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Rhetoric & Homiletics: Seven Signs That A Sermon Flopped

Image result for floppy ears rabbit  No, it flopped!

Sometimes it is just valuable to look over the message as a whole — before and after — and consider some of the following areas of rhetorical concern.

I say “rhetorical concern” because none of the seven points have to do with erroneous theology or a failure to know and/or expose what the passage is actually teaching.

Rather, it is about the audience side of the equation.  I well imagine that the list is not exhaustive, but it does give you some checkpoints to consider in the study and after the pulpit.

The “•” under the seven points attempt to restate the main point in a way that may provide some productive explanative consideration.


#1) Covered Too Much Ground:

• Tried to cover too many verses or too large a passage.
• The subject or passage required much more time to develop that was available.
• Wanted to cover all that which got you excited “in the study” – in the “kitchen”
• Laid out far too much contextual material
• Spent too much time reviewing “last week’s” message.
• Rushing through it — because I knew it was a lot of material.
• Too much irrelevant content
• Complicated the simple by addressing so much.
• Saw your audience begin to wain
• Message went wayyyyy  overtime
• You realized that you should have broken up the passage for the audience — identified the sections and stated that you are going to preach on only the first area this week.


#2) Insufficient Clarity Of An Unknown Passage:

• There was not enough background provided to understand what was happening.
• I had to read the passage several times to figure out what was happening
• The passage was obscure, and there was a loss of sufficient context provided.
• Several characters were unknown, and it got hard to follow them all.
• The account was not only obscure BUT it was also complicated.
• This historical context is seriously foreign and left out too much to give clarity.
• This audience is biblically illiterate and did not address that reality.
• Assumed that the listeners knew what they did not


#3) Got Into The Theological Weeds:

• The message got too technical at one or multiple places.
• Too much time was spent on the meaning of words.
• Got off on a theological rabbit trail — related but (or worse, unrelated).
• Tried to deal with a difficult theological concept which overwhelmed the sermon.
• Explaining difficult grammatical concepts — made the dining room the kitchen.
• Listeners didn’t need to know what “Strong’s Systematic Theology” taught about . . . .
• Complicated the simple.


#4) It Just Did Not Jel: 

• The message did not clearly establish a key biblical principle or truth.
• It never came together.
• It seemed like it wasn’t holding together as a biblical whole.
• The message was all over the place.
• It was not a coherent whole.
• Too many smaller points or unconnected smaller points.
• Audience Probably Thought: “Where is he going?”  “I am lost!”
• Can’t state in a simple sentence what you were trying to say.
• Don’t know what the Big Idea is / was.
• I almost changed my message because it wasn’t coming together for me.


#5) Never Connected With The Audience:

• Felt like I was giving more of a lecture than a sermon.
• Feedback: Poor-to-terrible eye contact
• Lacked a needed conversational tone — throughout or at times
• Stuck too much to my notes
• Preached down to God’s people
• Sounded more like teaching than preaching
• Didn’t come across like I personally felt the truths/ principles
• Sounded more like a pastoral promotional in both content and/or illustrations — sounded about self!


#6) Audience Attention: 

• Audience never “bought into” the point I was making
• Didn’t feel like the audience was with you
• Never brought the audience into the message with the introduction
• Had no introduction — “Today we are in chapter 5 of the book of . . . . ”
• Blank faces (or worse) marked the audience at points in time.
• Even those who love and appreciate you were “struggling” with attention.
• Too much distraction happening — poor audio/visual workers — again!
• Audience seemed to give me far more attention when I used an illustration
• Never made this-or-that truth grab the mind by an analogy or illustration
• Made the simple confusing


#7) Little To No Meaningful Application: 

• The audience composition did not match the applications.
• Never really answered, “So What?”.
• Far too little time taken for application.
• Applications were out of the realm of the audience’s identification.
• Unrealistic applicational examples
• Applications stated in far too general terms — “We need to be more faithful.”
• Made a comment like — “I wish I had more time to make application” (Note: You did! It was your sermon.)
• Simple exhortations marked the conclusion of the sermon — “This week, let’s take more time to care for one another.”
• Theological / Theologically accurate, but not practical.
• One illustration used

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The 25 Most Influential Preachers Of The Past 25 Years: What do they have in common?

See the source image  The Vault Of The Secret Formula


Michael Duduit, in “Preaching” magazine — February 13, 2018 — listed out what “The 25 Most Influential Preachers Of The Past 25 Years.”

Such lists have also been compiled in past years (See Below). 2

The comparison is interesting.

•  Some names have changed.
•  Some preachers have gone on to glory.
•  Some names stay on, year after year.
•  Some preachers are on the list even after their homegoing.
•  Most are men.
•  Some you may not like or agree with theologically.

What do these preachers have in common?

That is the question which begs an answer for those seeking to be more effective communicators.  While there are clear differences between these varied preachers and teachers, they all possess some essentials.

There are many variations of “Coca-Cola” — Original, Zero, Vanilla, Diet, Diet Caffeine-Free, Cherry, Lemon, Lime, Rasberry, Citra, Light, Orange, and Life.  There are many other Coca Cola Bottling Company Products — Dasani Water, Honest Tea, Fanta.  But to be called “Coca Cola _____”, they all have certain essential ingredients.

Likewise, there are variant examples of Good-To-Great preaching, yet they all share some essential ingredients.  They all have the same ingredients of effectiveness, no matter the variations of the product on the homiletical shelf.

Let me begin by saying . . . .

There Is No Secret Sauce:  There is no “Secret Recipe,” like the Coke Formula.3   Unlike the vault at Coke headquarters, there is no secret which is kept in a
homiletical vault.”  The factors which play into effectiveness should be known, have been published, are frequently shared, and are obvious to the most novice and motivated preacher.

There is no “secret formula” of effective preaching” for at least four reasons:

#1) Many of these practitioners have written on the subject of preaching and/or homiletics.  There have been extensive interviews of many of those listed for all who want to take the time to read or listen to them address the subject.

#2) All preachers-teachers can listen & learn.  We cannot only think, but we can also think about our thoughts.4  A listener can go analytical, not only experiential, as they listen.   There is much to be learned by listening to others speak and preach.  Just like there is much to be learned from the professional in golf, there is much that can be gleaned while listening to others who step onto the rhetorical greens week after week in the field of preaching. The techniques, thinking patterns, approaches, stylistic elements, etc. are all valuable.

#3) Effectiveness Is Not Singular.  Obviously, the cause of effectiveness varies.  That is why those identified as effective preachers are all very different.  There is no single ingredient, and therefore, there can be no “secret formula of effectiveness.”

Rather, there are different elements which are spread . . . .

√  “singularly” — this-or-that preacher has an element uniquely or overwhelmingly, along with other elements — but that element is overwhelmingly them.

I would almost put Tony Evans in that category.  He singularly-overwhelmingly possesses the ability to call up analogical illustrations.

√  “primarily” — this-or-that preacher has an element which marks them, along with other elements — but that element is what primarily marks them.

Warren Wiersbe and Charles Swindoll are masters at working with words.  Their speaking and writing are primarily marked by that element.

While  John Mac Arthur is primarily known for his comprehensive examination of Scripture.

√  “expansively” — most of those who are effective are marked by those elements  — those elements span good-to-great preachers, while in varying degrees.

Coke does not have one formula, but several.  Some variations of Coca-Cola have unique elements.  Others have shared elements, and all have one expansive element — “coke syrup.”


#4) Some of the differences are vocal.  It should be noted that the various preachers cited are all vocally different and that difference not only separates them out, but it inhibits a possible single reproducible formula.

There are some preachers who are more effective than others because of their “voice.”  Resonance, pitch, tone, fluency, phonation, articulation are not something that is shared across the board.  In singing, there may be those who try to sound like “Elvis,” but few can do and it and it is just not a worthy aspiration when it comes to speaking, no less preaching.

Who would deny that one reason that Alistair Begg is easy and pleasant to listen to is because of his Scottish accent?  John Monroe, of Calvary in Charlotte, is likewise of that same cut of cloth vocally, along with the sound of a lawyer due to his legal background.  Lloyd-Jones brings yet a British accent combined with vocal ambiance because of his medical background.


What do all the identified “Most Effective Preachers” have in common?

What are the shared “Coco-Cola ingredients” which marks all of them?


#1) Exposition:  Most all of those listed would identify themselves as “expository” preachers.  That is, they desire to “expose” what the text actually says rather than “springboarding” from a passage.

Just using a biblical word or idea from a passage and jumping off from it into a message is no longer acceptable.  Today’s congregations generally know the difference between preaching what the passage teaches and “springboarding.”  Many (unfortunately not all) will quickly “tune out” when a preacher plays around with a text.

Have you heard a preacher say, “I am taking this verse out of context, but . . . . ”  That’s the end of that sermon in most cases!


#2) Word Power: They work with words because they live in the world of words!  President Donald Trump will never be a good-to-great speaker.5   He has such a limited vocabulary — wonderful, terrific, beautiful, huge, love it, win, bigly.

Good-to-Great preachers work at their language skills.  They understand that words matter!  Warren Wiersbe is an ideal example of that ability, along with the many others to differing degrees.


#3) Flow:  You can follow them as they speak.  There is a flow of thought which moves from the beginning to the end.   Good-to-Great preachers are on a logical, reasoned, progressive journey.  The message is not “biblically here-and-there,” complicated and difficult to follow, theologically in the weeds, or lost as to where it is all going.

One of the reasons that Good-to-Great preachers are recognized as such is because there are a lot of people who listen to them.  And why do a lot of people listen to them?  Because a lot of people can follow what they are saying.  All kinds, ages, gender, situations in life, of varied employment, education, social and/or financial status, financial get what they are talking about; they can follow them!


#4) Love Working With An Audience:  I am not saying, they love to stand before an audience and have people listen to them.  In fact, that is the opposite of what I am saying.

Rather, they enjoy working WITH an audience.  Just like a teacher, educator, or professor who enjoys teaching, and seeing the light go one when ideas are seen, felt, and/or grasped.  Think of that teacher who made this-or-that subject interesting.  I dare say that they felt a sense of accomplishment when someone was as excited as they were about that subject.

That requires feedback and an ability to read feedback.  Working with an audience involves avoiding the speaking mentality and/or preaching attitude of “preaching at.”  It involves moving the audience along with you — “You have to see this . . . . Watch what happens when Jesus says . . . . .  This is just an incredible and beneficial principle — (It’s “wonderful” and “huge-ly important”).”


#5) Appreciated, Regarded, and/or Loved By The Audience:  Even weak preachers are good preachers when the audience regards him.  A preacher who has a lot of “money built up in the bank of goodwill” will find that even average preaching is well attended to by the audience.

I have, and you have probably as well, heard others highly praise what one might consider average preaching.  I have often been reminded of how much the pastor’s / preacher’s personal relationship plays into the equation!


#6) Working At Their Giftedness:  There is a supernatural element to preaching.  Preachers should be “apt to teach.”  God says that he gifted men for the ministry so that they might edify the saints.

If you are “hard on an audience’s ears” . . .  AND years have passed . . . AND little has changed . . . . may I suggested that the Lord did not call you into the pulpit ministry.  He gifts those he calls.  Perhaps you have been called into the ministry, but not the preaching and/or teaching ministry.

There is a giftedness, AND there must also be a drive to constantly become a better communicator.  Every preacher who is effective knows that.   Even the ineffective know that!  All preachers would concur that they are better at preaching than when they started.  Why?  Not because they did not seek to become more effective.  Rather, the Bible preacher/teacher has improved over the years by design and personal effort.


#7) Realistic & Helpful Application:  The most often heard complaint about preaching and teaching is “little application.”  Good-to-Great preachers have time, and make time, to apply what is being said to real life.

Those who say, “I wish I had more time to . . . .” usually “had plenty of time to . . . .” and especially to apply how this-or-that truth or principles matters in life and living.

“So What?” is the question that needs to be asked at the end of all the points.  God’s people are looking for some concrete help and understanding after walking in the world throughout the week.  They come, week after week, voluntary, and with hope that you can help them out of God’s Word to live more like Christ.


In the end, we may disagree on some of the indicated ingredients.  Perhaps there are other ingredients which are more significant, and some of those identified ingredients are not as important.

Nevertheless, . . . .

there is
“Good – to – Great”

and there is
“Average – to – Boring.” 


An audience member may not know “why,” —  may not be able to articulate what made that message effective.  Nevertheless, even the most “rhetorically unsophisticated” — even “children” who still think a Mac Donald’s Happy Meal is better than a Porterhouse — know and realize . . . .

“That was GOOD!”

“Why did you think that was good?”

“I don’t know, but that was GOOD!”



Other Information & Links:

1. Dr. Duduit is the founder and Executive Editor of Preaching magazine.
His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world.
2.  None of the lists are in any particular order that I am aware of based on the linked articles from which they were drawn.
The 2018 List Of The 25 Most Influential Preachers Of The Last 25 Years, by Michale Duduit
Billy Graham
Charles Swindoll
Rick Warren
Gardner C. Taylor
Rick Warren
John Mac Arthur
Adrian Rodgers
Haddon Robinson
Andy Stanley
John R. W. Stott
W. A. Criswell
John Piper
Charles Stanley
Stephen F. Olford
William A. Jones
Bill Hybels
Fred Craddock
Mark Driscoll
Jack Hayford
William Willimon
E . K. Bailey
D. James Kennedy
Barbara Brown Taylor
Warren Wiersbe
Lloyd John Ogilvie
Tim Keller
In 2008 by Michael Duduit, “Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Pastors”
  • Bryan Chapell
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Jack Graham
  • O.S. Hawkins
  • Jim Henry
  • T.D. Jakes
  • David Jeremiah
  • Dan Kimball
  • Erwin Lutzer
  • John MacArthur
  • Brian McLaren
  • John Maxwell
  • Lloyd John Ogilvie
  • Haddon Robinson
  • Adrian Rogers
  • Andy Stanley
  • Jerry Vines
  • Rick Warren
  • James Emery White
  • Ed Young, Jr.



A 1985 Baylor University Survey — The List Included:

Stuart Briscoe
Maxie Dunnam
Jim Henry
David Allen Hubbard
John Huffman
D.E. King
James Earl Massey
Calvin Miller
Lloyd John Ogilvie
Stephen F. Olford
Haddon Robinson
J. Alfred Smith
John Wesley White
William Willimon
B. Clayton Bell
Stephen Brown
Robert Coleman
Lewis Drummond
Gabriel Fackre
Wallace E. Fisher
Joel C. Gregory
Brian L. Harbour
Larry L. Lehman
Ralph Lewis
Alton H. McEachern
Francis C. Rossow


“For only the second time in two decades, Baylor University has released its list of the 12 most “effective” preachers in the English language.”
Baylor’s 2018 — 12 ‘Most Effective’ Preachers

  1. Alistair Begg
  2. Tony Evans
  3. Joel C. Gregory
  4. Timothy Keller
  5. Thomas G. Long
  6. Otis Moss III
  7. John Piper
  8. Haddon Robinson
  9. Andy Stanley
  10. Charles Swindoll
  11. Barbara Brown Taylor
  12. Ralph Douglas West
3. “Vault of the Secret Formula”
“Visit the vault where the legendary secret formula for Coca‑Cola is secured. Regarded as the most closely guarded and best-kept secret, the secret formula for Coca‑Cola represents over 125 years of history, special moments, memories and the timeless appeal associated with Coca‑Cola. Now our guests can get closer to the famous secret formula than ever before!
Travel through the exhibit on an immersive multimedia journey toward the Chamber of the Secret Formula. Along the way, learn about the origins of the secret formula, how competitors tried to copy the success of Coca‑Cola, how the owners of Coca‑Cola kept the formula secret throughout the years and how the secrecy spawned a trove of myths and legends.


4.  It is possible to listen to other speakers and preachers and quantify what is being done — rhetorically, to go analytical.

When one is able to quantify, he can then reproduce the technique — not a repeating of the content but of the technique! It can then be applied to other passages!

We can not only think, but we can also think about our thoughts. Likewise, we can not only hear something which was done effectively, but we can figure out what was just done.

That is the aim of listening to different speakers, and delineating what and how something was said which made it impacting. The listener needs to go back and deconstruct and quantify what was done so that the pattern can be reused. A “template” can be created for later usefulness.


5. Obviously, President Trump has and will continue to improve his vocabulary.

Nevertheless, just recently he used the word “proportionate” in regards to responding to Iran’s provocation by the shooting down of an American drone — “I didn’t like it.  I didn’t think it was “ffff”  — proportionate.”  Meet the Press Exclusive.

Did you notice that he almost slipped as he said “proportional” — he was about to say “I didn’t like it.  I didn’t think it was [fair] — proportionate.”  He went to “proportional.”

A good speechwriter is able to take into account the speaker’s style and vocabulary and craft speeches which still sound like that person.  Such is the case and the problem with the speechwriters for President Trump.  They know that they must craft a speech which still sounds like him.  Not to mention that when he gets off script, he is back to saying things imprecisely!

I imagine he is better at speaking in a business setting where his vocabulary is much broader due to his background and education.


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Today’s Illustration: Why They Went: The Forgotten Story

blakc-white 2  Brothers

On This Day:  June 16, 1964 — Sixteen Rabbis are arrested and jailed in St. Augustine, Florida as they protested with Negro protestors, along with Martin Luther King Jr.

Place: St. Augustine, Florida — An American Vacation Spot:  New York Times described St. Augustine as a place of “magic waters,” “moss-draped live oak trees,” and “butter pecan milkshakes.” 1

St. Augustine became one of the most famous locations of the American civil rights movement’s most perilous protests (along with Montogomery, Selma, and Birmingham).1

Early in June of 1964, MLK “had accepted an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary.” 1

Sixteen reform (a theological term) rabbis joined the protest in St. Augustine.

They were invited by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who while in jail himself sent them a telegram urging them to join him . . . .

to bear “prophetic witness against the social evils of our time” and requested “that a delegation of the CCAR’s rabbis venture south,” emphasizing that “some 30 or so rabbis would make a tremendous impact on this community and the nation.” 1

The sixteen rabbis responded within hours of receiving King’s request.

They knew that they would be probably be arrested and imprisoned along with their fellow African-American protestors and King.

Realized that they might indeed die.

“I (Rabbi Samuel Soskin, chairman of CCAR’s Committee on Justice and Peace) will remind you men and women here that these men are going down with full knowledge that, perhaps, there may be violence, and … ken ger harget varen.” In Yiddish: They could be killed.” 1

“It was the first time in my life that I had to confront the fact that I might be facing death,” — Rabbi Richard Levy 1

The First Baptist Church of St. Augustine was the unofficial headquarters of the protestors.

• Bottles, bricks, firecrackers, and acid were thrown at the protesters.
• Even the various media outlets which were covering the marches hired bodyguards. because of the level of violence.
• The local police departments did little to stop or limit the activities against the protestors.1

Andrew Young, — “St. Augustine is really worse than Birmingham. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.” 1

The Monson Hotel & Resturant (and swimming pool) was the focal point of the protest.

Seven protestors “jumped into the establishment’s segregated swimming pool. [James] Brock (the hotel manager) grabbed a two-gallon jug of muriatic acid, a cleaning solution, and began pouring it into the water.” 1


Monson Restaurant.jpg


They were arrested and imprisoned overnight in St. John’s County Jail — June 18, 1964.

“The rabbis were squeezed into a 15-by-20-foot jail cell, meant to hold six. The cell held a couple decrepit mattresses, a table, an open toilet, a sink, and a single shower head to keep them cool in the sweltering heat. Many of the rabbis stripped down to their underwear.” 1

The arrest became what was believed to be “the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history.” 1

Other rabbis and Jewish merchants chided and rebuked the rabbis for joining King.

The sixteen Rabbis wrote a “Joint Manifesto” titled — “Why We Went” — here are some of the reasons.

“We came because we realized that injustice in St. Augustine, as anywhere else, diminishes the humanity of each of us.”

“We came because we could not stand silently by our brother’s blood.”

“We came as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria. We came because we know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.”

“[W]e must confess in all humility that we did this as much in fulfillment of our faith and in response to inner need as in service to our Negro brothers. We came to stand with our brothers and in the process have learned more about ourselves and our God”

“Each of us has in this experience become a little more the person, a bit more the rabbi he always hoped to be.”

In “the battle against racism, we have participated here in only a skirmish.”

“[T]he total effect of all such demonstrations has created a Revolution; and the conscience of the nation has been aroused as never before. The Civil Rights Bill will become law and much more progress will be attained because this national conscience has been touched in this and other places in the struggle.”

“Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who freest the captives.” –(a typical Jewish prayer)


“Why We Went” can be summed up in one word . . . .


We are you!
We are able to see you as ourselves.
To allow this and not see that this is about all men, would be short-sighted.
This is about the treatment of all men.
No one is exempt if this is allowed to stand.
“injustice in St. Augustine, as anywhere else, diminishes the humanity of each of us.”


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

in it together
• identifying with others
• civil rights
• the cruelty of humanity
• segregation
• justice
• righteousness
• Martin Luther King Jr.
• Golden Rule
• love one another
• Christian love
• Good Samaritan
• no hesitation
• courage
• sacrifice
• pain of injustice
• injustice
• fear
• the abortion fight
• something greater than ourselves
• standing up / being a voice
• them is us / us is them



Other Information & Links:

Background: “In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy introduced federal legislation that would ultimately become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation that ended segregation in public places and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 1


The Final Draft Of Their Three Page Letter (PDF):

Why We Went Pg1.jpg


Why We Went Pg 2.jpg


Why We Went Pg 3.jpg


The Underlying Original Document — “Why-We-Went”



“Why We Went” Rabbis Letter Read in St Augustine


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A Sermon Is Not . . . .

it is not.jpeg

Sometimes defining what something “is not
provides clarity as to what something “is.”

A Sermon Is Not . . . .

√  a collection of main points which have a relationship to each other, but only in that a word in each point can be found in the passage.

Ephesians 1:17-18 — That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints

There is a need for wisdom in life and living
We have God’s revelation in the Bible
There is a coming day of glory

Springboard Preaching: A passage of Scripture is not a repository of theological words which can be used to “springboard” off.  While the words used in the main points may be found in the passage, it may or may not be at all what the passage is addressing. 1




√  a collection of main points which have a relationship to each other, but only in that each concept / idea can be found in the verse or passage.

Ephesians 1:1 — Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus

The Person: Paul
The Position: An Apostle
The Permission: By The Will of God
The People: To The Saint
The Place: At Ephesus
The Performance: Faithful

Old Mother Hubbard Preaching:  A passage of Scripture is not designed to give us a series of biblical ideas, words, phrases, or concepts which we can progressively camp on and use as main points.

The individual pieces of the passage are used as main points, while the argument of the passage, or the reason for the content of that particular passage within the argument, is missed and/or untaught.




√  a collection of main points which have a relationship to each other, but only in that the original/first passage cited contains the words or thoughts of the points.

Ephesians 2:8-9

The Need For Salvation – Ephesians 2:8
The Avenue Of Faith – Romans 10:17
The Receiving Of Grace – Romans 5:15

Cross-Reference Preaching: A passage of Scripture is not a place where you can find a word (grace), or word and declaration (by grace you are saved through faith), and then move from reference to reference to establish the main points. 2




√  a collection of main points which have little relationship to each other, other than that they all start with the same letter or end in the same “sound.”

Sin’s pervasiveness — Romans 3:23
Salvation’s pricelessness — I Corinthians 2:9
Sanctification’s process — I Peter 1:19


The grace of God in salvation – Ephesians 2:8-9
The grace of God in sanctification – II Peter 2:18
The grace of God in glorification – Romans 5:2

Proof-text Preaching:  A sermon is constructed by putting together three or more biblical truths as main points.  While all which is preached may be biblically true, the points do not flow out of a passage and or may not even reflect the point being made in the cited text used to support this-or-that main point.




√  a collection of main points which have little relationship to each other, other than that they all are connected by a common theological truth.

The love of God when He saved us
The love of God as He keeps us
The love of God in giving us an inheritance

Systematic Theology Preaching: Scripture is not a repository of theological truths which are designed to be preached.  Systematic theology is for the classroom, taught in a seminary, reflected in a doctrinal statement.




√  a collection of main points which reflect the content of the verses and which have a direct relationship with each other because the verses follow sequentially — verse by verse — within the passage of Scripture.

I Corinthians 8

The danger of the academic – 8:1
The limitations and ignorance of men – 8:2
God’s love is personal – 8:3
Idolatry is vain – 8:4
The idolatry of men – 8:5
The Christian’s belief – 8:6

Line-Upon-Line Preaching: A passage of Scripture is not designed 3 in such a way as to have “verse upon verse” become the main points.  The verses are designed to contribute to the main points and to move towards the argument of the passage.

Sometimes the verse(s) lays out the individuals present, others communicate the words spoke, some verses clarify the situation, sometimes a verse will actually contain the crux of the argument, etc.

Some verses are there to get you to the next verse!

The verses are designed to contribute to the truth or principle being taught, but not necessarily to be that truth or principle.  For instance, as an ideal example, there are “narrative asides”  (an explanatory content which is parenthetical, though not irrelevant)4 which are designed to give clarity, even clarity to the point being made, but not to become a point.

“Chunking” out the context of a verse or verses help you determine the role that verse or those versus play in the flow of thought.




√  a collection of main points which call up the content of the verses (verses have a clear and direct relationship to each other in the passage of Scripture), but the main points do not grasp the argument of that passage.

I Corinthians 3:1-3

Being Babes In Christ
Displaying Carnality In Life
Manifesting Strife & Division In Living & In The Church

No-show Argument Preaching:  While those three points are clearly part of the exposition of the passage and are directly related to each other, they are part of an argument, not the argument.  These points which are being made by Paul, are the groundwork, the substructure of an argument.  They need to be connected to the argument of the passage as they are highlighted and preached. 5


Preaching is more than content*, but it is content.  It involves making sure that you rightly reflect and expose what the biblical passage states.  If the original author of that passage was sitting in the audience, listening to your studied understanding of those verses and his original intent, would he say . . . .

“Amen — preach it!”
“Where did you get that from?”



1. Originally, this is what was called “topical preaching.”  That is why “topical preaching” was disparaged over the years.

In recent years “topical preaching” has been reinstated as a legitimate form of preaching because it is now understood that one can preach a topical message while at the same time being expository — exposing the actual truth of the passage in the context of that passage.


2. Obviously, you can “pearl together” three expository messages from these three passages, but potentially a preacher-teacher is open to using one of the other cross-referenced verses out of context.


3. Obviously, there are exceptions when it comes to an actual biblical listing of points as stated by the writer — i.e. I Thessalonians 5:16-22


4. “Narrative Asides” sometimes give a time, a place, a custom, the thinking of the author, the thinking of a character, an identification of a person, the mental recall of the writer or disciple, etc.).

“Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” — Acts 11:16

Undoubtedly, one of the points of a message would not be, “We need to remember God’s Word.”


5. Typically, here is how a message would go with this sermonic approach . . . . .

“Paul is addressing the fact that when we are first saved, we are babes in Christ.  That is where we start out in our Christian life.  However, we are not meant to stay there in our lives any more than in the natural.

These believers have been saved and have some years of spiritual life, but are still carnal.  That carnality is showing itself by strife and division.  They are walking as the men of this world walk.

Let’s look at those three areas:

#1) Being Babes In Christ
#2) Displaying Carnality In Life
#3) Manifesting Strife & Division In Living & In The Church

#1) Being Babes In Christ:  That is our starting point.  We need to recognize that when it comes to those who are new believers – to babes.  They are going to come into the Christian life just like we did — babes.  They have to, as we did, work through some of the most basic areas of life and living.  Give them room — like we needed — to grow.  You do not expect a baby to be able to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “


However, the argument Paul is making is about . . . .

the roll each of God’s servants plays in God’s program
the exalting and disparaging of men, like Paul and Apollos
the cause of the division and strife
the carnality — which is seen in the  “I am of Paul / I am of Apollos”

AND in building to that point, Paul is laying down the substructure.  In getting to that point, Paul lays down and builds the argument step by step . . . .

√  How babes are carnal. ( That is to be expected.  Carnal and babes are connected 3:1)
√  How babes are initially fed with milk and they were by Paul
√  How babes are meant to grow up but they have not — still can’t eat meat.
√  Therefore, you are “yet carnal.”  (Key to argument – twice – “yet carnal”)
√  Proof & Example of your carnality — “For whereas . . . For while . . . . are ye not carnal”

3: 5 — WHO THEN — “by whom” (not in whom)
3:7 — SO THEN — this is where Paul is going!
This is the crux of the argument.  We are all laborers, fellow laborers, and every man shall receive his own reward!


Paul is not examining the subject of carnality, or new birth-babes, or milk and meat.  He is laying down the substructure, the groundwork, the infrastructure of the argument he wants to make!

The “preaching casualty” is the argument which Paul is making!

It is not that all which may be and can be said about babes, carnality, strife, division, personal tastes, and the like is not biblical true based on the whole tenor of Scripture.  Nevertheless, what Paul is teaching is not seen correctly or fully by the audience.

Statement of the Big Idea or Main Argument





A Sermon Is Not . . . . .

. . . . only the theological, but also involves the “rhetorical.”

Preaching is not just having sound biblical content.  It is also effective communication.  That is exactly what differentiates preachers and teachers.  Why do you find it profitable and enjoyable when listening to ___(insert you person)___?

However, a sermon also includes doing all we can in preparation and delivery to be clear, engaging, practical, and applicational.

If you wait until Saturday night or Sunday morning to work on the rhetorical, and/or spend the week primarily on the theological, you will lack the needed time to generate ways to best communicate the biblical truths you want to see change lives.


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Prediction: Obsolete As A Tube Radio

hymnals in church.jpg
What Has Been Lost Along With The Hymnal?

Today’s post has nothing to do with “” — see the disclaimer below.

Instead, it is about an article which caught my interest yesterday evening.

The article caught my attention because the article was unexpected.

I was not anticipating coming across an article on this subject from that “publication.”

I thought it peculiar!

I was on “” — an online news outlet publication. 

Here was an article which was addressing what was happening in local churches . . . .

“Why Churches Should Ditch The Projector Screens And Bring Back Hymnals”

Published by — “The Federalist”?  — which I enjoy for its secular, not religious newsworthiness.

My interest was further piqued as I googled the author — “Tom Raabe”1 — a seminary professor?  — a pastor?

He is a layman in a Luthern church (the Missouri Synod — the conservative side of the denomination) — not a professor, not a pastor and not a Baptist. 2

I wasn’t so much interested in the “Projector Screens” side of the headline, as I was about the “Hymnals” side.

However, I did not want to read another article addressing the CCM movement and those kinds of issues, which are all too well-worn!  Another article on that would not interest me, but this one did.

The article was more about the effects and use of video screens.  Yet, the subject of “hymnal use” was peppered in here-and-there.

If you are interested in the whole discussion, you can read it yourself.


My Take:

I thought that . . . .

some of the arguments made in the article were weak . . . .

“Screens Don’t Belong In Church

To the first point: they’re horrifically ugly.  In churches that don’t look like churches, the sort that instinctively prompt you to look for basketball nets and a scoreboard, they almost fit. Screens feel at home among the accouterments of contemporary worship that also dominate the space—guitars, mics, drum kits, keyboards, and amps—and behind that, typically giant luminescent slabs on the wall.”


 other arguments were ineffective and/or well-worn 2  . . . .

“The old-fashioned language of hymns may strike some as unusual, but their text teaches the Christian faith far better than most of the praise choruses that dominate contemporary services.”


 some of the practical audio/video concerns mentioned are indeed accurate and all too pervasive,  longstanding, and epidemically frustrating in local churches today (“distraction” matters in worship and preaching) . . . .

“Will the slide change at the right time?
Will the correct slide come up next?
“Oh, look, there’s a typo!”
It’s hard not to see how technology distracts from the meaning of the words we sing.”


 there may be some validity to the point that seeing words on a screen has a different impact than words printed on paper 3. . . . .

“The words on the screens may look like the words in the book, but they lack substance. They’ll disappear the moment the switch is flipped off.”


However, what most resonated with me was when Raab said . . . .

“If you’re not already familiar with the tune, you cannot sing from a screen.
There are no instructions on how many pitches you must devote to each syllable. In cases like these, most just end up keeping their mouths shut.
This also limits the complexity of the songs’ music and words, because it’s easier to learn simpler songs when new ones are introduced without sheet music.”


It resonated with me because it mirrored what I have been thinking and saying over a lengthy period of time.  Raab repeated, though nominally, what I have also thought about and saw happening.

A real lost was taking place which accompanied the disuse of hymnals —- musically,  vocally, harmonically, didactically, and spiritually.

Let me state more fully my shared misgivings on the “disappearance” of hymnals.
What is being lost? — (These are in no particular order of significance.)

Loss #1): Elemental Instruction

How many of us we taught and/or taught our children to sing in church by holding the hymnal down at their eye level,  guiding their eyes through the stanzas with our finger?  They learned one of the most elemental concepts of music composition at the youngest of age.  As they grew up, there was no difficulty in following a musical score.

If the present trend continues, that will be lost in a generation or less, if it hasn’t been already.


Loss #2): Fullness of Beauty

There are two parts to hymns.  One part is the “poetry,” and the other part is the “music.”  It is the combination of those two art forms which makes music speak to our minds and hearts like little else can do.

Just repeat the words of the poem — “It is Well With My Soul” or “And Can It Be” — no music.  You probably won’t feel what the combination of words and music is designed by our Creator to accomplish.

Or listen to the “music” of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or  “The Hallelujah Chorus” and try to muffle your mind from calling up the words.  The words push their way into your consciousness — into your mind and heart — which then overflows in true worship of Who He is!

Hymns are a combination of two art forms:  Poetry & “Music.”

But let me push the argument further because the “music” side is not meant to be just one dimensional — “melody.”  The melody is what allows us to “Name That Tune.”  However, to experience the fullness of music, there are more dimensions!

The “music” was written in such a way as to complete that art form — a complete musical score containing different voices or parts (as with an orchestra composed of various instruments, but with only the trombone playing).

The “musical” composers wrote it out in parts for a reason, and the reason was that it rounds out and fulfills the beauty of the music.

Listening to the melody alone is a truncated form of musical expression.

Having an audience sing only melody is a loss, not an advance or a wholeness.  The art forms — both of them — poetry and music — lose their full potential when combined together, with only the melody.

Is the fullness of the music only to be found and expressed when a choir or group sing?

Should the beauty of the music be left untaped when the congregation sings, a congregation of voices which has the potential to move each other in praise?

Don’t we lose something by singing only the melody as we join together in worship?

An Aside: Typically, there is also the loss of “descants” within a hymn [“descant” — also spelled discant — from Latin discantus, “song apart,” a countermelody either composed or improvised above a familiar melody.”]

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing . . . . .  “of my heart” . . . . keeps me singing as I go.


Loss #3): Musical Development

Bear with me for a moment in order to drive home this point.

I have spent years teaching public address, pulpit speech, homiletics, speech 101, debate, and preaching at Christian colleges, state universities, and seminaries.

Over a period of twelve years, I wrote for lessons for Union Gospel Press.  I have published magazine articles on preaching.

I spend over 35 years in the pulpit ministry, preaching at a minimum 3 times a week and for many years 4 times.

I am passionate about “Homiletics” — “Preaching” — passionate about both and on the practical and theoretical levels.  Don’t get me going on the subject of preaching because I want you to see and understand what I love talking about.

Even today, every so often in Adult Bible Fellowship or during the Mid-week service, I will purposefully (and even “un-purposefully”) speak about the subject of “homiletics”/ preaching.  Typically I don’t use that word, but that is what I am sharing.


I will say and have said something like this . . . . 

“The Bible is designed to give us truths and principles which cause us to see and think differently.  It is those principles which flow out of a passage.

A Bible principle is not — “God wants us to follow wisdom.” 4

That is a biblical fact.

That truth can be seen in all kinds of Bible passages.  Bible principles are specific to the passage — maybe more than one passage, but not so general that it is taught “everywhere.”

“God wants us to follow the wise words of others.” — closer, but still fits a multitude of passages.

“God wants us to follow the wise words of experience because it will change our lives.” — closer, but still fits a multitude of passages.

“God wants us to follow the wise words of experience, else we may be misled by the voices of ignorance, ultimately leading down a road of idolatry.  — I Kings 12 / cp. 12:8, 28 — shocking!

More Succinctly: Here is the biblical principle: When you follow the voices of ignorance, prepare for some terrible decisions down the road.

More Succinctly: Or we could say it this way . . . . .

Following Ignorance Will Compromise Fidelity
Following & Fidelity Travel Together
Idolatry Comes After Insanity
Idolatry Follows Insanity


Sorry . . . . See what I mean!  — I love the practical and the theoretical side of the art of preaching.

That, to say this . . . .

I really do not get it.  If as. . . .

a musician
a lover of music
the one who leads a congregation of God’s people — musically — week after week
the individual who is probably the most musically gifted and knowledgable
one who has given his/her life to one of the most important art forms of Creation

. . . . . whether it be traditional or contemporary music — it doesn’t matter in making this point . . . .

If you as an artist do not want to . . . . .

develop the congregation’s abilities in music
improve their appreciation of music
encourage them to bring out the fullness of the poetry and music
hear them minister to each other with all that music has to offer
help them understand the greatness of the art form

. . . . .  who does and who will?

In fact, I have known musicians who lead a congregation in this-or-that particular hymn, and who will make sure that the congregation follows the score — “Now, there is no ‘rest’ there.”


Loss #4): A Partial Loss Of The Worship Experience

There are those who lead music in the church today who are committed to having the congregation enjoy their kind of music.

Like it or not, we are going to sing their genre of music.

Whether it is conscious or not, it often comes across as . . . .

“You’ll enjoy this!”
“I like it, and you will come to enjoy it as well.”
“What ministers to your heart is not important.”
“Like it or not, we are going to sing my genre of music.”
“You should like it.  Stop being so narrow.”
“You should like it.  Be more sophisticated.”
“The most important are the young — the future of the church.”

Again — that is how it may well come across  — if that matters  — when there is not a diversity which takes into account those who love the traditional or likewise those who enjoy a different genre.

And let me also say,  that is how it may well come acrossand it indeed may be accurate.

I am not re-litigating the CCM issues.

I am litigating the issue of “selfishness” as expressed in the musical ministries of a local church — not a concert.

When you attend this-or-that concert, it is your choice!  You should know the genre of music being performed, and nothing is being forced on you.  Don’t like it?  Walk out.

Not so in a local church!

We should not have to walk out of a church which we have loved, enjoyed, fellowshipped in, and invested our money, time, and service.

What no song leader has a right to do is be “musically selfish!”

The question must be:  What does the congregation — the broad general spectrum of the congregation — find worshipful?  Not, what does the song leader enjoy?  It is not about him, it is about those who are there to worship corporately!

I have been in too many great churches with an effective pastoral and pulpit ministry, which have had little regard for corporate worship.  During the music service, not even a single great hymn was included.  It was as if there were none present which would have welcomed such a traditional hymn, a hymn which ministers to me and others.

A traditional hymn ought to be included, at the least because it is part of our Christian heritage.

There are times when a traditional hymn is sung, and I want to shout, “Did you notice how the singing changed when you sang that hymn?”


Or there have been many occasions when a great hymn was included, but . . . .

√  I am forced to sing (or listen to) the most recent modern musical arrangement of that hymn.

I don’t know how to sing that hymn with that music!  It is an unfamiliar arrangement or a different musical score to the same words.  Sorry, I would like to enjoy it as written.  Its meaning and thoughts are connected to our lives and past experiences.

√  the song moves (after one stanza) into a ramped up version — and off we go — drums leading the way — to a contemporary sounding version.

√  that it is — 1

√  that it is — 1 — and then the rest of the music is basically all the same genre
Nothing else is used which I have ever heard or even might have heard — (That is not to say that I have to sing songs which I have heard.  However, how about a little  — just a little —  balance.)


The result? 
A loss of meaningful worship — as I stand … and stand … and stand  … and stand 6 …
listening to songs . . . .

I cannot sing
are arranged for professional voices
I do not know
which have little variety
are directed to the taste of one segment of the congregation
which communicate that my attendance is not that important
forced upon me by a this-or-that song leader — both contemporary or traditional!



Does the song service have much to do with the preaching of the Word?

Maybe this post really is about preaching!




I am writing “above my pay grade” when I write about music.  My typical post on LinkedIn is about “Homiletics & Rhetoric.”

After finishing, I thought — maybe this does have to do with preaching.  You decide.


My Musical Credentials:

Raised on classical music by German immigrants
Took Lessons on Piano, Violin, & Mandolin
Played around with guitar, accordion, and tried xylophone
Would love to play marimba
Sang in church choirs over the years as layman and pastor
Never really enjoyed singing until I was saved in 1964
Love traditional hymns, but my appreciation of church music does go is beyond that.
Absolutely no formal training in voice — just contributed a voice and body to a choir
I was good-to-terrible on various instruments.

As you see — little to nothing to place me in a league with those who really understand music theory and concepts.

You might want to listen to an excellent theorist, Ben Everson — “The Power Of Music” — CD!  I heard him in person for hours and bought the CD because he – along with others — helps me understand how music works!




1. If you want to read the Luthern take on what is happening “musically,” here is another link to an article by Tom Raabe in the American Spectator.

A Plea to Millennials: Save Our Worship


2. Apparently, the CCM issues are still resonating among various other church groups.  That battle is threadbare, divisive, and unresolved among many Bible-believing Baptist churches.  I am not being dismissive, but another article on Contemporary Christian Music is not going to settle much if anything.


3. I tend to believe this point primarily because the words printed in the Bible are far more visually and personally impacting than those up on a screen.

I do not believe that an actual Bible in hand is the same as an electronic version for several reasons.  Without changing the direction of this post, let me just say that the ability to mark, note, flip here and there, make a cross-ref note is valuable!  Write out your class notes versus typing them in class and see the difference!

I understand the argument that — “It is all what we get used to.”  I disagree.  I maintain that there is a connective difference. There is something about writing with the hand, and typing!

This is a whole other discussion, though I think related!


4.  Another Example:

A Bible principle is not “God is gracious.”  That is a theological fact.  That truth can be seen in all kinds of Bible passages.  Bible principles are specific to the passage — maybe more than one passage, but not so general that it is taught “everywhere.”

“God is gracious even in His times of judgment.” — is closer to a biblical principle, but it is still too broad since it is not specific enough.

“God is gracious even when he judges waywardness.” — Jonah / Nineveh


5. “If that matters to you.” —   It does to me because what we communicate non-verbally matters to God.


6.  Is it okay if people sit and sing?  Just asking.
Do we all have to stand if someone stands?
Is it okay to stay seated if others stand?




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Rhetoric & Homiletics: What Actually Is The Hard Part Of Preaching!

your mission shiuld you 3  See If You Agree At The End?

Can I suggest — and argue — that many times in the preparation of a sermon . . . .

 the hardest part

most of the sermonic work
some of the most intense brain work
the expenditure of mental energy
the greatest amount of time  . . . .

Begins At This Point

ArrowDown Shadow.png


timeline V5.jpg

It begins with laying out the body of the sermon, the main points, and goes on from there — to the hours before and even up to and including its presentation.

Generally, the time taken to know and understand what this-or-that Bible passage teaches does not consume near the time which these elements take:

how to build and/or structure the sermon
“writing” it
“re-writing” it
illustrating broad or individual points
thinking of applications
cutting parts out
adding other pieces in
anticipating possible resistance
revising – revising – re-writing
changing the way to go about . . . . .
deciding on an introduction
thinking it through — as a whole
visualizing the whole as it should go and flow
getting it generally down in our minds
generating ways or other ways to go about it
generating different ways to say or word this-or-that
visiting and revisiting how to conclude it all

It is these kind of elements of sermonic construction which will have the hands of the clock spinning – spinning unnoticed.

Let me argue that point!

The “exegesis” and/or the “exposing” what a passage teaches takes far less time (and the more if we have received a good-to-great seminary education) because of  five factors which are operating . . . . .

√  Stewardship
√  Training
√  Tools
√  Education
√  Simplicity

Stewardship:  We do not need to come up with the truths and/or principles.  We have been given the truths and principles to teach.  We are only “stewards” — the “postmen.”

In fact, that is one of the main differences between secular public speaking from preaching.

Training:  We can handle the theological.  That is what we are actually best at when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching.

In fact, in a way that can become a liability.  It is possible for full-time professional theologians to easily get into the weeds! We love the “kitchen” and “food preparation” so much that we want those in the dining room to understand and enjoy, what we have come to enjoy and appreciate, as much as us!



Tools:  More biblical tools are available today than at any time in history!

Have you ever wondered how some of the great preachers of the past ever accomplished what they did?  Some of them did not even have a concordance, a Bible dictionary, Vine’s book of Words, Bill Mounce’s books on Greek, Bible Manners & Customs — no less e-sword / Blue Letter Bible / Logos / or a seminary education!



Education: Little else will fit you well in the ministry than a solid biblical education.  Sitting under Dr. John Whitcomb for three years at Grace Theological for class after class fit me well for life!  During class after class, his desk looked like “ABC, NBC, CBS” —  like a press conference with cassette players and mikes across its front).

Taking the time to get a good seminary education, where you are taught by those you trust and believe what is being taught will fit you well in life.  Don’t spend time sitting in classes where you disagree.  That is not the first need in the pastoral ministry.



Simplicity: Most passages of Scripture far less complicated than we would like to make it times?  The basic biblical truth being taught is not that difficult to discern.

“Haddon Robinson said several times that there are basically variations on roughly ten big Big Ideas in the Bible. “1

Spreading Goodness
Creation 1

Many have been taught that the “expository preaching” means that we talk through a passage, verse by verse — a running commentary on the obvious — “An Amplified Bible” —  but the audio version.

Most who are listening (and even the children) already know what this-or-that passage is generally teaching.  We believe and teach that — that God’s people can read the Bible and it does not require a “priesthood” to reveal what it is teaching!

A Resistant Indicator: Of course there are parts, portions, verses which are difficult and often misunderstood.  There is a reason for attending seminary, learning the original languages, and the gift of “pastor-teacher!”
Just saying!  We know that pastors can merely rehash what the audience already knows and has heard over and over.  There is a name for that — “boring.”


The basic biblical truth being taught is generally simple.
BUT how it is being uniquely argued in the passage and how to communicate that effectively
is not that simple!


There are two parts to sermonic preparation. 3


AND the “rhetorical” part . . . . .

•  is more prominent than most might consciously realize, recognize, or appreciate
•  takes a great deal of time
•  is real mental labor
•  is too often uninformed and/or learned by trial and error


AND the “rhetorical” side is what distinguishes preachers and preaching.  It is not that most preachers and teachers are teaching something different from this-or-that passage.

•  The Parable of the unforgiving servant is about forgiveness.
•  Genesis 3 teaches about Satan’s temptation and the Fall.
•  Psalm 23 teaches about our Father’s care for His flock.
•  I Corinthians 3 teaches that you should not fall in love with the postman, but the writer of the letter (Now we are approaching the statement of a Big Idea).
•  Philippians 2 is addressing the Lord’s thinking which accompanied the incarnation.
•  and . . . and . . . and . . . and . . . . What you are preaching on is about . . . . .?

The rhetorical side is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another, far more than a different grasp or explanation of what is being taught in a particular biblical passage. 2


The rhetorical side is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another.


The ability to effectively communicate what most “pastoral theologians” agree is being taught in this-or that passage, distinguishes preachers.

Rhetorical ability is what often distinguishes one preacher-teacher from another.

Those preachers and teachers who are known across the evangelical culture are known, not because they have a different understanding of various biblical passages.2  It is because they know how to make that truth hit home, unlike many and most others.

That is not to say that effective speakers know what makes them effective.  They may or they may not.  That is why a professional golfer may not be effective as a golfing coach-instructor.  That is why you can be a professional golf instructor but not have your name on a PGA’s Masters Leaderboard.  An effective teacher need not be as effective in practice and someone effective in practice may be a terrible teacher.

Nevertheless, a good number of preachers are excellent communicators.  Their effectiveness may have been . . . .

•  the result of giftedness
•  learned by experience
•  developed over time
•  acquired by a pursuit of knowledge
•  furthered by a mentor(s)
•  due to an openness to criticism
•  absorbed by listening and reading
•  improved upon by being well-read
•  due to listening to their father in ministry
•  furthered by an education in this-or-that connected discipline
•  the result of God’s unusual and unique placement and blessing

Whatever the cause for their effectiveness, I know and understand this as a fellow preacher-teacher . . . .

√  there are two sides of preaching
√  a meaningful part of preaching involves the rhetorical
√  devoting time and study to the rhetorical side affects at least  half of our effectiveness
√  unless we work at our effectiveness as a life-long practitioner who lives in the world of words, we might experience a great deal of pastoral frustration.  Part of the reception of our leadership leans on our ability to effectively communicate.



1. Peter Mead is actually confusing about biblical themes, not “Big Ideas.”  It was poorly stated by Mead and you can see that because Mead prefaces his comment with . . . .

Every passage has a unique main idea.  But are there thousands of completely different main ideas in the Bible?  Haddon Robinson said several times that there are basically variations on roughly ten big Big Ideas in the Bible.”

Haddon Robinson did not teach that there are only 10 -12 “Big Ideas” in the Scriptures.

There are those who would like to think of “Big Ideas” as a simply stated theological truth — i.e. “God is faithful.”  That is a theological truth, but not the statement of a passage’s Big Idea.  That kind of supposed big idea could be found throughout the Scriptures, but as God shows His faithfulness to Joseph, versus Naomi and Ruth, or David, or Daniel, or Shadrack-Meshach-Abednego, or His own Son — all have a more precise, unique, and specific “compliment” that accompanies the statement of God’s faithfulness.

“Every passage has a Big Idea.  Some even closely mirror others, but may well be distinct upon examination.  But are there thousands of completely different Big Ideas in the Bible?  There are basically variations on roughly ten biblical themes throughout the Bible.”
10 Biggest Big Ideas – 1. God


2. There are individuals who are so knowledgeable in a particular biblical area that they are distinguished from most others because they bring their wide and deep grasp of an area of expertise:

— Evolution — Ken Ham
— Creationism — John Whitcomb
— Prophecy — Thomas Ice
— etc.


3.  Peter Mead did an article on Preaching where he employed the idea of preaching “a half message.”  “A Half” message reflects that there are two sides to a sermon.  “Explain it” and not “Applying It” is #10.  You can know and explain what the passage says, but fail to do what the passage does not do for you — and that is — apply it.

That takes mental rhetorical work!  The applications are surely not found in the biblical verses, but are generated in the mind of the speaker as he considers his audience, the culture, the communicating and arguing for present-day examples, etc.

Peter Mead:  10 Ways to Half Preach A Text” — November 2011

10. Explain it, but don’t apply it.
9. Commentary it, but don’t proclaim it.
8. Preach a plethora of cross-references.
7. Preach a preferred cross-reference.
6. Impose a sermon structure instead of letting the text’s structure influence your message.
5. Use the context, but ignore the content.
4. Use the content but ignore the context.
3. Preach a generic message or idea from what could be any text.
2. Preach from the details, but don’t figure out how they work together to give the main idea.
1. Say just enough about the text to introduce what you want to say.


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Rhetoric & Homiletics: What Has Gone So Wrong?

why 2Why?


The Simple Answer :
Ecclesiastes 12:12
And Solomon Didn’t Know The Half Of It!

Why has so much been written and continues to be written on the subject of biblical preaching and teaching?

Why is there such a deluge of books, articles, blogs, magazines, seminars, conferences, webinars, podcasts, and online classes — after years and years of such materials  — after the supposedly definitive books and volumes – (such as John Broadus*) which address preaching?

√  Hasn’t it all be said?
√  What more can a person say which hasn’t been already covered?
√  What is left to say even in 2019?
√  Is Preaching the Word that difficult & different in 2019?
√  Do we really need another book on preaching?
√  Why are so many like each other? (I can almost tell you the chapter titles.)
√  Has someone something to say which is really that different?
√  Another seminar on improving ministry in the pulpit!  Really!
√  Will another book finally address the issues?
√  Where did homiletics take a wrong turn?


T. David Gordon (Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College)
states in his book, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,“*** . . . . .

“The average pastor (“Johnny”)
cannot preach a good sermon.”



√  Homiletics must have taken a wrong turn!  Is that not a fair inference?


Somewhere there must be a vacuum, a hole, a gap, an unrealized aspiration!

Something must not have been clearly or adequately addressed by all those authors who are writing about homiletics and preaching.

Somehow the preachers-teachers still aren’t getting it and it is going to require another person to take a stab at it and get them on track!

Somewhere what needs to be said hasn’t been said or isn’t being heard!

Somehow the seminary professors, the teaching professionals, have failed at teaching preaching after being enrolled for three years.

Someone in the publishing business can’t find a modern-day “John Broadus” who can provide something even close to a definite work on homiletical instruction.


There are a few homiletical “books” (I use “book” as shorthand for the various avenues mentioned above.) which are recognized as significantly contributing to the discussion of homiletics. You hear the author’s name or the title of this-or-that book repeated by a variety of preachers!  Their book on preaching is seen as valuable, beneficial, and even a homiletical game changer (such as “Biblical Preaching” by Haddon Robinson**)!  but for a reason!


Their book on preaching is seen as valuable, beneficial, even a homiletical game changer! 

but for a reason! —


They provide something that many and most books on preaching do not offer! 

They offer a “rhetorical perspective.” 

While some might not appreciate the term “rhetorical,” because “rhetoric” calls up the idea of the manipulation of others by the use of words — an “Elmer Gantry” connotation.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the books, articles, seminars which are most valuable, oft-recommended and purchased time and time again — come from a rhetorical vantage — whether or not the writer or seminar speaker realizes, grasps, or understands that.

Own a home long enough and you will learn a lot about maintenance and repair — a lot about which some have published “Do It Yourself” manuals about.  You may not understand the thinking and theory behind what you are doing, but you can still carry out the repair. . . .

“Put the purple liquid on the PVC joint before you apply the glue.”

Doing that does not require that you know what the purple stuff is or why you should do that.

AND you can write a book on maintenance and repair after years of home ownership and repair.  In fact, if you have bought enough used cars, you might be able to produce your own “Do It Yourself” car manual for dummies.

And many a preacher can write a “book” on preaching / homiletics after years of preaching!  Indeed, many have!

Many are unprofitable.
A good number are mildly helpful.
Many are repetitive.
A few explain-develop a side of sermonizing that is interestingly helpful!
Some charge good money for what they have to say!


However, the best and most beneficial books on home or car repair are written by those who . . . .

•  know and understand on a deeper level
•  grasp why this-or-that does or does not work
•  know the typical mistakes made
•  the reason why you have to or should
•  grasp what is being said when you . . . .
•  how best to explain the process
•  why saying it that was gives the idea that . . . .


Chilton’s manual is “Chilton’s” for a reason!

There are a lot of books out there on car repair!
A lot of “Youtube How To Do It Videos” online you can watch.

Many are unprofitable.
A good number are mildly helpful.
Many are repetitive.
A few explain-develop a side of repair that is interestingly helpful!
Some charge good money for what they have to say!


However, there is a reason Chilton’ manual is still around and selling!


What Separates Out The Various Books On Preaching?

What separates out some books is their rhetorical vantage.  There are some authors who understand the classical underpinning of communication and are not warded off by the mistaken belief that somehow faithful preaching & biblical theology are at odds with also improving one’s grasp of the process and principles of communication — of “rhetorical theory.”

As Paul Tripp states,

“It is important to understand the two essential parts of effective preaching and how each requires its own discipline of preparation. . . . . Preaching is not just a craft of content; it is also a craft of communication . . . . I am persuaded that we have devalued the communication aspect of powerful, effective, life-changing, gospel preaching.”

While Tripp has not yet written a book on the subject of preaching, he reveals that he understands that there is a rhetorical element to preaching and teaching!

Why did Haddon Robinson’s books, classes, seminars, articles, interviews, and speaking situations find such an audience — to this day?  I saw it first hand.  In 1982 I was on the speaking venue with him.  I was invited to speak at a conference in Perryville, Massachusetts along with Dr. Haddon Robinson.  I spoke after Dr. Robinson and would be hard-pressed today to remember the passage I spoke on — ( I know — “on which I spoke”).  However, I still remember the passage and much of the message which was preached by Dr. Robinson. It was Psalm 73, and I could almost write out some parts of that message yet today!  Why?  Because he understood that there is more than the theological-biblical!  There is the rhetorical!

Individuals like Haddon Robinson come from a classical-rhetorical vantage.  Robinson didn’t devalue the communication aspect — the rhetorical elements of preaching.  He understood that there is a body of public speaking theory which can and will benefit those who spend their lives communicating!

Many can write on preaching from a theological perspective — a perspective that most pastors have been taught in seminary but which lacks the classical rhetorical theory component.  After years of speaking, pastor and preachers may write a book on homiletics / preaching. However, too often they are writing from a theological or an experience perspective — but not both.

Theologically: The Bible is not a book on communication theory, no more than it is a book on science — though it includes both those topics.

Experientially:  You can and do learn (or unlearn) a lot by speaking experience!  Nevertheless, you may not know or understand enough to pass it on adequately.  A great football player is not necessarily a great coach.

The result . . . .

#1) a lot of “books”  — by those who do a lot of speaking and are primarily theologically oriented. 

#2) a good number of bad “books” —  by those who live in the world of “public speaking” — and see secular public speaking and preaching as identical twins!  Who discount the inherent power of the Word, the working of the Holy Spirit, the cooperation of God, and his commitment to a coming kingdom!

#3) a few good “books” —  by those who have lived in both worlds and like Paul Tripp and Haddon Robinson can keep the balance!


Unfortunately, some decry the idea that good-to-great preaching should be connected to rhetorical ability.  Such disparage and diminish some of the really great communicators like Andy Stanley (some will bristle at that — just saying), Tony Evans, Alistair Begg, Lloyd-Jones.

Read Andy Stanley‘s book (and/or others) and see WHY he is so effective. He understands the communication process!

But you don’t have to.  There are a lot of options!  There is a host of typical homiletical books which reiterate, repeat, cover & recover, and “hearse”(no such word except in reference to a funeral home — so there may be a connection after all) and rehearse the well-trodden, impractical terrain of preaching.

Equally unfortunate is the increased probability that such preachers-teachers will be mediocre-to-terrible communicators of the King and His coming kingdom!

The best of both worlds is to grab ahold of biblical truth and rhetorical principles, concepts, techniques, methodologies, etc.

The best balance is to be . . . .

√  theologically faithful
√  rhetorically educated (academically or well read), and
√  experienced in the art of preaching!


Why is it that some people preach for an hour, and it seems
like twenty minutes, and some preach twenty minutes and it
seems like an hour?”
— Haddon W. Robinson —


What Is The Answer?


* “A Treatise on the preparation and delivery of Sermons” by John Broadus — A treatise!  526 pages!  Have you read it recently!  I have!  This is one of the most definitive works to this day on Preaching!

** Many contemporary “books” on preaching are about “finding Christ in all the Scriptures.”  That is another whole discussion!

*** “Why John Can’t Preach” by T. David Gordon (Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College). “The book has a strong thesis, which Gordon convincingly develops: The average pastor (“Johnny”) cannot preach a good sermon.

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Today’s Illustration: What Einstein Told His Cook

Foodology-Signage   Tomorrow Is The Dining Room

In his book,  “What Einstein Told His Cook,” Robert Wolke begins by musing about the possibility of having a scientist at hand to answer any questions which come up in the world of science and nature.  He imagines how nice it would be if when we had a question, we could turn to a scientist “at our elbow,” such as Einstein, who could provide scientific answers to some of the “how does that work” questions.

If someone, of the stature of Einstein, could give us a plain, no-nonsense explanation of “why” — Why is what is happening, actually happening? — scientifically.

How does that work?
Why does that work like it works?
What principles are at play to make that do what it does?
How come it is not working that way now?

However, the book isn’t really about Einstein, and I don’t know if Einstein had a cook. He probably did is my best guess.  I imagine that someone could answer that question as well.

Rather, Wolke introduces over a 100 questions and answers — all of which have been asked of him over the years “by real-life cooks, readers of my Food 101 column in the Washington Post and other newspapers.”

The book is about “Kitchen Science” — foodology (Don’t know if that is a word.  It probably is!  Nevertheless, it does illustrate a previous post on public speaking).

The book is not about food preparation.

It is not about the use of the various tools and hardware found in a kitchen.

It is not a book of recipes where you just follow the directions and steps to make this-or-that meal.

Rather, it answers the scientific “whys” of “foodology” — “the chemical and physical principles that determine the properties and behavior of our foods.”

What is the difference between refined and raw sugar?
How does salt work?
How does that happen when you . . . . . ?
Why does that work?
What should you do it you want the food to look or taste like . . . .?
Explain that process!
Why does that produce this reaction?
What is the difference between this and that?
What makes this-or-that gravy lumpy?
Should that be boiled or steamed?

The book’s title is really a hook to pull you into viewing and/or buying it.  The title is designed to create some initial interest.

The title alone is a lesson in communication.  It creates curiosity, something that preachers should be interested in doing themselves.  Unless curiosity is something biblically forbidden or rhetorically unethical and/or manipulative.  Creating interest is far better than beginning a message with . . . .

“Today we are in the book of . . . . ”
“Turn in your Bibles to . . . . . ”
“We are continuing our series on . . . . .”
“Let me review what we said last week . . . . “

That may work well in a seminary environment (culinary-theological arts class), but God’s people have just spent a week or so in the world and they have not come to hear about what takes place in the kitchen!  They are seated in the dining room and need a biblical meal that feeds them some real-life provisions for the wagon train journey “westward.”


Most people won’t purchase Wolke’s book.

I did

I bought it because . . . .

#1) it was only $2.99 (but I debated it — It was at the high end of my financial limits — Wished it was $1.99 instead)

#2) I love the thinking — the thought processes which go into “the kitchen side” — “the science side”  — “the theory behind” food.  I enjoy “foodology” — like Alton Brown did on the food network (I don’t think the program is still running — not enough interest! huh — wonder why?).

Likewise, I have purchased a lot, and am still buying yet more books — theological books and commentaries because I enjoy “the kitchen” side of preaching.

I also have and continue to buy books and read articles on preaching, homiletics, and rhetorical theory because I believe that effective preaching requires more than a solid grasp of “the kitchen” side — the theological side of biblical preaching.

Effective preaching requires a constantly challenged mind and heart which desires to better grasp how to communicate biblical truth.  AND we all know that!

The proof is found in . . . .

• the endless books on homiletics — new and reprinted classics
• seminars
• blogs
• magazine articles
• entire magazines
• online classes  (i.e., “The Art of Better Preaching” — for over $200.00 a person you too can become a better — a more effective preacher — I had better not comment any further on this!).
• personal preaching coaches
• conference themes
• denominational publications

These and other avenues are all devoted to the subject of becoming better preachers.


Having taught at various Christian colleges-universities, Bible colleges, state universities, seminaries for many years — before, while, and after 36 years of pastoring —  I have come to realize more than ever that “the kitchen is not the dining room — that an understanding of the “science of food” is far different from actually “serving the finished meal.”

An understanding of the
“science of food”

is far different from actually
“serving the finished meal.”


Knowing what the Bible passage teaches . . . .

biblical “exposition
exposing the truths of a text
ensuring that you are indeed saying what the Bible is saying
guaranteeing that you rightfully understand the truth taught in that passage
taking time in the study before you step into the pulpit

. . . . is necessary but not sufficient.


Diligent preparation
does not mean effective communication.



√  Did you know that through the olfactory and gustatory sensations our appetites are excited?

or that

√  The sense of smell can only detect molecules dissolved in the air.  In the case of taste, it can only be detected when a food is dissolved in water —  “whether in the food’s own liquid or in saliva.  (You can’t smell or taste a rock.)” 


Those are the kind of “theological facts,” which are learned when studying the science of food — when reading the words of “the kitchen theologian” Robert Wolfe.


most people do not know the science of food,
but most do know what a good meal is when they experienced it!




√  Did you know that there are ways to drive a quotation — to add weight to it?

or that

√  Analogical Illustrations are powerful?  That their construction can be learned.  That Tony Evans’ book of illustrations is replete with them.


Those are the kind of “rhetorical principles” which are learned when studying the science of communication through the words of “the classical kitchen theologians” — Aristotle-Cicero-Plato-Quintilian-et al.


most people don’t know what rhetorical theory teaches, but most do know what a good meal is when they experienced it!




Take time — a lot of time if you need to — in the theological kitchen!
Take time — more time than most do — in the rhetorical kitchen!
Both will serve you well.
Both will serve those who plan to spend their lives speaking!


Because . . . . .

An understanding of the
“science of food”

is far different from actually
“serving the finished meal.”



Diligent preparation
does not mean effective communication.



Most people don’t know what
theological or rhetorical theory teaches,
but most know what a good meal is when they experienced it!

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Rhetoric & Homiletics: Five Steps For Driving A Quotation

driving a golf ball  Driving A Quotation


As previously stated, there are different kinds of & ways to illustrate an idea or a point:

♦ Anecdotes
♦ Personal Stories / Testimonies
Historical Examples
The Stories Or Testimonies Of Others
♦ Pithy Quotations
♦ Well-known Prose & Poems
♦ Biblical Analogies 
♦ Books / Magazine Articles
♦ Metaphors 


♦ Stacking Biblical Examples

♦ Hypothetical Analogies


Here is a template for building the weight of a quotation.

What you are doing is not merely citing the quotation.  That is what many speakers do and miss the opportunity to drive the quotation.

Rather than just begin with the quotation,  give significance, weight, force, importance, gravity to it.  Hold off using the quotation, and build some muscle into it before you use it.

An Aside: In fact, you can build a “Big Idea” with the quotation once you invest the point of the quotation” with meaning.***


Investing Weight Into A Quotation:

We are using a quotation from an individual that is probably unknown — at least to an American audience.

However, even if the person is known you can make the quotation heavy – brawny – muscular!

Even if the selected quotation was by Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley — build some compelling weight into the quotation!  You can “drive” the quotation!


The Quotation!


A Five-Step Methodology:

#1) State The Person’s Name (and pause):

“Liddell Hart”

#2) Address Familiarity: 

“That name is not well known to those of us who do not travel in the world of military strategy.”
           (Conversely: “That name is probably known around the world.”)

#3) Highlight The Most Significant Details Of His/Her Prominence:
(Include as much as you think necessary)

His thoughts, words, and works form the foundation of the military theory taught at Military Academies across America . . . . at West Point, at Annapolis, at The Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs . . . . and also around the world.

Liddell Hart stands as one of the great 20th-century military historians and theorist* alongside Carl Von Clausewitz — who is probably the grand master.

John F. Kennedy called Liddell Hart “the Captain who teaches Generals.”

“The Clausewitz of the 20th century” — states Alex Danchey in his book, On Art and War and Terror (pg. 77)

Liddell Hart had the unique privilege of interviewing a great number of German generals and military leaders of the German army after WWII.

In his book, “The German Generals Talk,” also titled “The Other Side Of The Hill”** — he states . . . .

“When the late war ended, I was fortunate in having an early opportunity of exploring the “other side of the hill [which] brought me into contact with the German generals and admirals over a lengthy period.  In the course of many discussion with them, I was able to gather their evidence on the events of the war before memories had begun to fade or become increasingly coloured by after thoughts.”

“After years of historical research, drafting and developing military theory for the 20th century, and devoting his professional life to examining strategy and tactics. . . . What does Liddell Hart have to say about fighting and winning battles?
                                    [Hold Off The Quotation A Little Longer]

#4) Establish Its Pertinence To Living The Christian Life:
(its aptness – suitability – bearing on the sermon)

•  Our enemy is no less real because he cannot be seen with our eyes.

•  Spiritual battles are just as real!

•  Satan is called our #1 enemy!

•  The Scriptures speak to strategy and tactics in our warfare — resist, cast down every thought, stand, hold fast, our warfare, endure hardness.

•  We may employ different terminology — theological terminology — but the reasoning, the logic in the fight is no different.

•  In Old Testament days, there were real physical battles– which were written for our admonition!

•  II Corinthians 2:11 — We are told not to be ignorant of his devices.

•  Revelation 12:9 — Satan is the deceiver of the whole world

#5) Site The Quotation & Drive The Point:

Now . . . . .  Here is what Liddell Hart says . . . .

Number Four — of his seven principles of strategy and tactics . . . . .
(You can use any of the 8 points or quotations included below)

“Exploit the line of least resistance — so long as it can lead you to any objective which would contribute to your underlying object.”


(Drive The Point)

You see — as I stated — that the reasoning — the logic – the thinking in actual warfare is no different than what Satan does in our lives.

That is why what Hebrews 12 states — “the sin which so easily besets us” — a sin which finds little resistance and therefore we find it plaguing our lives over and over.

Satan understands temptation and our sinfulness and he exploits the line of least resistance.

That is why Samson found himself blind and bound.

Solomon multiplied wives — because Satan exploited that area of his life.

. . . . . . . .


Here are all the pieces put together . . . . .

“Liddell Hart”

“That name is not well known to those of us who do not travel in the world of military strategy.”

His thoughts, words, and works form the foundation of the military theory taught at Military Academies here and abroad — at West Point, Annapolis, and The Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.

Liddell stands as one of the great 20th-century military historians and theorist alongside Carl Von Clausewitz — who is probably the grand master.

John F. Kennedy called Liddell Hart “the Captain who teaches Generals.”

“The Clausewitz of the 20th century” — states Alex Danchey in his book, On Art and War and Terror (pg. 77)

He had the unique privilege of interviewing a great number of German generals and military leaders of the German army after WWII. In his book, “The German Generals Talk,” also titled “The Other Side Of The Hill” — he states . . . .

“When the late war ended, I was fortunate in having an early opportunity of exploring the “other side of the hill [which] brought me into contact with the German generals and admirals over a lengthy period.  In the course of many discussion with them, I was able to gather their evidence on the events of the war before memories had begun to fade or become increasingly coloured by after thoughts.”

“After years of historical research, drafting and developing military theory for the 20th century, and devoting his professional life to examining strategy and tactics. . . .

•  Our enemy is no less real because he cannot be seen with our eyes. Spiritual battles are just as real!

•  Satan is called our #1 enemy!

•  The Scriptures speak to strategy and tactics in our warfare — resist, cast down every thought, stand, hold fast, our warfare, endure hardness.

•  We may employ different terminology — theological terminology — but the reasoning, the logic in the fight is no different.

•  In Old Testament days, there were real physical battles– which were written for our admonition!

•  II Corinthians 2:11 — We are told not to be ignorant of his devices.

•  Revelation 12:9 — Satan is the deceiver of the whole world

Now . . . . .  here is what Liddell Hart says . . . .

#4  — of his seven principles of strategy and tactics . . . . .

“Exploit the line of least resistance — so long as it can lead you to any objective which would contribute to your underlying object.”

You see — as I stated — that the reasoning — the logic — the thinking in actual warfare is no different than what Satan does in our lives.

That is why what Hebrews 12 states — “the sin which so easily besets us” — a sin which finds little resistance and therefore we find it plaguing our lives over and over.

Satan understands temptation and our sinfulness and he exploits the line of least resistance.

That is why Samson found himself blind and bound.

Solomon multiplied wives — because Satan exploited that area of his life.

. . . . . . . .

More Information & Details:
B. H. Liddell Hart 1
  • Born January 29, 1895
  • Son of a Methodist minister
  • Volunteered to serve during WWI in the British army
  • Fought in the Battle of Somme . 2

Battle of Somme: A British and French Offensive move against the German Army

•  The Somme Offensive was the largest battle of WWI — 3 million men fought and 1 million were killed or wounded
•  Traditional methodology — Trench Warfare
•  First battle to be fought with tanks
•  His battalion was almost decimated on the first day of this military offensive — 60,000 casualties — the single biggest casualty in British history
  • Authored books on military drill and training after WWI
  • Authored approximately 30 books relating to military thinking and strategy.
  • Retired from the British army in 1927
  • Writer and newspaper reporter on the sport of Tennis3
  • One of the great* military strategist of the 20th century — “Strategy” — 1954 4
“The revolutions in technology which helped define the Frist and especially SecondWorldWars, along with the destruction they wrought, spoke to the need for a new strategic framework. . . . . In fact, airpower now offered the opportunity to strike at economic and moral centers without destroying the enemy in the field. Mechanized warfare, meanwhile, could not only make direct attacks, but it could also help induce the collapse of an enemy without a major battle “by cutting their supply lines, dislocating their control-system, or producing paralysis by the sheer nerve-shock of deep penetration into their rear” (Liddell Hart 1967, 358). Each of these would come to represent aspects of the indirect approach. 5
  • Lidell Hart’s book Strategy was his answer to this challenge.”


  • Hart wrote the definite work on the military strategy of Hitler’s German Military — “The German Generals Talk” (a great historical read!)


  • In chapter 20 of “Strategy” — “The Concentrated Essence Of Strategy and Tactics” — the following seven principles are made by Liddell.
1. Adjust your end to your means
2. Keep your object always in your mind while adapting your plan to circumstances.
3. Chose the line (of course) of least expectation.
4. Exploit the line of least resistance — so long as it can lead you to any objective which would contribute to your underlying object.
5. Take a line of operation which offers alternate objectives.
6. Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible-adaptable to circumstances
7. Do not throw your weight into a strike whilst your opponent is on guard.
8. Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed. A mere reinforcement of weight is not sufficient change, for it is probable that the enemy also will have strengthened himself in the interval.” — 6
In Liddell’s Own Words:
“The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“The downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes, but from internal decay combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there- a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“Air Power is, above all, a psychological weapon – and only short-sighted soldiers, too battle-minded, underrate the importance of psychological factors in war.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“I used to think that the causes of war were predominantly economic. I came to think that they were more psychological. I am now coming to think that they are decisively “personal,” arising from the defects and ambitions of those who have the power to influence the currents of nations.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“Avoid self-righteousness like the devil- nothing is so self-blinding.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“Loss of hope rather than loss of life is what decides the issues of war. But helplessness induces hopelessness.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“While the nominal strength of a country is represented by its numbers and resources, this muscular development is dependent on the state of its internal organs and nerve-system – upon its stability of control, morale, and supply.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“Every action is seen to fall into one of three main categories, guarding, hitting, or moving. Here, then, are the elements of combat, whether in war or pugilism.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“The unexpected cannot guarantee success, but it guarantees the best chance of success.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“A commander should have a profound understanding of human nature, the knack of smoothing out troubles, the power of winning affection while communicating energy, and the capacity for ruthless determination where required by circumstances. He needs to generate an electrifying current, and to keep a cool head in applying it.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“In reality, it is more fruitful to wound than to kill. While the dead man lies still, counting only one man less, the wounded man is a progressive drain upon his side.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart
“If you find your opponent in a strong position costly to force, you should leave him a line of retreat as the quickest way of loosening his resistance. It should, equally, be a principle of policy, especially in war, to provide your opponent with a ladder by which he can climb down.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

Other Information & Links:
3. Covered Wimbledon and wrote — “The Lawn Tennis Masters Unveiled”
4. Karl Von Clausewitz was the 19th centuries renown, military thinker. Both Clausewitz and Hart are read by military theorists today.
“Strategy — pg. 335-336
Brian Bond: “Liddell Hart: A study of his military thought” (Modern Revivals in Military History) – 1977
*At the height of his popularity, John F. Kennedy called Liddell Hart “the Captain who teaches Generals” and was using his writings to attack the Eisenhower administration, which he said was too dependent on nuclear arms.
His influence extended to armies outside England and the US as well. Baumgarten says of Liddell Hart’s influence in the Australian Army: “The indirect approach was also one of the key influences on the development of manoeuvre theory, a dominant element in Army thinking throughout the 1990s.”
Retired Pakistani General Shaafat Shah called Liddell Hart’s book Strategy: the Indirect Approach “A seminal work of military history and theory”.
In the book Science, Strategy and War, Netherlander Frans Osinga mentions, while speaking of John Boyd, “In his recently published study of modern strategic theory, Colin Gray ranked Boyd among the outstanding general theorists of strategy of the 20th century, along with the likes of Bernard Brodie, Edward Luttwak, Basil Liddell Hart and John Wylie.”
His biographer, Alex Danchev, noted that his books were still being translated all around the world, some of them seventy years after they had been written.


*“On the Other Side of the Hill” by Liddell Hart


*** In our original quotation the “Big Idea” would be something like . . . . .

“The area of least resistance in your life
will be the area of repeated attack and failure”


Point to the area of least resistance
and I will tell you where the attack is coming.


No Resistance Equals The
Location of The Attack



An Aside: The alternate title of “Strategy” is “On The Other Side Of The Hill” By Liddell Hart — An interesting title which can also be used for an introduction, point, conclusion, Big Idea, etc.  Military strategy is about trying to figure out what is on the other side of the hill.  

i.e. Big Idea:  “You see, in the Christian life, and in life in general, you cannot see what is “On the other side of the hill!”

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Today’s Illustration: The Deception Before The Deception!

WWII Sicily Greece
The Deception Before The Deception!

While the Normandy Invasion, commonly called D-Day, was a key turning point of the war, another key turning point took place approximately one year earlier.


“In hindsight, the invasion
of the Italian island was a triumph,
a pivotal moment in the war,
and a vital stepping-stone
on the way to victory in Europe.”  


“It was nearly a disaster.”1


In 1943, one year before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and after the successful North Africa campaign, the plan was to target Sicily.  However, such a possible invasion was fully anticipated by Hitler and German intelligence.

“Sicily was the logical place from which to deliver the gut punch . . . [on] the underbelly of the Axis. . . . Everyone but a bloody fool would know it was Sicily . . . . Sicily’s five-hundred-mile coastline was already defended by seven or eight enemy divisions [and] would be reinforced by thousands of German troops held in reserve in France.”

A ruse had to be designed and successfully executed to convince German intelligence otherwise. Just as the Allies would have to convince Hitler one year later that the June 6, 1944 attack would NOT be at Normandy.

The Allied intelligence chiefs convened to consider “how to convince the enemy that the Allies were not going to do what anyone with an atlas could see they ought to do.”2

The answer was as old as Greek warfare — insert a “Trojan Horse” into the battle plans.  Convince the Germans that they had fortuitously received Allied secret intelligence — a gift — that the Allies would be attacking Greece and that Sicily was only a diversion to hide that intent.


“The Man Who Never Was!”

That is the title of the book by Ewen Montagu, written about one of the most “bold and imaginative plans, contrived with scrupulous care and executed with skill and courage” during WWII. 1

“Operation Mincemeat” was a strategic deception designed and executed by the British military leader, Sir Michael Howard

The Allied invasion had been planned for Sicily, not Greece.   The highest levels of German intelligence had been totally deceived!  The moved whole army divisions to defend Greece and left Sicily virtually unprotected.

As Montague states, the deception . . . . 
was “swallowed whole” by German military intelligence.


The deceptive operation involved using a body of a Welsh laborer who had died from eating rat poison. His body was placed on dry ice until all was in place for the operation.

The British would position false papers on the body of “Glyndwr Michael,” who was now “Major William Martin.”  

“Major William Martin’s” body would be lowered into the waters of the Atlantic off of the shores of Spain.

By design, “Major William Martin” would be wearing a life jacket when found. The hope was that he would be believed to be a dead airman who died at sea — an airman who according to his naval identity card, was a member of the Royal Marines.  A pilot or passenger who had ultimately died by drowning.

His floating body had to be staged to look like it that this was indeed what had happened and that it was not indeed a trick. 

The “Allied Military Intelligence Papers,” which would be found had to sound believable!

The papers had to be able to withstand the effects of possibly several days of ocean water saturation.

The location of the papers on his body had to look normal.

The resistance of the typewriter ink to salt water had to seem as normal as possible — affected but still readable. 

His body had to appear as if he had drowned.

His body had to be found by fishermen, Spaniards, or Germans.

The discovered information had to be turned over to the Germans.

The intelligence which was obtained had to reach the highest levels of German intelligence in Berlin.

Even if initially believed by the Germans, the fact that it was a ruse had to be kept secret by all involved at every level, else the Germans would know that indeed it was Sicily!


Along with his military identification (and accompanying picture — yet another whole story), were various personal items. . . .

a used twopenny bus ticket stub, keys, a silver cross on a chain, St. Christopher medallion (the body was hopefully going to land in Spain – a Catholic country) a wallet, wallet litter, a book of stamps (two already used), fictitious letters from “his father” and “his fiancee,” and unpaid bills

The manufactured semi-cryptic documents of Allied intelligence were written, re-written, and re-written over and over by various individuals.  The key document had to sound like it was not being planted, yet providing enough certainty that it was Greece! 

Oblique references were made in the documents which should have and clearly did give the impression that the Allies intended to invade Greece and Sardinia — not Sicily.3

Martin’s staged body would be placed in the ocean waters off the shores of Spain.

√ But would the body be carried by the tide and currents towards the shores of Spain?  

√ Would someone find the accompanying documents?

√  Would that “someone” turn the documents over to the Germans (Spain was a neutral country with much sympathies for the Allies)?

√ Then, would the documents survive the trip?

√ Would the materials found on Martin’s body be believed by the Germans?

√ It would!
√ They did!
√ They would!
√ They did!
√ They were! 

Hitler & German Intelligence Believe The Ruse.

“You can forget about Sicily. We know it’s Greece,” shouted the German supreme commander, General Jodl. 4

The invasion was being been planned for Sicily, not Greece and the Germans had been totally deceived!

As the Germans observed that troops and equipment were moving towards Sicily, they believed that it was the decoy being set up by the Allied forces.

The Allies monitored the movement of the German troops and indeed Hitler, under the advice of the German secret intelligence service, moved entire army divisions from Sicily to Greece and Sardina. 6

In fact, Hitler was so deceived, that even when Sicily was attacked by the Allies, Hitler kept most of his troops at Greece.   He was convinced that the attack of Greece was imminent, and this was just a small attack to make it look like the target was Sicily.

√  The plan was agreed upon by Churchill and Roosevelt in January 1943.
√  Martin’s body was placed into the water on April 30, 1943
√  The Allied forces stormed the coast of Sicily — July 9-10, 1943!

Approximately 7,000 Allied soldiers were lost in what was the largest amphibious invasion which was ever attempted (before D-Day at Normandy) — 160,000 Allied soldiers were part of the attack on Sicily.  It is well estimated that approximately 153,000 were still alive when the liberation and victory were accomplished. 7


“That so many survived was due, in no small measure, to a man who had died seven months earlier.”
(“Glyndwr Michael” /  “Major Martin”). 7



Approximately One Year Later:

June 6, 1944
The Normandy Invasion

Using Another Ruse

It would only be less than two years later that the Normandy invasion took place using another ruse to convince German Intelligence and Hitler to move their armies north



Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• deception
• Satan
• fake fronts
• temptation
• sin
• sacrifice
• war / death
• God had a strategy.
• Defeating Satan, Hell, Death, and the Grave
• Everything which had to work / click / be on time
• providence
• kings heart in the hand of the Lord
• man’s wisdom
• the best-laid plans of evil men
• holding onto a bad decision
• stubbornness to see what happened
• fooled
• fooled again two years later
• It is not what it looks like.
• a WEB of deception
• lies must be supported by other lies
• sacrifice
• war / death



Other Information & Links:

The original idea for this ruse started with a fictional novel which was read by Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame). At the time, Flemming was an assistant to the head of British Naval Intelligence.

“To mystify and mislead the enemy has always been one of the cardinal principles of war.” 6

 “The success of the Sicilian invasion depended on overwhelming strength, logistics, secrecy, and surprise.  But it also relied on a wide web of deception, and one deceit in particular:  a spectacular trick dreamed up by a team of spies led by an English lawyer.”  — 7


The writing of “Operation Mincemeat”:  At the time, Eddie Chapman was a double agent, and Ewen Montague was a barrister working for Naval intelligence.  They, along with Flemming, a novelist, began putting the ruse together.

Coming Up With The Idea:  “The Trout memo was a masterpiece of corkscrew thinking, with fifty-one suggestions for ‘introducing ideas into the head of the Germans,’  ranging from the possible to the wacky. . . . . The following suggestion is used in a book by Basil Thomson:  a corpse dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that had failed.” — pg. 12

Ben Macintyre provides the most detailed account in his book, “Operation Mincemeat.”  His book is based on many of the papers found in an upstairs room, in a large dusty trunk under a bed, in Jeremy Montague’s (his son) house.  Many bundles of papers were found, stamped “Top Secret.” 8


1. Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre — pgs. 35 & 37

2. Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre — pg. 37

3. The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation, by Ewen Montague — pg. 5

4. The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation, by Ewen Montague — pg 7

5. Dead Man Floating: World War II’s Oddest Operation by NPR

6. The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation, by Ewen Montague — pg 3

7. “Operation Mincemeat,” by Ben Macintyre — 2009 —  pg. 3

8. “Operation Mincemeat,” by Ben Macintyre — 2009 — pg. 4


“The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation,” by Ewen Montague
(Like many other books, free on “”)

“Operation Mincemeat,” by Ben Macintyre
(Like many other books, free on “”)