DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Talk Is Cheap

Written by: on March 26, 2024

The power of words has become more and more clear. Whether it’s starting a podcast or a blog, or having an X (when can we stop saying “formerly known as twitter”?), Instagram, or TikTok account, everyone has access to some platform for getting their words, thoughts, and paradigms out to the masses. The influence of words, then, is pervasive.

In Evangelization and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to the Political Culture, Matthew Petrusek leans on the power of reasoning and words to argue that Catholic social thought would be a more fulfilling alternative to the prevailing political ideologies that govern our society and culture. At the heart, Petrusek contends that religion belongs in political and social conversations. Contrary to popular belief, faith does not contradict reason but is rather suprarational in that it goes beyond “the ordinary powers of observation, experimentation, hypothesis formation, or rational reflection”[1]  The transcendence of faith from the rational is what he believes makes faith a viable and better alternative to secular and political ideologies. While he acknowledges that disagreement with his position is likely, he welcomes it as the only way for reaching what he calls “a durable agreement”[2]

I appreciated Petrusek’s call to engage in the politicized culture. If popular discourse seems to be increasingly centered around morality, human flourishing, and community well-being, there should be a correlating increase in opportunities to talk about the gospel and what I would call kingdom ethics. I wonder, however, if there is a better avenue for engaging than rhetoric. Petrusek makes clear that the goal is to “win” the arguments that he encourages us to start.[3] But how effective is that? If we are intolerant about tolerance, as Petrusek suggests we should be[4], how can we meaningfully engage and spend time with those who are different than we are? And if we aren’t in community with those who are different than we are, how can we learn and grow?

The problem with relying on rhetoric along with the unwillingness to live in the tension of unresolved disagreement is that we end up becoming further entrenched in our long held beliefs. One particularly visible illustration of this is the echo chamber effect that social media has. This effect shows that online, users trend toward interacting with like-minded peers, thus validating and further encouraging the beliefs that one already held.[5]

I imagine Petrusek would agree, but action is more important than rhetoric[6]. In Jesus’ woes to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, he says as much, warning against those who “preach, but do not practice”[7]. Similarly, there is a Chinese proverb that roughly translates “talk doesn’t cook rice”. Without action, talk is meaningless.

 

 

[1] Matthew Petrusek, Evangelization and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to Political Culture (Park Ridge, IL, 2023), 22.

[2] Ibid, 21.

[3] Ibid, 28.

[4] Ibid, 28.

[5] Matteo Cinelli, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Alessandro Galeazzi, Walter Quattrociocchi, and Michele Starnini, “The Echo Chamber Effect on Social Media,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118, no.9 (February 2021), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023301118.

[6] Matthew K. Nock, “Actions Speak Louder than Words: An Elaborated Theoretical Model of the Social Functions of Self-Injury and Other Harmful Behaviors,” Applied and Preventive Psychology 12, no.4 (October 2008):159-168, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appsy.2008.05.002.

[7] Mat 23:3.

About the Author

Caleb Lu

6 responses to “Talk Is Cheap”

  1. Caleb,

    Excellent post, excellent points. I agree with you and often we might win an argument or point and lose the relationship.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Greg, thanks for the kind words! Too true, i’ve done it many times. I wonder if also maybe I’m missing a balance that could be struck as well!

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Caleb. You challenge an important assumption that Petrusek makes: better thinking (information, arguments, etc.) will win people over to faith. This is sometimes the case, but more often than not, it falls short. What would you recommend instead for “evangelization”? I think of the power of story and emotion – not in a manipulative way, but rather in helping people imagine the better story of God, a story that gives us the meaning we are longing for.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      David, I like your answer to your own question, I think stories are incredibly important! Being able to tell our own stories well and share how God’s story influences and undergirds them would seem to be a powerful way to evangelize.

  3. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Caleb, Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed your pointed summary of Petrusek’s work. I especially liked this quote. You said, “I wonder, however, if there is a better avenue for engaging than rhetoric. Petrusek makes clear that the goal is to “win” the arguments that he encourages us to start.[3] But how effective is that?” That’s such a good point! You went on to say that “action is more important that rhetoric.” What are some tangible actions that you envision could be helpful in our current community and political spheres?

    Thanks, Caleb!

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Jenny, thanks for your question! I’m unsure if this is totally true, but it certainly feels like it’s become harder to live in community with people who have different perspectives than we do, especially political ones. I think a tangible action could be simply to be with people who are different. It probably looks like listening more, learning to talk about the things we believe are important by sharing our stories and experiences, and being willing to exist in the tension of spending time with people we don’t agree with.

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