The preaching of the gospel is a two-sided coin. On one side there is the grave responsibility of faithfully preaching the “whole counsel of God” correctly, contextually, and free of any personal agenda. On the other side of the coin there is the challenge of not coming off as a used car salesman who is trying to simply move inventory. Every time a preacher stands behind a pulpit and delivers a sermon that he believes God has given him he, in essence, wrestles with this tension. At the very core of this tension is the purpose of preaching. What is the purpose of preaching? Is the purpose to simply dispense information? If this is true, churches would be better served to hire a professor to lecture or give the congregants a list of suggested reading. Is the purpose of preaching life transformation? If this is true (I believe it is), then sermons that are delivered must ask the listeners to do something, positively or negatively, with what they have heard. This is clearly the biblical example. The Old Testament prophets of God and the New Testament apostles/preachers, upon delivering God’s message, asked their audience, whether individuals or nations, to respond to the message. In his new book, Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion, pastor and professor R. Larry Overstreet takes the position that biblical preaching must bring, even guide the listener to/toward a decision. He goes one step farther by arguing in favor of public invitations in church services.
I was skeptical when I first read the title of this book. Immediately I put on the defensive thinking that it is not my job as a pastor to persuade anyone. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preaching. To me, persuasion was too close to manipulation for me to be comfortable. As I read the book I began to understand that Overstreet’s premise is not the support of the manipulation of people to do something through preaching. His premise is a call for a return of persuasive preaching as a means of positive change in the lives of the listeners. Overstreet’s book has four main topics. They are: Identify the Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching; What is the Biblical Basis of Persuasive Preaching; How to Structure Persuasive Messages; and How to Apply Persuasion.
In Part One Overstreet sets forth what he believes are the seven purposes of persuasive preaching. Here he stresses the importance of being transformed to the image of Christ. He also lists the barriers that persuasive preaching run into. In Part Two Overstreet meticulously shines a light on biblical preaching by examining the use of persuasion throughout the New Testament. Highlighting the Greek word for persuasion, peitho (πείθω) Overstreet shows that persuasion is about convincing people toward some action and not only accumulating head knowledge. He highlights the apostle Paul’s preaching theology and how he employed the three most commonly used modes of persuasion: logos (logical appeal), ethos (how well the presenter convinces his/her audience of their qualification to speak on a subject), and pathos (emotional appeal). The author also highlights the Old Testament example in the prophets persuading the hearers to return to and follow God above anyone else. Part Three provides the scaffolding for persuasive preaching. Overstreet speaks on the topics of problem-solving, attention, and motivation. Part Four is the “how to” part of the book and concludes topics such as the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, eight ways to distinguish persuasion from manipulation, and public invitations. In today’s churches, most often seen in those of the Reformed Theology persuasion, are moving away from the public invitation. Overstreet deals with this unbiblical position by giving biblical support for the public invitation and gives his readers advice on how to craft the invitation. He unpacks these pointers: Be Sensitive to Length, Be Clear in Appeal, Be Exact in Action, Be Loving in Presentation, Be Consistent with Message, be Positive in Expectation, and Be Earnest in Delivery. Also included are the liabilities that accompany the public invitation.
Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion is a great book. Overstreet does a superb job of reminding us that moving people toward action/change is the true purpose of biblical preaching. This book is well written and heavily documented/footnoted. This is not a book that you can simply pick and expect to do a quick read of. It reads more like a textbook. I believe that all pastors, regardless of the congregation size, will benefit from Overstreet’s work. I highly recommend it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”