Summary: Learn elements of a complete sermon
Learn some elements of a complete sermon.
We have discussed many varieties of sermon types so far, but what makes for a complete sermon? Are there elements which make for a balanced approach to preaching?
This chapter introduces a number of counselors with practical advice on what makes for complete or well-rounded oratory. Some of our technical advisors will be pagan Greeks and the modern, equally pagan media. However, some of our advisors will be Christian teachers of rhetoric such as Augustine, Cassiodorus, Blair and Campbell who adapted the good principles found in ancient schools of rhetoric for use in preaching today.
1. Rhetoric (Language)
Rhetoric today is often used as a negative term to describe the abuse of public speaking in matters like exaggeration or pretentious posturing. However, in scholarship, the term rhetoric applies to the effective use of language. That can pertain as equally to positive use as negative use. In classical studies, rhetoric was the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience. Certainly that is something that every preacher believes is part of his responsibility. Language can certainly be used for evil, such as Hitler's incredible ability to sway an audience for his vile purposes, or a heretical preacher's extraordinary abilities to have audiences swooning over a false gospel. Rhetoric is also used for good by thousands of faithful, orthodox preachers in every continent on earth to persuade people concerning the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
2. Oratory (Public Speaking)
Oratory is simply the art of public speaking, particularly in a formal sense. For generations, Christian preachers have studied the Greek philosophers and their remarkable insights into rhetoric and public speaking and adapted many of their ideas for godly purposes in the arts of preaching and hermeneutics.
Some of you may object to my seeking the advice of pagan orators for the mechanics of preaching, but may not see any problem asking a pagan automotive technician for mechanical advice, or a pagan grammar teacher advice on the use of verbs. We are not asking for their guidance on the gospel content of the sermon, but on its structure and mechanism. As we will see, Augustine adapted the arts of language and public speaking for gospel use and this has served us well ever since.
3. "The Art of Rhetoric"
Aristotle in his classic book on public speaking The Art of Rhetoric concludes that there are three appeals in rhetoric: ethos, logos and pathos. A complete sermon would contain all three.
a. Ethos (Reputation)
Ethos is an appeal based on the character or reputation of the preacher. Example: Preacher XYZ is a well respected evangelist with an unquestionable reputation. A preacher must establish ethos with his audience or eventually lose them entirely.
When a preacher is new, the congregation will graciously give him the benefit of the doubt. However, this must not be taken for granted. It takes years to prove yourself as a preacher. For a number of years you may be referred to as "the" pastor. You will know you have crossed a certain threshold of acceptance when they start calling you "our" pastor. But even then you may not be the leader, until you have been in a local church for a decade. As a pastor or priest, they will not care what you know until they know that you care.
Ethos is established or ruined in other ways as well. If the congregation knows that we are politically manipulative, have ulterior motives, or don't really know the Bible very well, we will lose credibility.
The use of personal testimony can also build ethos, but there we need to be careful. A preacher that is always talking about himself can seem self-righteous or self-centered. So, personal testimony needs to be focused on God and not self, as we discussed in the very first lesson.
b. Logos (Intellect)
Logos means something slightly different in rhetoric than in theology. In rhetoric it is an appeal based on logic or reason. Theology is usually logos-driven. For example: We believe this to be orthodox teaching because it is biblically and theologically sound. Ethos will give you a hearing, but if you are illogical, you can quickly lose an audience. We've all heard the supposedly fabulous preacher who unfortunately gave us his dud sermon the day we were there. So ethos without logos is useless. Logos is similar to mathematics in that it uses hard facts that are harder to dispute. It can convince even cynics that a point of view is accurate. Logos adds to ethos by confirming or enhancing an already good reputation. However, to some people logos can seem uninteresting and didactic, boring. An extra ingredient is needed as well.
c. Pathos (Emotions)