Posted by: Moses | October 12, 2007

Add to Grace Ethos, and to Ethos Pathos

Erasmus begins book II of Ecclesiastes with a defense of why a pastor should pursue rhetoric. He constructs a primacy for the strong ethos of genuine Christianity by reflecting that “we…observe…the Holy Spirit, peaceful, mild, and ignorant of pretense, virtually gleams in the eyes and face of certain people” (Bizzel 628). Those who know God are plain by their fruits. Their words should be trusted. In fact, Erasmus concludes that their words are naturally trusted by the congregation. Furthermore, Erasmus expresses concern through an anonymous interlocutor that rhetoric “is so detrimental to a speaker’s credibility that… [the listener] is reluctant to agree because he thinks that the artist is setting a trap for him” (628).

Since ethos is sufficient to persuade and adding rhetoric may apparently be harmful, should not a pastor simply abandon rhetoric? Erasmus disagrees. Erasmus proposes that “when [rhetorical ability] has been acquired through human effort, the richer grace of the Spirit comes over it and…completes it, rather than taking it away, it assists it” (629). Thus a pastor should pursue rhetoric as a foundation and rely on the Spirit to complete the work. His final statement in this brief apology requires that “no wicked self-confidence” be present in the speaker’s rhetoric (629).

This premise that the Spirit completes what we have already begun to accomplish on our own seems biblical but remains inherently flawed. Though this position strikes toward a balance of personal responsibility and sovereign grace, it lands where Erasmus requires that it cannot, in a “self-confidence” that departs from the truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit is not our assistant who finishes whatever task we set our minds too.

Paul deals with the same balance of grace and works; however he ends up with a subtly but importantly different conclusion. Treating the same subject matter, that of a man of God presenting the gospel to an audience, Paul says: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether it was I or [the other apostles], we preached and you believed” (1 Cor. 15:10-11 ESV emphasis added). Paul starts with Grace as His foundation. He exists by God’s common grace. He exists as a new creature by God’s sovereign grace. However, unlike those who err toward an apathetic theology, this foundation does not remain a bare foundation. Rather, a man of God works hard as a result, in full knowledge that the grace of God’s Holy Spirit is at work within Him as he abides in Christ. Though the distinction is slight, it is important. Erasmus’s theology is flipped on its head. Man works and grace completes. An appropriate view of rhetoric in a pastor’s life must be based on His effectiveness being founded dependently on grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Rhetoric’s only place rests as a facet of “working harder than any of them” in response to grace, facilitating the unencumbered transmission of the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:19-27).



  1. It is so wonderful to rest in the thought that grace is not simply completing my work but as you said “Rather, a man of God works hard as a result, in full knowledge that the grace of God’s Holy Spirit is at work within Him as he abides in Christ!” So much comfort and peace come from knowing my Sovereign King is in control of my current situation.

  2. good writing. i mean… i should go read it again and comment on content, but i just wanted to tell you the prose is very well done.

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