Monday, June 4, 2012

Style over Substance

Stott on preaching from I Believe in Preaching (pg 92):
Technique can only make us orators; if we want to be preachers, theology is what we need. If our theology is right, then we have all the basic insights we need into what we ought to be doing, and all the incentives we need to induce us to do it faithfully.
I want so badly to say that it's both/and. But I'm not convinced it is actually true as a both/and. We make too much of 'able to teach' as a way of encouraging great orators, and though we think we're serving ourselves, we are on the whole much the poorer for it.

We all know it's possible to be a great speaker, but not a great preacher. And yet it's equally true in reverse, though we're reticent to say it: it's possible to be a great preacher, but not a great speaker.

I would not class my soon to be retired principal as a great orator. But he is indeed a great preacher. Substance is a style.


  1. I would think that good theology leads one to have concern for one's hearer, which leads one to have concern for how they are heard by said hearers, which leads to a focus on being able to be clearly understood, and being able to be listened to for a significant amount of time, which leads to caring about style.

    I don't think substance mutually excludes style, nor style substance.

    1. True.

      Perhaps it's not 'both/and'. It's 'first, then.' We introduce style into the discussion far too early. We're never so daft as to entirely exclude substance from analysis of preaching, but we hold style on at least an even level.

      The bible requires that we be understandable to our hearers as a base level from which to speak the truth. Then it's all about content content content. On a par with character character character. And then style.

  2. I'd actually put character first.

    1. Because I think the Bible does, both in laying out the qualifications of elders, and in Paul's presentation of his own ministry in, say, 2 Corinthians.

      I think you can have a stutter and be boring enough to send some youth crashing out a second story window - but character is what makes you worth listening to.