My wife and I recently had some maternity/family photos taken by a gifted friend of ours. I have always been fascinated by photography as an art form, particularly by its minimalism. All the photographer really has to work with is the stuff of the external world – he or she can tweak a few colors on a computer afterwards, but photography at its finest is all about taking what is there and portraying it in an artful way. Just through a small shift in framing, a contrasting of foreground and background, or a shift of the weight of the elements, a photograph can make someone look ominous or playful, beautiful or jarringly bizarre (a great difference from my photos, where everyone comes out looking dull and slightly stoned.)
Aristotle, in discussing rhetoric, divides it into three categories – logos (the logic and argument itself), pathos (the emotional feel and depth of the argument) and ethos (the perceived character of the speaker). Without going into the specifics of these categories, one of the key observations underlying them is that the idea itself (logos) is not enough to persuade or engage hearers; indeed, while Aristotle pays the most attention to that first category, he at times hints it is the least impactful and important. At least as crucial as the content is the way the discussion is framed and presented – truths are, in this way, a lot like photographs.
As a recent seminary graduate I’ve spent four years thinking about the content of Christianity. This is all wonderful stuff; books full of footnotes and Greek and Hebrew (and often Latin and German too, which we all pretended to follow), discussions about manuscripts and hermeneutics and theological categories. I love the content, and I don’t at all mean to denigrate its importance.
However, what was missing from the discussion, at least most of the time, was how we wanted to communicate these truths. How we portrayed them; what parts of them we wanted to emphasize. Indeed, at times we are almost hostile to these discussions because they seem somehow disingenuous. However, I think it is crucial to talk about these questions. Like a poor photograph, we can take all the content of Christianity and still manage to communicate it to people in unhelpful or unmoving ways. We can make it look ugly, or uninteresting, or unimportant. We need to think about the art of the message; how the set pieces of the gospel are weighed; how the portrait of Jesus is photographed. Continue reading