James E. Beitler III. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.
James E. Beitler III teaches English at Wheaton College. This book, Seasoned Speech, is about Christian rhetoric. Beitler looks at five Christian personages as case studies: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.
Here are some observations and thoughts about the book:
A. Beitler engages the question of whether the Bible permits Christians to use rhetoric. Did not Jesus instruct his disciples not to worry about what they would say before authorities, for the Spirit would speak through them (Matthew 10:17-20)? Did not Paul deny that he spoke to the Corinthians with eloquence and human wisdom (I Corinthians 2:1-5)? Beitler gives an answer to this question in a paragraph, so quickly that I almost missed it. His answer made some sense, though.
B. A significant component of the book is very abstract. It uses such technical rhetorical terms as ethos and heteroglossia. Beitler discusses the five personages in light of the academic study of rhetoric. That was difficult for me to read. That is not to suggest that Beitler should not have done that. It does influence my own response to the book, though. Perhaps Beitler could have integrated the academic aspects more smoothly into the anecdotal element to bring the academic aspects more down to earth.
C. The chapter on Desmond Tutu piled the white guilt on a little thick, and with hyper-dramatic academic language. Or at least Beitler was extensively quoting someone who did that. This is not to deny that there were whites in South Africa who did horrible things. The chapter also raised important considerations, such as how people are in life together and impact one another, as well as the desire for reconciliation. The way some white liberals phrase issues, though, can be rather annoying.
D. There were some interesting, down-to-earth details. Dietrich Bonhoeffer came from a wealthy German family and initially embraced a Germanic warrior sort of Christianity, but then he came to the United States and witnessed the African-American struggle for racial justice. C.S. Lewis was somewhat jealous of evangelists like Billy Graham who were able to appeal to the emotions of the populace, whereas Lewis’s approach was more intellectual. Lewis thought that was one reason that Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two: their talents could complement each other. In addition, I had not heard of Marilynne Robinson before reading this book, and I would probably understand what Beitler said better had I read her writings. Still, Beitler raised interesting observations about her work, such as the pastor in the story becoming a universalist.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.