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Five axioms for effective transformational communication guide us in Christian witness. Transforming communication should support God’s purpose and plan; revolve around love; generate from the Holy Spirit; bring meaning and unify the Body as one.

Jan Paron/May 23, 2013

Aristotle developed speech communication in his treatise, Rhetoric.[1] His work greatly influenced rhetoric since the fourth century BC. The Aristotelian view taught five canons: “topics of finding a subject and supporting materials; organizing topics; using an appropriate level in the style of expression;  delivering the speech so that it has clarity and impact and using the speaker and listener’s memory of events to make the speech appealing.”[2] Aristotle and his contemporaries viewed rhetoric as art forms for persuasion. Certainly, the canons hold solid form today; however, transformational communication goes beyond argument encompassing a range of modes with a purpose specific to Christ for restoration and renewal.

What drives transformation? Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from sin. He loves the lost, having come to seek and save them for life in Him. Jesus passed the responsibility for discipleship to those who follow the original apostles, commanding His believers to go into the world to all nations and preach the gospel to His creation, from every race. Through our witness we not only disciple, but unify the Body. Transformation results from the Holy Spirit’s inner workings. In our role as disciple-making disciples, we serve as Christ’s ambassadors to reconcile the Body for unity in Christ. The Holy Spirit speaks through His disciples in the communicator role to the listener as the message receiver. Transformational communication encompasses five axioms that nurture a saving and renewing culture: supports God’s purpose and plan; revolves around love; generates from the Holy Spirit; brings meaning and unifies the Body in diversity. Each axiom further details the broader communicative purpose with theological function and principles.

Paron.Chart.Transformational Communication.27May2013(3)

Axiom 1. Supports God’s Purpose and Plan

God desires His people abide in Him (John 15:4) through covenant to transform them into His image (Rom 8:29) as His treasure reflecting His glory, separated for the Gospel and to worship Him (Deut 7:6; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 Pet 2:9-10; Matt 4:10). This forms the basis of His mission. Believers have His authority to set their sights on His mission as salt and light for community and world transformation.[3]

Theological Principle
Our witness lets the Spirit save, rescue and deliver others through us (Luke 19:10). The freed then testify of their transformation to others in a replication cycle.

Theological Functions
• Supports God’s mission (Matt 28:18-20)
• Establishes and nurtures a person’s identity in Christ (1 Cor 2:16)
• Enables the Spirit to work through the speaker to save, rescue and deliver the receiver (Luke 19:10)
• Replicates more disciples when the newly delivered testify to God’s transforming power (Matt 28:19-20a) [4]

Incarnational Living.2

Axiom 2. Revolves Around Love

God expects we communicate in love, as He does with us. “Beloved, let us love one another…for God is love (I John 4:7a, 8b). Early Judaism argued over commandment rankings for one that would “interpret the rest.” [5] Jesus settled it by positioning love of God first and neighbor second (Mark 12:28-20).

Theological Principle
Love catalyzes spiritual growth.—People see Christ’s love in us when we show them love, which in turn, invites them to know Him and experience His transforming actions. When we build bridges for reconciliation and communities of restoration, we support vertical reconciliation between God and humanity “through Jesus Christ to unite them as one with their heavenly Father.” [6] Additionally; we strengthen ekklēsia and koinonia among the brethren, which “focuses on relationship between believers” [7]

Theological Functions
• Matures spiritual growth and formation in discipleship (Grow up in Christ) (Eph 4:14-15)
• Opens the door for people to know Christ and experience His intimacy as the object of His love (Phil 1:9; Rev 3:20)
• Furthers reconciles humanity with God in Christ through grace as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20a)
• Extends God’s grace and mercy (2 Pet 3:18)
• Strengthens the Christ community of believers (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:25-27)
• Edifies both the communicator and receiver with each devoted to the other (Rom 12:10; Gal 6:2)

Axiom 3. Generates from the Holy Spirit

The incarnate Jesus works within us to produce His fruit. We yield to His Spirit to harvest good fruit and submit ourselves to convey the fruit in His saving message. As His vessels, He speaks through the communicator rather than of one’s own self. In turn, communication works harmoniously with His will for holiness from Him (Heb 12:10) to create a healthy tree that produces good fruit (Matt 7:17-20).

Theological Principle
Theologian David Bernard says that, “The title ‘Holy Spirit’ describe the fundamental character of God’s nature, for holiness form the basis of His moral attributes while spirituality forms the basis of His non-moral attributes. Thus, it describes God Himself, the one Holy Spirit” [8] God is Spirit (John 4:24). Therefore, we seek a “theological fusion between the Word and Spirit”[9] while communicating His holiness. The Holy Spirit then binds transformation for change.

Theological Functions
The Holy Spirit speaks through the communicator to
• Seal His promise to those who trust and then believe in Him (Eph 1:13)
• Progressively reveal Scripture’s truth to those who believe and obey to further guide them into His will (Rom 1:21-28)
• Pierce the believer’s heart with conviction (Acts 2:37)
• Guide and influence the believer’s walk (teaches, John 14:26; guides Rom 8:14 and commissions, Acts 13:4)
• Align the believer’s body, mind and soul with the incarnate Jesus to walk in union with Him (Gal 5:16-23)
• Bestow spiritual gifts to the believer for the edification of the Church (1 Cor 12)
• Empower the believer for witness (Matt 28:18; Acts 1:8)

Good News.Gospel Word Pictures.2

Axiom 4. Brings Meaning

God speaks uniquely to humankind’s montage to capture their hearts and minds through different formats, expressions, traditions and roles, in addition to various spiritual disciplines and phenomena. Our commission to the nations warrants that we evangelize across cultures

Theological Principle
God’s people encounter Him in ways ranging from the oracles to bold manifestations.[10] Likewise; preach with diverse form, image and need in mind.[11] Hear your audience as well. Communication, in part, derives from listening to people and learning about them. It restores and renews from a circular type, role exchange between the speaker and receiver strengthened by relationship. By no means does it resemble a one-way, isolated message from the speaker. Know them: celebrate their victories; comfort and mourn their sorrows, uplift their emotions; guide them in spiritual formation. Make the message relevant, meaningful and enduring.

Theological Function
• Gives clarity and meaning to the Word (Hab 2:2)
• Restores and renews life and hope in Christ (Matt 11:28)
• Focus on issues and felt needs[12]  crucial to the lives of the listeners [13] (2 Tim 4:2; Heb 4:12)
• Strengthens relationship with God (Luke 15:11-32)
• Reaches the heart of human emotion with the power of the Blood (Mark 7:21)
• Emerges up from the listener, rather down to them (Jesus walked among the people)

Unity.Power Through.2

Axiom 5. Unifies the Body as One in Christ

Jesus prayed “that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21b, NKJV). This passage reflects a seamless and unified one fold under one shepherd for the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. [14] Samovar et al say that, humans are symbol-making creatures.” These symbols “stand for or represent something else. [15] Believers represent the face of Christ and the reconciling unity of the Body.

Theological Principle
Effective cross-cultural communication draws the nations together by harmonizing them for powerful witness. As Nieman and Thomas say, preach to every pew.[16]

Theological Function
• Breaks down liminal boundaries and respects cultural differences (Gal 3:28)
• Frames “the Gospel message in language and communication meaningful to the local culture” [17]
• Enables all parties to cross-communicate beyond ethnocentric viewpoints. [18]
• Gives opportunity for cross-cultural fellowship, prayer, teaching (of the apostles’ doctrine) and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42)
• Joins the Body in unity (John 17:21-23; Eph 2:14-15; Gal 3:28)

Closing

How do these axioms come together for a coherent definition of transformational communication? Grounded in love and generated from the Holy Spirit,  the axioms provide a framework to guide the believer in communicating God’s mission for salvation and renewal to the community and world. The axioms also present the listener with an individualized form and style together with a compelling message aiming for significant and lasting meaning. Last, the axioms produce diverse transmission that reaches across cultures to unite a multicultural Body as one in Christ to bear witness of Jesus, the Son of God.

ENDNOTES

[1] Aristotle developed Rhetoric during two periods in Athens, 367 to 347 BC and 335 to 322 BC. From Wikipedia, Rhetoric (Aristotle), n.p. [cited 27 May 2013]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric_(Aristotle)

[2] Raymond Zeuschner, Communicating Today (2nd ed., Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997), 4.

[3] Thomas Long, Witness of Preaching (2nd ed., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).

[4] The author states in the prior article Examining the Reality of Jesus that, “Jesus’ commissioned disciples to reproduce themselves. He instructed them to “go” (28:19a), “baptizing” (v.19b) and “teaching them to observe” everything He commanded them (v.20a). From Jan Paron, ”Examining the Reality of Jesus,” PerSpectives 12 Blog, n.p. [cited 27 May 2013]. Online: https://specs12.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/examining-the-reality-of-jesus/

[5] Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 330.

[6] Jan Paron, “The Ministry of Reconciliation,” PerSpectives 12 Blog,  n.p. (cited 26 May 2013). Online: https://specs12.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/the-ministry-of-reconciliation/

[7] Paron, “The Ministry of Reconciliation.”

[8] David Bernard, Oneness View of Jesus (Hazelwood: MO: 2004), 61.

[9] Greg Heisler, Spirit-led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery (Nashville: B & H Publishing), 3.

[10] God uses a multisensory and people-centered approach through lingual, aural, visual, tactile and experiential expressions. He met people through oracles, written Word, direct exchanges, worship, prayer, visions, dreams, and manifestations.

[11] Long, Witness of preaching.

[12] Felt needs refer to those most acutely and fundamentally felt by a person and/or segment of the population.” From Bob Whitesel, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 145.

[13] Sherwood Lingenfelter, Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998).

[14] Jan Paron, “Seeking the M.O.S.A.I.C. Church: Understanding New Testament Unity, Pt. 2,” PerSpectives 12 Blog, n.p. [cited 23 May 2013]. Online: https://specs12.wordpress.com/2012/

[15] Larry Samovar, Richard E. Porter and Edwin R. McDaniel, Communication between Culture (7th ed.,  Boston: Cengage Wadsworth Learning), 16.

[16] Nieman, J. & Thomas, G. Preaching to Every Pew: Cross-Cultural Strategies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

[17] Lingenfelter, Transforming Culture, loc 55.

[18] Ethnocentrism is the perceptual prism through which cultures interpret and judge other groups” It is not always intentional, rather “learned at the unconscious level.” From Larry Samovar and Richard E. Porter, Intercultural Communication: A Reader (9th ed., Belmont: Wadsworth), 10.

Photo Credits:
Relevance, Incarnational Living (Div.despair.com) and Unity, Oasis Church-Nashville,TN