Rhetoric & Homiletics: There May Well Be A Better Way!

old dog new tricksAge & Experience Are Great Allies, But . . . .

H. L. Mencken was one of the most influential writers and social commentators of the early part of the 20th century.

He is well known for his definition of a Puritan — which aptly fits the thinking of many in the world today when it comes to their image of Bible believers . . . . .

“A puritan is an individual
who has the haunting fear,
that someone,
somewhere
is having fun.”

 

In 1921, H. L. Mencken penned an article about the speaking ability of then-President Warren G. Harding . . . .

 

On the question of the logical content of Dr. Harding’s harangue of last Friday, I do not presume to have views. The matter has been debated at great length by the editorial writers of the republic, all of them experts in logic . . . .

But when it comes to the style of a great man’s discourse, I can speak with a great deal less prejudice, and maybe with somewhat more competence, for I have earned most of my livelihood for twenty years past by translating the bad English of a multitude of authors into measurably better English.

Thus qualified professionally, I rise to pay my small tribute to Dr. Harding. Setting aside a college professor or two and half a dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, he takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English I have even encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. . . . It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.1

 

Yes, much could be said about today’s political speech — I’ll resist the opportunity!

 

Interestingly, Mencken then goes on to make this engaging statement — as to the hope of any possible rhetorical change by President Warren Gamaliel Harding . . . .

“He is, perhaps, too old to learn a better way. He is, more likely, too discreet to experiment.”

Mencken finishes off his article by citing Scripture as he laments that the American public can only look forward to four more years of the same . . . .

“And this is what it will get for four long years—unless God sends a miracle and the corruptible puts on incorruption….”

Unfortunately, Mencken’s anticipation of any meaningful change in President Harding’s rhetorical abilities may also be prophetic of another world of public speaking.

Well surpassing the world of politics and law, the most rhetorically prolific world is that of “the church” — preaching and teaching.  What group of people do more speaking than preachers?  What group of people spend more time listening to “speeches” and messages than those in “the church?”

There is no lack of words written on the subject of preaching and/or the discipline of homiletics.  Challenge and valuable homiletical instruction are certainly abundant.

There is an endless flow of books, articles, magazines, seminars, blogs, and websites focused on “homiletics.”  It may be second only to the topic of “church leadership and/or growth.”

It is not that preachers and speakers do not improve over time.  We can all look back and see the improvement in stage presence, use of notes, clarity of framing key biblical concepts, eye contact, etc.

However, much preaching follows long, well-worn paths in approach.  I would suggest that too many some preachers do not make significant and meaningful changes in their approach to communicating — to their method of preaching and teaching. 3

The reason MAY BE because too many some preachers and teachers are “perhaps, too old to learn a better way.”  Some are still committed to “three points and a poem” with an audience that lives in a far different world — even since Y2K.

A meaningful question may well be . . . .

Has your preaching undergone
a significant change over the years? 

That does not speak to the biblical truths which frame a sermon, but how best to communicate those truths, precepts, and biblical principles.

Or — are you also too old to learn a better way?

If “better way” disturbs you — you may be much like Mencken’s description of President Harding!

“He is, perhaps, too old to learn a better way.
He is, more likely, too discreet to experiment.”

 

Age & Experience Are Great Allies,
But They May Also Work Against Us!

 

 



 

1. Mencken goes on to say that President Harding sees his audiences as uneducated and simple-minded individuals who are . . . .

scarcely able to understand a word of more than two syllables, and wholly unable to pursue a logical idea for more than two centimeters. [Who] do not want ideas—that is, new ideas, ideas that are unfamiliar, ideas that challenge their attention. What they want is simply a gaudy series of platitudes, of sonorous nonsense driven home with gestures.

 

2. Mencken’s words may also reflect anyone’s political hope of change when it comes to President’s Trump tweets

3. Can you look back and see a clear difference between how you used to structure a message?  — “I don’t preach at all like I did 20 years ago.” — not just in speaking skills, but in how I seek to communicate biblical truths to an audience.

Dr. Charles Stanley & Andy Stanley are far different in their approach — regardless of your evaluation of where one or the other is biblically/theologically.  They have been worlds apart in their approach to communication early on!  Dr. Charles Stanley reflects an approach that was very effective in the ’70s-’80s.

 

P.S. Do you still have 5, 10 or more years of preaching ministry ahead?  Why not make some meaningful changes to how you approach the communication side of preaching?

Read some books on communication.

Change the way you about working on and through a message.

Bring in your staff and/or others at a point in time for ideas and thinking that you alone might have not had or avoided.

Make changes based on their thoughts before the message, rather than after.

Suggestion:  Read — “Communicating For A Change.”

 

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