Another Topoi . . . . The Extremes

extremes 1  For “Teamless” Pastors

As we stated, the classical theorists taught a rhetorical concept called “topoi” as part of the rhetorical theory.  While it is a very useful rhetorical concept, few speakers and preachers have ever heard of it.

There is a reason for that occurrence.  It is because . . . .

  • homiletics class is typically a repeat of that college freshman class, Fundamentals of Speech 101    —  “Fundamentals of Devotional Speech 101.”
  • many homiletic teachers are just a seminary professor who is willing to teach such a class on preaching. He does not have a degree in public address or the like.
  • many homiletics teachers have not pursued a degree or a minor in communication.
  • many a pulpit speech professor has never even studied classical rhetorical theory — in a formal academic or a personal studious setting.
  • many a speech teacher has never heard the word “topoi,”  even though it is a fundamental and essential concept among all of the classical theorist who wrote about public speaking.
  • for some odd reason, even those who have major or minored in classical rhetorical theory do not understand its fundamental role and/or what role “topoi” serve.


If you are the “sole” preaching or teaching pastor in a local church setting, you lack the advantage “team members” can play in sermon preparation!  If you do not have the opportunity to talk about or examine a passage using someone else’s mind and thoughts, then you need “topoi!”

Some pastors have the advantage (whether they use that advantage or not depends on their wisdom or ego) of having a team of pastors who can sit around and talk about and through a passage or a message.

When you are the sole speaker, you have to primarily rely on your thinking with little other input.  I understand that there are those who would see commentaries as “team members.”  To a limited degree that may be the case but . . . .

  • many commentaries are more theological than rhetorical.
  • there is really only one additional member of the team if a pastor primarily relies on a particular or favorite “commentator.”
  • commentaries do not address rhetorical concepts or techniques — i.e.  “You can preach or teach this passage using different approaches.  One approach to teaching this truth is . . . .”
  • commentaries may reflect the approach of this-or-that particular commentator, but usually only his characteristic approach.  That is why various speakers who address the same passage “all” work, construct, design, or structure their message so differently.
  • discussing a passage or message with others is much different than reading commentaries.  “Theological Huddling” yields far different changes to a message, than reading commentaries.


Most speakers and preachers would be benefited by having one or more other individuals who could “brainstorm” with them about a passage, the construction of the message, and/or using a variety of rhetorical methods to include (or exclude).  Who hasn’t said to his wife something like — “Do you think this sounds okay, or is it a little too hokey?”  Commentaries do not help in that regard.

If you are a solo pastor, you need to mentally add and use “topoi!”  Well, here is another “topoi” to add to your “mental brainstorming factory,” or “Ammunition Holster.”


Another Topoi


Here is an example of the topoi from a message by Bryan Loritts – “Operation Timothy.”


(audioclip  link – OT01 B203 )


. . . . where we must be carful not to fall into one of two extremes .


C. S. Lewis in his wonderful book, The Scretape Letters, talks of these two extremes.


“He writes, there are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhelathy interest in them”. . . . .

but I’ve seen this – polarization as it relates to Satan and the angels.  Some of my charismatic brothers and sisters give “him” a little too much credit – so when they get the speeding ticket – that was Satan.

But some of my conservative evangelical brothers take too much of a conservative, naturalistic, humanistic worldview on their lives, where they chalk up everything that happens in their life – to mere coincidence, and they deny and diminish Satan’s reality.

Satan, friends, is not a figment of Steven Spielberg’s imagination.  “He” is as real as those seats you’re sitting on.



The “template” is simple . . . .

#1) Brainstorm:  This is the “topoi” step.  As a speaker, you want to develop “mental places” to which you can go to develop an idea, to develop a message or a point in the message.  One of those mental generators is thinking of “Extremes.”

Say to yourself, “What are the extremes of this-or-that . . . .

  • truth – You can deny the truth or have an unhealthy interest in that truth. . . . (per above)
  • practice – “There will be those who think that doing that (i.e. — telling the truth) means that I must . . . . then there are those on the other end who believe that ( doing this (i.e. telling a ‘white-lie’) is okay.”
  • action-reaction – “You can react to that event / person / circumstance / etc. by going to this and then that extreme.”
  • application — “Some people will do this as they try to apply it, others will . . . “


Make sure you are not inventing extremes.  You do not want to devise extremes which are not practically non-existent, and/or are rare in the world or in the Christian community.  The extremes must be and must be seen as realistic.  If there are real extremes which may be seen unrealistic, support the existence of such extremes.

#2) Quote and/or Show:  Lay out the extremes and quote and/or show their existence.  Loritts does this by both quoting C. S. Lewis who concurs with him and then cites some present-day examples of the two extremes.

#3) State The True Position:  State the best, right, safe, reasonable, or true position — “He is as real as those seats you’re sitting on.”


The Value Of Thinking Of & Using Extremes

There is value in laying out the two extremes of thought on a particular passage, teaching, truth, application, or point.  Some of the value includes . . . .

  • lessening audience resistance to the position which you maintain
  • giving you credibility in that you understand those other positions
  • relaxing audience members who hold different, weaker, or a stronger position
  • preventing erosion of your teaching and position as they later hear alternate positions – i.e., see —  inoculation
  • providing clarity and content by distinguishing what you are not saying



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