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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Persuasive Preaching" (R. Larry Overstreet)

TITLE: Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion
AUTHOR: R. Larry Overstreet
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (312 pages).

Is there a place for persuasion on the pulpit? How is that not manipulation of minds? What about the risks of preachers using the pulpit to sway minds on politics or social matters favouring a particular party? Is not preaching primarily about teaching the Bible and its meaning? What about the ethics of preaching?

Since 1970, the author had been thinking about the issues surrounding persuasive preaching. He laments the modern state of preaching that lacks giving congregations a call to action. Persuasion involves doing everything we can to preach God's Word and to let God's Word be proclaimed in outward actions. Overstreet, an Adjunct Professor at Piedmont International University has been pastor of churches in Michigan and Indiana for 17 years. He knows the importance of the pulpit and the need for God's Word to go beyond mere Sunday listening pleasure. This book comprises four parts where Overstreet will:

1) Identify the Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching;
2) What is the Biblical Basis of Persuasive Preaching;
3) How to Structure Persuasive Messages;
4) How to Apply Persuasion?

In Part One, Overstreet defines seven purposes of persuasive preaching, all which aims toward being transformed into the image of Christ. It involves interpersonal interactions. It also faces a lot of barriers. Barriers like the elements of modernism that overplayed the wisdom of humanism; over-reliance on human efforts; and "logical dualism" that fails to capture what life is about; over-emphasis on positivism; heavy dependability on science as a life solution model and so on. The challenge of Biblical persuasion is how to move people from a modernist mindset toward biblical truth.

Part Two shows us the basis of biblical preaching. Overstreet notes that persuasion was used by the ancient Greeks, especially in the area of rhetorics. Just like what Aristotle and the ancient philosophers faced, we are not very different. In fact, it was calculated that more than 2000 persuasive messages hit us every day from all sources. Whether advertisements or flyers, political campaigns or promotional booths, persuasive is used everywhere, and in some cases, very aggressively. In Christian circles, Overstreet gives us a brief tour of some of the concepts used in persuasion. He notes Duane Litfin's five steps of persuasion: "attention, comprehension, yielding, retention, and action" but bemoans the lack of explanation. He mentions the work of Lybrand who insists that preaching at its heart is all about persuasion. Overstreet agrees with many of them but wants to emphasize homiletics done biblically.  He spends time exegeting the Greek word for "persuasive" (πειθός) peithos. He looks at the use of persuasion throughout the gospels and the epistles in the New Testament. Persuasion is not only widely used. It is aimed at honoring God and to help bring people closer to God. The word (πείθω) peitho is consistently about convincing people toward action; not mere head knowledge. It incorporates elements of winning over, obedience, confidence, convincing, faith, trust, and as an emphatic declaration of Christ. Overstreet urges preachers not to focus too much on teaching the Scriptures but to go further and empower listeners toward action. He points out the Pauline theology of preaching: 'logos,' 'ethos,' and 'pathos.' 'Logos' uses logical argumentation; 'pathos' appeals to the emotional involvement; while 'ethos' stems from the speaker's credibility. Overstreet also digs into the Old Testament and highlights their consistency in persuading readers toward trusting and obey God.

Part Three gives us a structure to do persuasive preaching. This is the "how-to" section of the whole book. Overstreet gives us a four part structure. Firstly, it is to design a sequence of motivating steps. This motivating sequence comprises: attention; need; satisfaction; visualization; and action. How the preacher varies the emphasis of each sequence requires an understanding of the audience. Secondly, it does some problem solving. If the message does not appear to solve something, why would people bother to listen anyway? Overstreet calls the use of problem solving as something most "fundamental." Simply put, this methods states the problem(s), identifies the cause(s), and proposes the solution(s). He provides examples on how to prepare ourselves for "life situation preaching" that not only addresses life problems but preaches the whole counsel of God. Thirdly, it refutes the wrong or inappropriate. Fourthly, it identifies the cause-effect.

Part Four works on some practical applications. Overstreet differentiates biblical persuasion from human manipulation. The former is ethical while the latter is not. He points out eight ways to distinguish persuasion from manipulation. For instance, biblical persuasion is honest, does not oversimplify, not pretense, not misleading, not lopsided, and so on. Manipulators tend to be deceptive, controlling, having a lack of awareness, and a distrust of the audience. The biblical preacher will acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit that does the true work of inner persuasion. Overstreet concludes with many tips about how to move toward a call to action, which is the end result or the yardstick of persuasive preaching.

This book is a treasure chest for preachers and and essential resource for teachers in preaching classes. There is ample biblical support for preaching and we all need to be reminded that convincing people toward action is the purpose of preaching. There is no room for mere informative sessions. Documentaries can do that. There is no place for entertaining talks. Movies and TV dramas can do that. There is no time for mere speech and no action. The biblical message is far greater than that. For preachers are not only expositors of the Living Word, they are also people who would call congregations to action. This book has the depth of biblical truth, the width of audience awareness, the height of excitement, and the breadth of resources for persuasive preaching. I highly recommend this book for anyone in the pulpit ministry.

I am persuaded.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Weaver Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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