Theology from Memes and Reels?

Delving into Rhetoric

Since I first started teaching the Word in small group Bible Studies and large gatherings, while working at LU, 1 Corinthians 11 has been a constant companion.  Not only because I do not want to be drawn away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ–but because I see so many smooth talkers, so many whitty influencers, so many modern day rhetoricians who wield maxims and attitudes that swiftly sway those who are not abiding in the Word.  And now, as a mama, I have the  desire and motivation to pass on to my own a love for His word, a trembling at His word, and to show them the beauty of adorning the doctrine of God.  

Being the life-long-learner and bibliophile that I am, I am always in several books at once–currently reading Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric alongside Keeping the Heart, Kon-Tiki, Scuttlebutt Letters, Folks This Ain’t Normal, and Arthur Ransom’s Winter Holiday.  To the point: I am enjoying the lessons from Aristotle on Rhetoric, and keenly aware of how easily an untethered heart is swayed by that rhetoric.  

Aristotle teaches that maxims are for speakers to use to fool the uneducated and the ignorant, by playing on their emotions and using those emotions to drive them toward the speaker’s desired ends.  Imagine that.  Politicians have been at this for thousands of years; so have false teachers.  

Paul refused to engage in rhetoric for this very reason.  He was not a trickster.  The apostles were not twisting truth into maxims.  Paul was skilled in knowledge, and taught that knowledge faithfully.  Many of today’s influencers have not sat long at Jesus’ feet, and use their crafty words to draw away those who are not deeply rooted in Christ.  

Beloved, Jesus is among His church, and will not leave.  There may be a ‘church’ that is not a true church; but that does not change His promise to be faithful and to grow and protect and be among His church.  There are faithful churches, there are trustworthy teachers.

The Forward Tilted Life

I am borrowing this description from J.I. Packer, who wrote the introduction to John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart.  My recent beach re-read.  Packer loved Puritans, and if any of you have been confused about Puritans (even Lewis himself was ignorant of their beauty and goodness, and mistakenly used the adjective “puritanical” …) Packer will be the one to set you straight.  His own book, Quest for Godliness, tells a bit about their history, and much about their teachings.   Their focus was on heart reform and revival (Packer says they use the word ‘reformed’ to convey the meaning ‘revived’).

Like John Owen’s great work, “Communion with God,” the Puritans fought against ‘popery’ that robbed religion of true Spirituality, and sought to revive and reform by teaching the true Church to commune with God.  Packer outlines beautifully many of the works written by various Puritans that all share this end.

The Psalmists describe the forward tilted life as one who inclines their heart toward God, or inclines their ear to listen to God.  Imagine John, at the last supper, inclining on Jesus’ breast to be as near as possible.  This is the life of a Christian.

We do not fear being swayed, rather we fear God and listen to Him and trust Him to be at work in us.  We commune with Him, and the world’s rhetoric will not take root in us.  His Word will be at work in us who long for it (1 Peter), cling to it (Deuteronomy), study it (1 & 2 Timothy), and grow in knowledge (2 Peter, Hebrews 6, 1 Peter,  1 Thess., John 8, 1 John…).  As we grow we will be those who “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”  (1 Thess 2:12)

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it no as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

We lean into Him, listen to Him in His Word, and trust those teachers who do not sway from, or update, or in any way change or add to His Word.  We are disciples who sit at His feet, walk with Him, and are being changed into His likeness by His Spirit at work in us.   

A Theology of Memes and Reels

Our knowledge of and communion with God will not be found apart from His means.  He has not changed His means.  We will endure to the end rooted in Him; finding our lives in Christ; abiding in Him–in His love, in His words, in the only Source of Life.  Maxims are designed to manipulate; the uneducated are swayed by these logical fallacies. 

The gospel-saturated heart feasts on the Word daily, and the power of the rhetorician cannot compete for his attention.  Devotion to the Word protected the early church from false teachers; lack of devotion in every generation has allowed the theology of some to be formed by snippets and tag lines and pithy sayings.  Of some, beloved; for the Spirit is at work in us through His Word, as promised by Jesus in John 14-16.  

Are you listening to, learning from, and imitating faithful teachers–or the reels and posts of those who focus on clever speech rather than knowledge?  Who focus on maxims, and seek to to sway your emotions.  Who know how to rouse your passions and help you step from the ancient paths into the cool green grass just outside The Way.  

“But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge, in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.”  2 Cor 11:6

Those who are enamored with the rhetoricians of our day, the trendy reels and memes that direct the faith of those not rooted in the Word, would not clear their schedule to attend a Bible Study led by Paul, should he be visiting their town.  One of my favorite parts of studying Ephesians years ago was pondering how the city’s Christians would spend hours each day learning from Paul.  Their free time was spent, in the heat of the day, learning; listening to faithful proclamation; receiving the doctrines that conform to godliness.  In our current day–we have become much more efficient at so many things.  We should therefore have more free time, right?  No, we fit in more work.  And then when we have free time, we are reading–studying–meditating on the word–living the forward tilted life?  Not always. We get caught up in reels, and shorts, and memes.  We have trained our brains to enjoy the distracted, disconnected, disjointed, dismembered, life.  

Commune with God

We need to return to the ancient paths; we need to encourage one another toward the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  Let us listen to and imitate faithful teachers, preachers, elders, older women and men in the faith (not older by biological age, but by maturity in the faith).   Sit at His feet, choose the good portion, the meaty portion. Enjoy the face-to-face fellowship He designed for us.

In the introduction to Flavel’s book, Keeping the Heart, J.I. Packer praises the puritans for their way of, and teachings of, communing with God.  Memes and reels will often have you ‘listen’ to God and contemplate apart from His Word; a heart inclined toward God will be abiding in His Word, in Him.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, set our minds on things of the Spirit, seek Him and abide in Him knowing that He holds us and considers us the apple of His eye.  Be among those who endure and will not be shaken; pursue the life He has instructed us to (Titus 2, 2 Timothy 2, Philippians 3) with those who call on Him from a pure heart.  A pure heart, that loves and is shaped by His words, that does not mix in other words or distract from His unchanging truth.  Not tainted by maxims, trends, envy, or the desire to keep things updated.  Jesus instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires–these influencers make those desires seem legit and therefore worthy of your devotion.  

Guard your heart from those who would draw you away from walking humbly with your loving Triune God.  If you are looking for a book to encourage you in knowing God, communing with Him, encouraging your heart even in the doldrums of life, fanning to flame what He has put in you–then John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart is for you!  Perhaps spend some time in these favorites as well:  Isaiah 26; Lamentations 3; Philippians 3; Romans 8; Colossians 3; 1 John.