The Art of Persuasion

Preaching, if it is to be biblical, will always be persuasive. Persuasion is foundational to preaching because the gospel always seeks conversion and commitment. pascal_pensees

That preaching is a persuasive act, means it will be undervalued in contemporary cultures where diversity of perspective and self-definition are the most highly prized qualities. People typically are not interested in being persuaded to adopt the preacher’s perspective when the culture celebrates the expression of their self-derived convictions.

In such a setting, I found it helpful to review what Blaise Pascal had to say about persuasion in his Pensees.

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

Pascal offers an appreciative form of persuasion, respectful to the listener that he is seeking to persuade. Far from mere flattery, Pascal looks to build upon whatever is objectively true within the listeners’s self-expression. It may be that the listener is not particularly bothered by the need to think congruent to the truth. Nevertheless, by asserting what is actually true within the listener’s perspective, the preacher encourages the best impulses of the listener’s mind, while charting a more helpful, more consistent, and ultimately more truthful path for the listener.

This form of preaching, while being more winsome, cannot help but be more persuasive.

For further reference, have a look at this brief piece by Maria Popova of brainpickings.org

The Ring of Truth

Preaching is not viable if preachers are not preaching truth. If we were not offering truth, we have no right to stand and speak.truth

People have largely given up on truth, at least as it touches on the biggest questions of our life, identity, and way of being. Truth seems beyond us – certainly beyond our capacity to preach. Even if we could understand what is true for our personal existence, the thought that we could know truth for others well enough to proclaim it to a gathered group seems to be beyond us. We might have some level of confidence about our own selves, at least until things break down, but we have little hope of identifying such for others. Even when we do think we have some proven insight we could offer, it will likely not be well received if pressed with a tone of too much confidence.

Preachers are different. Preachers have the kind of confidence that would allow them to speak the truth – for themselves and for others also. This is not because of the preacher’s own personal wisdom, but because the preacher believes that God has spoken and is speaking through his Word and by his Spirit. To the degree that preachers speak the things that God is saying, they represent and share the truth. Preachers preach because they have this conviction that God is making himself known in the world, in part through preachers who instruct people in his Word.

This is a tremendous claim. If preachers are correct in this assertion, then everybody ought to listen to them. It is a complicated world and a sure and moral compass ought to be of highest value. Why would we not pay attention to the wisdom of the universe? Why would we prefer our own wisdom when we can only see so far. Why would we not welcome the voice of a preacher?

Perhaps, because we do not trust the preacher. It may be we have heard too many truthless preachers, infatuated with the sound of their own voice and inflated with the arrogance of their opinions. Perhaps listeners just don’t have the faith to believe that God could exist and speak into the world that he created. It is a risky position. If people are wrong in this, they will have seriously miscalculated.

Truth preached ought to bear the ring of truth, wherever it is heard. Humans have been created so as to recognize the voice of their Creator. When we convey the Word of God, it rings a bell for people whose capacity to hear has not too greatly been eroded. People might not like what they hear, but if the message is truthful, it will leave a mark. The people God is calling will hear what he is saying. Whether they will respond is another question.

Preachers ought to trade in truth. Only then will preaching have authority. Truthful preaching has a right to be spoken. Truthful preaching has a need to be heard.

Preaching and the Two Halves of Life

Feature Article by Dr. Clint Heacock

Once in a while we are fortunate to encounter a person whose unique perceptions can oldmanyoungmanquite literally change our lives. Such was the experience I had in October 2014 at the Catalyst Conference in Sheffield, England (http://www.bmscatalystlive.com/). There I heard an interview with an author I had heard a lot about but had never been exposed to any of his works: Father Richard Rohr. Attached to the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM (https://cac.org/richard-rohr) Fr. Rohr is the author of numerous books and explores the subjects of Christian mysticism, contemplation and social action for the socially marginalized.

The subject of the interview concerned his 2011 book Falling Upward which introduces the concept Rohr refers to as ‘the two halves of life.’ This short article will briefly explain this concept from the book and then finish by raising some implications for preaching from the point of view of Rohr’s model.

Read More

Christmas Worship

As I was reading the Christmas story again this year I was struck by the fact that the Magi came to “worship” (Matthew 2:2). It is hard to know what information was motivating this ambition, but it was important to them that they found this child and that they worship him. It is strange that they were not put off by the fact of his being new-born as a disincentive to their worship. Somehow they knew that a king had been born and they were compelled to find him and to pay him their worship.wisemenworship

Reading further, we see that when Herod heard of this he asked for a follow-up report so that he too could go and “worship” the newborn (v.8). Clearly, by “worship,” he had something different in his mind than the Magi had in theirs.

Everyone worships. The only question is the object of our worship.

Let’s remember that worship is the heart of Christmas. Preaching, itself an act of worship, calls people to determine who they will make the object of their worship. At Christmas, we are reminded that we are to worship Jesus. Let’s make sure our preaching sounds that tune and that our own heart is in tune with that aspiration.

Evangelical Homiletics Society

Next week I will be attending the annual meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, to be held at Talbot Seminary in La Mirada, California, October 17-19. The theme of this year’s conference is Spirit-Led Preaching, with Jack Hayford as the plenary speaker.

I always look forward to this intensive interaction with those people who are giving serious thought to the work of preaching in evangelical contexts. This year, I will even be presenting a paper, “Preaching the Gospel: Integrating the Elements that Form Us.”

If you are in the area, or if you have the ability to travel, I would encourage you to join us. Find more information at www.ehomiletics.com

Merry Christmas

Songwriter Brian Doerksen recently tweeted that it was curious that North Americans use the more formal “Merry Christmas” as their seasonal greeting while the British use the more casual “Happy Christmas.” I think we, on this side of the water, got it right this time.

Christmas is a time for “merriment.” It is a time to be joyful. The long dark night of advent expectation is over. It is time for extravagant celebration. It is a time to eat, drink, and be merry.

This merriment is not for the sake of personal indulgence. It is not to drown the sorrow of an otherwise empty existence. It is to rejoice in the fact that hope has been established. It is to utilize the traditions of the season so that we might remember to be grateful – exuberantly appreciative for the fact that we, in Christ, have hope.

It is not surprising that those who do not have this hope might desire to wish a more benign form of address, but for those of us in Christ, let us wish each other and experience together the merriest of Christmases.

Joy to the world. Let earth receive her King!

Merry Christmas, indeed.