in some sense a way in which we participate in the divine.
Joe Carter and John Coleman,
How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator

Do you like to argue?  Do you like to be right?  Do you like to be known as someone that is thoughtful and considerate in trying to state their case?  Better yet, would you like to win someone over for the sake of the gospel?!  I’d encourage you to pick up How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator.  This book was recommended to me by a colleague as we consider texts for our classes at my school.  My colleague used this book in a logic class at Liberty University and talked about how the content of this book helped shape his thoughts on logic and reasoning…particularly in the context of sharing the gospel.  This is a great book and I was fortunate enough to pick it up when Amazon was running it for $0.99 on Kindle.  After reading it, I’d have gladly paid full price.  Even while I was reading, I noticed subtle things that I need to adjust in my public speaking and even in day to day conversation.

This book is a pretty quick read.  It made a nice companion for my daily time on my stationary bike.  The most important thing that this book did is that it made me want to dive further into my Bible to make sure that I am confident in Scripture as I am trying to convince people of their need for the gospel and the hope they can only find in Christ.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • To put it more simply, ethos is argument by character.
  • Phronesis is the ability to think about how and why we should act in order to change things, and especially to change our lives for the better.
  • Anamnesis helps establish ethos since it conveys the idea that the speaker is knowledgeable of the received wisdom from the past.
  • In its basic sense arête means “goodness,” “excellence,” or “virtue” of any kind.
  • As Aristotle noted, ethos is not only related to your credibility on the specific subject about which you are speaking but also to your general moral character. To improve your effectiveness as a rhetor, work first on improving your character.
  • Eunoia is the feeling of friendship and goodwill that is evoked by the rhetor.
  • When you are assembling a case, don’t just think about the logic of the facts you are assembling; think about the credibility of your sources. This is particularly important if you do not have a positive preexisting reputation with your audience or if you are speaking on a subject about which you have little experience. Even when you lack ethos, you can borrow the ethos of those sources and thereby reinforce your own credibility.
  • Nothing falls flatter than a stale metaphor; but where a statement lacks impact, enliven it with the images conjured by metaphor, and allow the minds of your audience to fill in the gaps. This will both sharpen their grasp of the topic at hand and turn them from recipients of a conversation to participants in it.
  • People can be initially moved by a message, but they need to be part of a community that reinforces that message interpersonally to maintain their dedication.
  • Almost every message should contain some tidbit of good news. The word gospel itself means “good news,” and it is a mark of Christ’s communication that he always gave his followers a reason for hope.
  • When you speak to an audience, to the extent possible, you must speak their language.
  • Jesus was a humble man, but he spoke with authority and confidence. He was bold and audacious, and he commanded us to be the same.
  • Silence is one of the most powerful forms of communication.
  • Jesus noted that there is a time to evaluate the impact you are having and to direct your time and energy toward receptive, curious, or open people. Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
  • Words are at the center of the human experience, and oral and visual communications can have untold impact on the realities of the world around us.
  • Our ability to communicate is in some sense a way in which we participate in the divine.

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