Probe: The Hyperbole is the Message

Billy Sunday preaching, which is not to assert that I agree or disagree with Mr. Sunday, but to illustrate that he understood how delivery and message worked together. Machiavelli is famous for espousing that the ends justify the means, by which he meant that the rightness or wrongness of an action is judged based on the out come, the greater good. As long as the outcome is positive, the wrongness of an action is probably justified. Some evangelicals use this approach in preaching and writing—the truth can be presented any way you want, so long as the truth is presented. We have terminology that illustrates our attitude: no-nonsense approach, unvarnished truth, tell it like it is. What this attitude fails to understand is that a message is altered by how it is presented. It can be extraordinarily hard to separate the message from the delivery. We remember both, but not necessarily equally. Delivery typically appeals to emotion, whether sorrow, joy, anger, fear or guilt. Emotions tend to have greater rhetorical resonance than logic or reason. So even if a message is technically true, how that message is framed will alter if not outright subsume the message. We typically remember by association, we will be unable to remember the message without the associated emotion.

The way we deliver a message always reinforces a narrative, and narratives are always rhetorical.