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Rhetoric & Homiletics: The Two Causes For Stretching Plausibility
While it may be appealing to think that “thus saith the Lord” is the basis for listening to and living out your sermon and its expressed applications, that probably is not the case. They are not sure “thus saith the Lord.” God’s people are processing what is being preached and taught.
√ They are assessing whether or not what is being said is actually taught in the passage under study.
√ They are weighing whether your applications are well-founded based on what that passage teaches.
√ They are considering whether your understanding / interpretation of the passage is accurate.
- the meaning of this or that word
- how the phrase or verse fits into the flow of argument / context of the passage
- whether other designated verses or passages actually explain or support what is being said
- if this-or-that that biblical example or illustration clarifies or even fits
- if the analogy is truly a fit analogy
√ They are considering whether the sermon and its applications apply to their lives.
If you doubt (or disparage) that, then reflect on your own thinking as you listen to a fellow preacher, Bible teacher, or speaker. Few in any audience listen uncritically. There are too many voices coming at us from all different directions, even within the religious world, to not be tentative as to what we believe to be the truth. In fact, we encourage being careful and call up “the Bereans” — of Scripture!
Part of that “critical listening” involves plausibility. Is what is being said a “legitimate and fair” way to read and understand the passage. Or, is it somewhat of a stretch to believe that the passage actually teaches that!
√ Those listening are sometimes willing to give tentative consideration when what is being said in meaning and/or application is plausible. The listener is saying, “I see what you are saying, and that is a possible way to understand it, but you haven’t given enough reason or support.” In fact, they may be entertaining other biblical passages which seem to argue against this-or-that understanding. It is plausible that the passage teaches what the preacher-teacher asserts, but plausibility doesn’t give rise to confidence or application.
√ At other times, preachers and teachers can push past the limits of plausibility. Some listeners are saying, “That’s a stretch, a real stretch!” The passage probably doesn’t teach what it is said to teach, and the audience has the right and all the reason to seriously question and/or be dismissive. “Pastor, you are really stretching it to say that passage teaches that.” When that happens, credibility is lost, and more skepticism ensues!
I would suggest that there are at least two primary catalysts for the loss of plausibility, that the limits of plausibility are pushed to breaking and credibility is shaken because of. . . . .
#1) An Over-riding Theological Ideology
#2) A Drive To Make Personal Points
#1) An Over-riding Theological Ideology: At times, what is driving the sermonic content is a theological ideology. That ideology may be politics & Christianity, KJV only, Arminianism, 5-point Calvinism, “Christ In All The Scriptures,”  a belief in the chiasmatic structure of Scripture,  limited atonement, perseverance of the saints, church governance, et al.
It is the ideological position that is controlling the understanding of the Scriptural passage, not the actual words, meaning, or argument of the passage. The result is that Scripture passages are twisted into saying what they were never intended to say, and applications that push the limits of “street credibility” — realistic Christian living.
#2) A Drive To Make Personal Concerns: Whether it be addressing the lagging attendance, a highlight on tithing, the need to enlist more volunteers, the stress of pastoring, justifying a decision, or stamping down criticism,  verses and passages are contorted to address that personal agenda. Old Testament verses and passages are often called into play, regardless of whether they were meant for Israel, and do not apply to the church.
The pastor has a personal agenda. He wants to address personal issues, and he finds a passage, or an entire book of the Bible, that can be used to make his point(s). The obvious result is that Scripture is now a tool to accomplish a goal. It is twisted into a “weapon” to revile or defend.
1. See post on “Christological preaching.”
2. i.e., Chiams — “Unpopular opinion: I think I could impose a believable chiastic structure onto almost any text—sacred or secular. Thus, I have engaged in eisegesis, not exegesis.” — Michale Svigel — “Theology professor (DTS), department chair, patristic scholar, writer, husband, father. Passionate about the church and her one Lord.”
3. This is easily typified when ministry leaders and/or pastors face criticism. The pulpit is used to address the criticism (with humility, of course). Verses and/or passages of Scripture are used to respond to those who would question the decisions or actions of the leadership. Who hasn’t heard a message on “touch not the Lord’s anointed” during times of question and criticism? The preacher-teacher uses the pulpit to do what he claims is being done by others. The pulpit becomes an actual “bully pulpit.”