Just as the first rule of knowledge is “know thyself” and the first rule of war is “know your enemy,” the first rule of communication is “know your audience.”
Jesus instructs his disciples about this rule in unforgettable way:
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Jesus in Matthew 7:6, NIV UK).
In effective communication the speaker needs to know how much the audience knows about the subject and whether they are likely to be sympathetic or hostile to your message. It is helpful to know what they love, hate, and fear. If possible, it is good to find out what experiences, values, and beliefs you share. However when you publish a book, article, or a blog post there is no way of knowing who might read it. You cannot know your audience. What’s an author to do? The two strategies I know are to write about subjects of wide interest and draw on widely held values and beliefs in making your case or to let the reader know at the beginning the identity of your target audience and what you assume you share with that audience. This information serves as fair warning to the reader of what to expect, and it protects the author in advance from objections based on alien presuppositions.
As I move into a new phase of my series on the contemporary moral crisis I must narrow my focus to an audience with whom I share the presuppositions that will enable me to make the argument I want to make. If you do not believe in God, I am not writing to you. If you do not believe that there is a moral law but instead think that right and wrong are decided by human preferences, these essays won’t make sense to you. If you don’t think of yourself as a Christian and don’t care what Jesus and his apostles taught, you will be very frustrated reading my arguments. If you think you can be a Christian without taking the Bible seriously as a moral guide, we will not be traveling the same road.
I can speak to all of these audiences, and I do quite often. But not all at the same time. If you are an atheist, we can’t move on to other theological or moral topics until we talk about that. If you don’t believe in a moral law, or you don’t pretend to be a Christian, or you don’t care what the Bible says, we are not ready to talk about the Christian view of sex and marriage. If you think you can be a Christian on your own terms without reference to the New Testament, you are very confused. We need to get clear on that before we can talk further.
The audience to whom I am writing for the rest of this series is composed exclusively of people who claim to be Christian and understand that the Bible, especially the New Testament, is the final authority for determining what it means to believe and live as a Christian. Within this audience I want to address two sub-groups. First there are those who hold tightly to the traditional Christian morality of sex and marriage but feel discouraged and beleaguered by the surrounding pagan culture and by the compromises of some people who claim dubiously to be Christians. I do not want traditionalists to change their views. But I want to present them with an even greater body of evidence and more effective arguments to explain and defend their views. The second sub-group are those Christians who have begun to waver in their faith because of the incessant drumbeat of the secular progressive culture and—for lack of a better term—“liberal Christians” who argue that being a Christian and believing the Bible are consistent with the secular view of sex and gender. I want to help this second group to see through the—I am not going to mince my words here—the sophistry and deception of these fake Christian teachers.