Persuasive Preaching

Preaching is the science of persuasion in things divine.

J. L. SHULER, Yucaipa, California

Persuasive preaching involves two main points—instruction in the way of truth; persuasion for believing and obeying the truth. The object of the sermon is to inform the understanding, and to influence the will in behalf of the truth of God. Preaching should be evaluated according to how it instructs and moves the hearers. There is nothing more needed in the pulpit than preaching that is constructed and delivered in such a manner that the hearers are instructed and moved for God.

Preaching is the science of persuasion in things divine. It instructs for the purpose of moving, or for securing belief and action. Our preaching commission from the Chief Minister and Supreme Preacher is to teach and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus' concept of preaching revolved around the all-important purpose of instructing for the purpose of mov­ing to obedience.

Homiletic teachers have framed variously worded definitions of preaching, but I know of none more apt and pertinent than this: Preach­ing is "the spoken communication of divine truth with a view to persuasion."—T. HARWOOD PArnsoN, The Making of the Sermon, p. 3. The second greatest preacher of all time defined the purpose of preaching in three words: "We per­suade men" (2 Cor. 5:11). Preaching may be said to succeed or fail according to the extent it persuades. If persuasion is the dividing point between success and failure, surely every preacher ought to give special study to the science of persuasion.

The objective of every sermon should be the same—to instruct and to move. The preacher should plan, pray, and preach that his hearers will be moved to high decision for God—the converted ones to undertake more for Christ; the unconverted to accept the Saviour. Dr. George Campbell was right when he said, "I acknowledge that the whole of preaching, either directly or indirectly, points to persuasion."—Systematic Theology and Pulpit Eloquence, p. 197.

Seventh-day Adventist ministers need to study the science of persuasion more than any other ministers. It is likely that they have the task of persuading people to do ten times more than any other evangelists persuade people to do. They must persuade people to keep a different day, to eat and drink differently, to dress differ­ently, to relate themselves differently to the pleasures, the recreations, and the associations of the world, and to believe differently about the nature and destiny of man and of the world. Someone has said, "If you want to make ene­mies, try to change something." The task of making Seventh-day Adventists by our preach­ing. Bible studies, and personal work demands an application of the science of persuasion to the fullest extent possible.

Our aim, like Paul's, is "by all means" to save some (1 Cor. 9:22). Hence we must call to our aid all the proper means of persuasion, both divine and human. We must bring to bear upon this problem of persuasion the appointed divine agencies, such as the Holy Spirit, the Word, the love of God, the cross, and prayer, coupled with the use of those principles of the working of the human mind by which the hearer's mind and heart are led to make decisions for God. Every factor by which people can be led to respond to the call of God must be allowed to contribute its part to the high and holy purpose of securing decisions.

If Adventist preachers analyzed the content of their sermons in relation to the factors of persuasion, many would be apt to find that their basis for persuasion is unscientific and inadequate. Adventist preaching is too often based on this sort of formula: the citing of proof texts, or the setting forth of arguments, will produce an apprehension of the truth in the minds of the hearers, and the resulting acknowledgment of the truth will move them to act on the truth. But this is not an adequate basis for persuasive preaching.

Such a formula, if reduced to its simplest terms, is: we know—we act. But this is not fully in keeping with the manner in which human nature works. Every person is probably con­vinced by logic and reason of a number of items upon which he does not act. Man is an emotional being as well as a creature of reason. People are moved by their psychological drives, or their basic motives of conduct, rather than by reason alone. In fact, a person's emotions seem to race ahead of his reason when his will moves into decision and action. This condition has been aptly called "the leap of feeling and the lag of thought."

Here is the true basis on which the preacher must build for persuasion—decision and action spring out of the interplay of the hearer's think­ing and emotions. The wisest of men recognized this when he said: "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." What a man is, and what he does, is the cumulative result of his thinking and emotions. Hence it is settled that persuasive preaching that moves people to action must be an artful interweaving of the logical evidence with a heart appeal, or motive appeal, which brings about this interplay of reason and emo­tion, which in turn produces intelligent de­cision and action. Or reduced to its simplest terms, the formula is: We know—we feel—we act.

This means that the preacher must talk to the head and the heart at the same time, and the only way he can do this is by an artful mixture of the doctrinal and the practical in the same discourse. Such a mixture arouses the emotions of the hearer, as it convinces his intel­lect and guides his reason, so that his will is moved or enlisted for the preacher's proposal.

By an emotional appeal we do not mean the mere telling of stories to make the hearers laugh or cry. Rather we mean appeals to the motives that control human behavior; appeals that touch the universal action tendencies of man; motive appeals that move the will to ac­tion for truth.

Persuasive preaching is truth energized with the right emotional significance. It is a subtle mixture of logic and motive appeal that causes impelling conviction and propelling desire to stem forth into action from the hearer's con­vinced intellect and aroused feelings.

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J. L. SHULER, Yucaipa, California

June 1955

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