Saturday, December 06, 2014

Persuasive Preaching. R. Larry Overstreet.

When I read a book such as this one, I am reminded of the real diversity that exists in American evangelicalism at both the theological and at the practical level. Dr. Overstreet writes to an evangelical context in which the invitation, which used to be the standard close to the worship service, is disappearing. Overstreet laments this loss, attributing it to the loss of the view of preaching as intended to persuade. According to him, that view has been replaced by the view that preaching is merely to inform. If there is no persuasion, there is no need for commitment.

Overstreet aims to correct this “informing” view of preaching by demonstrating that the biblical view is that preaching lies between manipulating and informing in the region of persuading. Overstreet devotes the bulk of the book (Part 2) to demonstrating this. His approach is what I would call “word study exegesis”—that is, the point is proved by studying every word that is relevant to the issue in its every occurrence. The result is, perhaps, convincing, but it is also repetitious and tedious. It strikes me that he would have been better advised to select two or three key passages and deal carefully with them, rather than to heap up verses.

He devotes Part 3 of the book to presenting different ways of structuring a persuasive  message. Again, it seems to me that these suggestions are particularly aimed at a distinct evangelical subculture, with its own distinct view of preaching. Certainly the material is helpful, but it is available in almost any introductory book on preaching.

Before reaching his conclusion, Overstreet does have a helpful chapter on the Holy Spirit in preaching. The conclusion brings us back to the invitation. Apparently Overstreet thinks that persuasive reaching will be ineffective without a concluding invitation to seal the deal. Here, I fundamentally disagree.

This is not a bad book. Nor is it a good book. It aims in part to restore a practice that the church is better off without. The more helpful material in the book has been said innumerable times elsewhere, so it’s not clear to me why the book was necessary. But maybe that’s just because I don’t share Overstreet’s evangelical subculture.

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