Rhetoric And Homiletics: No, I’m not reading it!

“No, I’m not taking the time to read it!”

That’s what I said when I saw the title of the article!

Even though my Ph.D. is in classical rhetoric and public address, with a minor in historiography and statistics, I’m not interested in reading an article titled . . .

“Fallacies in the Historiography of Generative Linguistics”

While I still read many scholarly articles and a great deal of material about language, persuasion, and public address, this article sounded far too technical and scholarly for me to believe that there was anything worth my time or which was personally beneficial

That is exactly the response of many listeners to some sermons! From the first words of the preacher, a decision is being made by those who are listening — and about whether they will continue to attentively listen.

Yes, we have all been taught that the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures are profitable for life and living.  The attitude of the “Sunday morning listeners” is heavily inclined towards attentiveness when it comes to hearing the Scriptures taught!  God’s people want to hear and heed the teaching of the Bible!

Nevertheless, that does not mean that the one who is preaching has the ability to demonstrate the significance, appropriateness, and applicability of the passage being taught. 

In fact, I dare say that even pastors listen to other preachers and teachers with the same evaluative stance as the congregation. Preachers and teachers are no different than those listening to them.  Some authors and preachers have become favored sources of Bible study and information. At the same time, other books and sermons are dismissed out of hand because they have repeatedly failed to provide help in preparation.  What pastor hasn’t picked up this-or-that book or commentary, and after reading a few paragraphs, put the book back on the shelf!

Likewise, from the first words of the preacher, the audience is listening with anticipation that the message will be beneficial.  For me, the first words of the scholarly article “un-piqued” my interest.  Sounds too far impractical.  Not into reading an “Ivory Tower” discussion of historiography, language, or fallacies!  Only a few words quickly cooled my interest!

Likewise . . . . 

  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • superfluous historical background or details
  • a review of last week’s message
  • a presentation on the differing views on this-or-that word / phrase / or passage
  • fine-points of theological distinction
  • protracted stories to make a simple point
  • hackneyed illustrations
  • reading your manuscript
  • et al.

. . . . quickly cool the audience’s hope of something that will make next week a better week for living for and like Jesus!

The results . . . .

“I guess that part Christian discipline is listening to sermons that are tedious and pedestrian.”
He’s lost me.  Where is he going?”
“This has little relevance to me and my life.”
“Sorry, you have cooled my interest early on.”

I know some will blame the listeners

However, your listeners are there because they really want to know and understand what the Scriptures teach! 

“To the men and women who keep a sacred appointment on Sunday morning. Bewildered by seductive voices, nursing wounds life has inflicted upon them, anxious about matters that do not matter. Yet, they come to listen for a clear word from God that speaks to their condition. And to those who minister to them now and those who will do so in the future. . . . .

“While it takes three years or more to get through seminary, it can take you ten years to get over it. . . . “
— Haddon Robinson

It is really about “apt to teach.”

“Be clear! Be clear! Be clear!” Clarity does not come easily. When we train to be expositors, we probably spend three or four years in seminary. While that training prepares us to be theologians, it sometimes gets in our way as communicators. Theological jargon, abstract thinking, or scholars’ questions become part of the intellectual baggage that hinders preachers from speaking clearly to ordinary men and women.” — Haddon Robinson

What difference do those truths and principles make?
How does what you are preaching affect life and living as a believer?
After all the preparation in the study is done, ask the question — “So what?”



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