One of the biblical issues that has been in the back of my mind for the last couple of years was how the Bible seemed to use the word “persuasion” or “persuade” quite a lot, and in relation to preaching. I am one of the many who have come out of the hyper-emotional, contemporary Christian movement (particularly in the music scene) to find solace in a much more doctrinal, sober-minded, though vibrant context. In my preaching and teaching since then, I have been very careful to try to teach the Bible accurately and encourage what I thought was a right response. There was much caution taken to not “do the Holy Spirit’s job,” so I didn’t attempt to “persuade” the audience, per se. For me at least, the connotation of the word “persuasion” sounds like manipulation, and I certainly didn’t want to do that! At the same time, I knew the Bible referenced persuasion many times. When I saw that Dr. Overstreet (an adjunct professor in the Ph.D program at my alma mater, Piedmont International University) had a book on this very issue — persuasive preaching — I knew I needed to read it. Ironically enough, I was largely “persuaded” by his arguments.
Dr. Overstreet offers a unique perspective on this topic of persuasive preaching in that he earned his doctorate from a secular institution, studying rhetoric. He offers both a biblical and a secular approach to some of the topics such as ethos, logos, and pathos, which are oddly enough often similar. But what I think probably most people who read this book are interested in is whether or not persuasion is to be equated with manipulated. And after having read this book, I would agree wholeheartedly with the author that “persuasion is not an evil word” (pg. 107). The main idea is that preachers are to press people to change, not merely transfer information. Do we rely on and trust in the Holy Spirit to produce these spiritual changes in the audience? Absolutely! (see chapter 13) But to be afraid of persuading is simply not biblical. And speaking of being biblical, that’s what makes this book very helpful and a great resource. Overstreet surveys the wide variety of words used in relation to persuasion and to preaching/teaching/proclaiming from biblical contexts. It is to be cautioned of course to not pick a word from one context and apply it to all possible meanings, but that’s not what happens in this book. This book evidences careful exegesis and probably many, many years of research to compile. Overall, this is a book that will prove tremendously helpful for preachers and teachers everywhere.
There are a couple of critique I would make as well, however. One is that there was not a great deal of discussion concerning how the cultural contexts of church ministry differ between now and biblical times, and if this significant or not. For example, the preaching in many of the biblical examples listed were done in evangelistic settings, whereas the preaching that is often focused on for contemporary application pertains to a local church meeting. He does mention that this content is applicable to a variety of contexts — which I agree with 100% — but I have to wonder if some additional clarification of these differences of history and context would have been helpful for some readers. A second critique, which is linked to the first, concerns the invitation. I personally grew up in a church that rarely incorporated a public invitation, at least one that didn’t exhort people to an “altar call.” To be clear, Dr. Overstreet distinguishes between extremes of no altar call and an inappropriate one. But once again, I think it would be important to think about the context of biblical “invitations” and the context of today’s culture, where most invitations are done in a church building with a gathered church. I’m not totally against having some type of invitation, but there should definitely be great care and concern on what method of invitation is used.
Altogether, there are just a couple of criticisms to the book, but most of what I read was heartily received and even quite convincing. I greatly recommend this helpful resource for preachers and teachers!
Much thanks to Cross-Focused Book Reviews for a free review copy. All thoughts and opinions were my own.