Paul's Theology of Preaching: The Apostle's Challenge to the Art of Persuasion in Ancient Corinth, by Duane Litfin. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015, 392 pages, $40.00, paper.

Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion, by Larry R. Overstreet. Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2014, xiv + 298 pages, $24.99, paper.

Litfin and Overstreet address the idea of persuasion in the Bible’s theology of preaching, but they are addressing very different issues, even though Overstreet offers several criticisms of Litfin. I will summarize the two books, compare them, and respond to Overstreet’s criticisms of Litfin.


In the first chapter of Part 1, “Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching,” Overstreet tells us that he seeks to add to homiletical literature a “discussion of exactly what persuasion is” (13). Chapter 2 offers a brief description of what he believes are the problems that persuasive preaching faces in modern culture. Oddly, while he correctly identifies rationalism and relativism, he never mentions the electronic environment as a challenge.

In Part 2, “Biblical Support for Persuasion,” Overstreet provides much useful biblical material on the centrality of persuasion among the biblical prophets, writers, and preachers. Chapter 3 explores what Overstreet believes to be a challenge to persuasive preaching from Duane Litfin which I will analyze below. He quotes a number of homileticians, including Jay Adams and John Broadus, who favor Overstreet’s thesis that we need a revival of persuasive preaching. In Preaching with Purpose Adams asserts, “The purpose of preaching, then is to effect changes among the members of God’s church.”[1] Broadus uses the word “urging” to describe what the preacher must effect beyond “mere exhortation” [2] (31).

Overstreet’s survey of the biblical language of persuasion is usually quite helpful. In the second part of chapter 3 he explores the uses of the πείθω (peithō) word group in Greek literature and the New Testament. (Appendices A–C expand the coverage of Greek literature and Appendix D does so for the New Testament.) He emphasizes Paul’s usage because he wants to make the concluding point that much of the present wariness about using persuasion in preaching, such as is found in Litfin, is a reaction to the manipulative character of contemporary advertising (39).

In chapter 4 Overstreet zeroes in on persuasion in Paul’s epistles under the categories of persuasion as “winning over, obedience, confidence, being convinced, faith or trust, and emphatic declaration.” He concludes by taking on Litfin’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:4 where Paul says “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” which I will evaluate below.

Chapter 5 seeks to develop “A Pauline Theology of Preaching” by an extensive analysis of the Greek words associated with preaching in Paul’s letters. These word groups are ἀγγέλλω (angellō), καταγγέλλω (katangellō), εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizō), κηρύσσω (kērussō), μαρτυρέω (martureō), νουθετέω (noutheteō), παρακαλέω (parakaleō), and παρρησιάζομαι (parrēsiazomai). He summarizes the results under the heading “Principles for Persuasive Preaching” (83): 1) maintain a didactic element, 2) proclaim with boldness, 3) keep the proclamation specific, 4) present the gospel, and 5) encourage believers.

Chapter 6 explores “Paul’s Proclamation Exhortations” in terms of the credibility, integrity, or the ethos of the preacher. This was a major concern of all of the best ancient teachers of rhetoric, such as Aristotle, Cicero, Demosthenes, and Quintilian. Overstreet provides excellent and very useful expositions of 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 and 2 Timothy 2:14–26, covering the godly minister’s conduct and preparation.

In chapter 7 Overstreet attempts to sum up his biblical exegesis with a definition of persuasive preaching that seeks to revive what he says was the practice of homileticians until the mid-nineteenth century; trained in classical rhetoric, they taught preachers to be persuaders not merely explainers, consecrating ancient rhetoric for homiletical use (107). He then proceeds to explore five Old Testament Hebrew verbs for persuasion: בָּרָה (bahrah), חָזַק (chazaq), סוּת (sooth), פָּצַר (pahtzar), פָּתָה (pahthah). He insists in his conclusion that “persuasion can be accomplished” through logical argument, emotional appeal, personal character, style of speaking, and the message itself (114–15). He then sums up his explorations of persuasive preaching with a six-part definition:

Persuasive preaching is: (a) the process of preparing biblical, expository messages using a persuasive pattern, and (b) presenting them through verbal and nonverbal communication means (c) to autonomous individuals who can be convicted and/or taught by God’s Holy Spirit, (d) in order to alter or strengthen (e) their attitudes and beliefs toward God, His Word, and other individuals, (f) resulting in their lives being transformed into the image of Christ. (115–16)

His section on the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching is a necessary corrective to the absence of this topic in many contemporary homiletics textbooks.

Part 3, “Structuring Persuasive Messages” is divided into four chapters dealing with: motivated sequence, problem-solution, cause-effect, and refutation. (Appendix E provides examples of various sermon types.) I found these suggestions about various types of persuasive sermons and examples less helpful than his lexical surveys. The “motivated sequence” is structured in the sequence: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action (122). This is based on Alan Monroe’s original work which has been updated in 2012 in Principles of Public Speaking[3] (122), which in turn is based on a similar sequence in ancient rhetoric as noted by Litfin: “attention, comprehension, yielding, retention, and action” (29).

Overstreet goes on to apply this sequence to the entire book of Romans in a way that is plausible, if not entirely persuasive. He concludes with a sermonic example from Ephesians 1:3-6 comparing typical (instructing) approaches with a motivated sequence approach. He helpfully observes that what is lacking in each of the three typical approaches that he illustrates is an answer to the question “So what?” (127). His example of a motivated sequence outline for the same text is less convincing, although helpful in assisting the reader to think through the importance of application. He concludes this chapter with a section on audience analysis and adaptation in which he asserts that “for the persuasive preacher, the task is not only to communicate well, but to persuade the hearers to respond favorably to the message” (130).

Overstreet comes close to succumbing to a kind of contextualization which falls into the category of what Litfin calls “audience-driven” rhetoric, altering the message in the service of persuasion. In explaining audience adaptation Overstreet presents his modification of a chart by Raymond S. Ross in Persuasion: Communication and Interpersonal Relations.[4] The problem is that he fails to give an example of how this approach would apply to a biblical text. The perennial danger of compromising biblical truth through audience analysis and adaptation should, however, not lead us to forget the importance of understanding our audience. Clearly Paul preached differently to the Pagan Lystrans in Acts 14 than he did to the synagogue Jews in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13. As a minister in a cosmopolitan culture, Paul also sets this principle before us in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Chapter 9 explores the value of a second approach to persuasive message structure: problem-solution, which proceeds in the sequence problem, cause, and solution (136– 37). Overstreet points to 1 Corinthians as an example of Paul’s use of this approach. He concludes this chapter with a particular kind of problem-solution sermon: “Life Situation Preaching.” By beginning with the selection of a life situation problem he causes the reader to ask whether or not this is an example of the classic problem of using a text as a pretext for choosing an application of our choice rather than one that emerges from the text of Scripture itself.

Chapter 10 explores a third approach to sermon structure: cause-effect with biblical examples from Ephesians, Genesis, and Judges.

Chapter 11 is the final chapter in this part. It expounds the refutation approach to sermon structure with biblical examples from Acts 26: 24–29; Romans 6:1–14; and Jonah.

The final section of the book, Part 4, is made up of three chapters, and covers “Pertinent Applications in Persuasive Preaching,” the first two of which are very helpful. Chapter 12 contrasts “Persuasion versus Manipulation.” Overstreet insists that “since we believe the Bible to be the true Word of God, we must preach that Word regardless of the current mindset of our listeners” (163). He insists that, just as the best ancient rhetoricians taught and practiced persuasion without manipulation, so must we (164). The ends and the means must both be ethical in accord with Jesus’s summary of the law: love of God and one’s neighbor (166). Overstreet gives the eight principles of ethical persuasion from Hanna and Gibson’s Public Speaking for Personal Success,[5] and concludes by noting Aristotle’s insistence on ethical means for virtuous ends (168).

Chapter 13 is one of the best in the book, “The Holy Spirit in Preaching.” Overstreet observes that “only He can turn our ‘speaking’ into true preaching which will have a persuasive spiritual impact” (171). There is nothing new here for those in the Reformed tradition, but it is a timely reminder of one of the chief conceits, and thus temptations, of our age: that we can solve all problems given the proper technique.

It is thus ironic that Overstreet’s final chapter of the book is a defense of some form of visible invitation at the conclusion of sermons. This indicates Overstreet’s deep Fundamentalist training in this unbiblical form of persuasion[6] and perhaps contributes to his misunderstanding of Litfin’s thesis, to which I now turn.


Litfin’s book is a revision of his 1994 St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation and a major contribution to our understanding of Paul’s defense of his preaching in the Corinthian church. The 1994 version is the one listed in Overstreet’s bibliography. The level of scholarship in Litfin’s book is of a higher caliber than Overstreet’s, due to Litfin’s research into and understanding of Paul’s rhetorical situation, as well as his exegetical skills in unpacking 1 Corinthians 1–4.

Litfin begins with a fascinating account in the preface of the scholarly journey that brought him to view Paul’s theology of preaching in a new way that has little precedent in New Testament scholarship. In the introduction he observes that while 1 Corinthians 1–4 is not a systematic treatment of Paul’s theology of preaching it functions as a locus classicus on the subject (41, 49). The recent explosion of rhetorical analysis of the New Testament text itself has overlooked a thorough investigation into the rhetorical sitz im leben especially of the Corinthian situation. What we have in 1 Corinthians 1–4 is nothing less than a “philosophy of rhetoric” (41) which distinguishes between a “natural paradigm” and a spiritual or “Pauline paradigm” (47). A problem arises when the natural gift of rhetoric, championed by the great rhetorical teachers of the ancient world, which clearly has an important place in law and politics, is uncritically advocated by preachers and homileticians. Augustine, in de Doctrina Christiana, the earliest manual of Christian rhetoric, baptized Aristotle’s Rhetoric as useful when employed in the interests of biblical truth as if Paul’s critics were manipulators or practitioners of bad rhetoric. According to Augustine, the preacher is called to instruct, charm, and persuade (52). Litfin is convinced that the “Pauline paradigm” is Paul’s alternative to the best ancient rhetoric, not because that rhetoric doesn’t have a place in the natural order of common culture, but because it is inappropriate for the message of the gospel.

The book is divided into three parts: 1) Greco-Roman Rhetoric, 2) 1 Corinthians 1–4, 3) Summary and Analysis. Part 1 is a brilliant and extremely useful survey of ancient rhetoric, consisting of nine chapters.

Chapter 1 explores “The Beginnings.” Prior to Paul the study and practice of rhetoric had existed for centuries (57). The development of democratic civil order in Athens spawned the earliest consciously crafted forms of persuasive rhetoric. The sophists developed rigorous training in rhetoric (58–61). Plato’s opposition to the sophists was not so much due to their persuasive techniques as their relativistic epistemology (64). Litfin explores the development of rhetorical theory in Isocrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian.

Chapters 2–4 cover the goal, power, and reach of rhetoric. The art of persuasion developed as a democratic alternative to coercion (70). It is designed to produce belief in the listeners. Thus, orators must understand human motivation (73). Rhetoric was considered an almost magical power (δύναμις dynamis), like “a great torrent” according to Quintilian (75, 77). Thus “the people of the Greco-Roman world luxuriated in public speaking. Fame, power, wealth, position—all were available to the orator” (81).

Chapters 5–8 cover the genius, appraisal, hazards, and rewards of rhetoric. Audience adaptation was always a central concern for the orator, but, as Aristides asserted, the orator cannot please the people and convince them of his point of view (87). The orator must understand his audience thoroughly (89) and wisely adapt his oratory to them by implementing various techniques of persuasion (90). In the end the audience is the judge (95–96). Orators are always being evaluated by the audience (101). Thus, the audience is always feared by the orator since it is always suspicious of rhetoric (103). Hence the attitude of Paul’s Corinthians critics. The success promised to the ancient orator made him extremely ambitious. So Quintilian warned that the orator, especially in the court of law, must not let desire for applause interfere with the prosecution of his case.

According to chapter 9, “The Grand Equation of Rhetoric” involved “three primary parts: the audience, the desired results, and the speaker’s efforts (113). The high demands of rhetoric come to their fullest expression in Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory (Institutio Oratoria ca. AD 95). Quintilian was a late contemporary of Paul (114). Encyclopedic knowledge on a wide variety of subjects was required. “First-century orators were required to be craftsmen of ideas and language” (115). Litfin concludes with a segue into Part 2:

These are high demands indeed. They are in fact demands the itinerant Apostle could not meet. Nor did he aspire to. As we shall see, Paul’s goals as a missionary preacher were not those of the Greco-Roman persuader. They were the goals of a simple herald, goals that were dramatically different from those of the polished orators of the Greco-Roman world of the first century. (116)

The first two chapters of this Part, chapters 10 and 11, explain the attitude toward rhetoric in Corinth and the setting of 1 Corinthians 1–4 in Corinth. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city at a major intersection of travel and trade in the empire.

The delight in rhetoric that characterized the rest of the Greco-Roman world characterized Corinth as well, and the association of eloquence with fame, power, status, and wealth was as obvious and deep-seated here as anywhere. (124–25)

Litfin states his assumptions about Paul’s letter clearly at the outset. 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:21 introduces the theme of the nature of Paul’s preaching that is foundational to the letter as a whole. This passage “is correctly, even if not exhaustively, to be characterized as an apology for Paul’s apostolic ministry” (131). Paul understood his ministry to be one of public speaking (133, 1 Cor. 1:17). He was entrusted with stewardship of a message from Christ (133). He accounts for the negative evaluation of his preaching by a significant segment of the congregation as a problem with “worldly standards of judgment” (134). Paul is frank in reporting the nature of the criticisms: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.’ ” (2 Cor. 10:10). “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (2 Cor. 11:6). It is largely the form or manner of Paul’s preaching that is under attack (137). His lack of eloquence was an embarrassment. Thus, Paul is forced to explain his modus operandi as a preacher (141).

In one of thirty-three excursuses Litfin rejects the idea that the rhetoric which Paul opposes is the deceitful and self-aggrandizing sort.[7] Rather Paul was concerned that the persuasive techniques of good rhetoric, fine for natural purposes of the state, would produce merely natural rather than spiritual results in preaching (152). Paul’s alternative is the proclaimer or witness, rather than “the results-driven dynamic of Greco-Roman persuasion itself.” “The Corinthians were for the most part little people with mere pretensions of culture and status” (153). “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26).

Chapters 12–16 analyze Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 1–4 by working seriatim through the passage. This is very rich material.

“Paul argues that he could not pour the gospel into the mold of Greco-Roman eloquence without thereby emptying the cross of its power (1 Cor. 1:17)” (159). The results of his preaching were dependent not on his persuasive powers but the “power of God” (δυνάμει θεοῦ dynami theou, 1 Cor. 2:5). The Corinthians had not abandoned the message of the cross, they only failed to grasp its implications for preaching. The centrality of Christ stands in sharp contrast with the Corinthians’ personality centered approach. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). “It is precisely this human dynamic … that Paul is here disavowing” (177). The weight of the orators’ ability was for Paul shifted to the message and its application by the Holy Spirit. The theocentric nature of the gospel has “a persuasive dynamic of its own” (178). “Paul seemed to conceive of these two persuasive dynamics—that of the rhetor and that of the cross—as mutually exclusive” (179). Faith is not a human possibility open to the influence of the orator, but a divinely given ability dispensed by the Spirit through the hearing of the word of the cross (181).

God uses means that the world considers weak, foolish, and unimpressive—that is Paul’s modus operandi in preaching (182–83). Paul’s use of word groups to describe his preaching, such as εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizō), κηρύσσω (kērussō), καταγγέλλω (katangellō), and μαρτυρέω (martyreō “are decidedly non-rhetorical” (184). Paul’s task was not to create a message to persuade but to deliver a message already given—a decidedly humbler task (185).

Paul’s use of πείθομεν (peithomen) in his statement in 2 Corinthians 5:11 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others,” simply refers to the agency of the preachers, not their rhetorical strategies (189). In Acts 17:2–4; 28:23–24, Luke tells us that

Paul’s rhetorical approach drew not on the orator’s repertoire of persuasive strategies designed to engender πίστις, but on authoritative, Scripture-backed witness to the crucified Christ. (190)

In 1 Corinthians 1:21: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of κηρύγματος to save those who believe” the ESV translates κηρύγματος as “what we preach” removing the dual emphasis of form and content in the word (193). This narrowing of the meaning of the word to refer to the message alone began especially with C. H. Dodd’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, published in 1936 (195).

This [the narrowing of the meaning] is why a lexicographer such as Gerhard Friedrich, in his article on κήρυγμα in TDNT (1965, p. 714), concludes that the word “has a twofold sense …, signifying both the result of proclamation (what is proclaimed) and the actual proclaiming. In other words, it denotes both the act and the content.” (200)

Litfin defines the persuader as one who implements “the discovery, shaping, and delivery of ideas so as to engender belief in one’s listeners” (205). The herald or proclaimer, on the other hand, is a “spokesman … bound by the precise instructions of the one who commissions him …. an executive instrument” (205). He had no control over the audience response. The Roman praeco or herald was an oral proclaimer who did not enjoy a high social standing (206–7). But the audience was “dethroned from its proud role as judge” (212). The root of the problem in Corinth was the pride of which Corinthian factionalism and the criticism of Paul’s preaching were merely symptoms (219). They were mistakenly judging Paul by the world’s public speaking standards. Christ and him crucified is the point of preaching, not the preacher.

In Part 3 Litfin presents a summary and analysis. He distinguishes between the model of the orator, the natural paradigm, and Paul’s model of the preacher, the Pauline or supernatural paradigm, by contrasting the two in terms of the audience + the speaker’s effort = the results (270–71). For both classical rhetoric and Paul the audience is a fixed given. But, whereas the speaker’s effort is variable for the orator, it is a fixed constant for the preacher as evidenced by Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 4:1–2: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” The results are an “independent variable” for the orator, since the audience shapes the speaker’s effort (262), but a “dependent variable” for the preacher, where the dependence is on the work of the Holy Spirit in commending the constant of the “word of the cross” to human hearts (270).

Appendix 3 is a brilliant summary of Paul’s epistemology. Appendices 4 and 5 provide useful implications for preaching as well as broader concerns exemplified by Litfin’s interaction with the Church Growth Movement.

A Response to Overstreet’s Criticism of Litfin’s Thesis

Overstreet challenges Litfin’s work on the distinction between persuasion and proclamation. He uncritically advocates the best ancient rhetoric as a model for preachers and maintains that the rhetoric that shaped the Corinthian criticisms of Paul was from the Second Sophist movement (Overstreet, 52), implying that it was bad, or manipulative, deceitful rhetoric that Paul was opposed to in Corinth. Litfin, in contrast insists, “[I]t is not just the corruptions of this tradition that Paul calls into question for the purposes of preaching; it is the essence of the tradition itself” (Litfin, 273). While it is clear that Overstreet read the 1994 version of Litfin’s book, it seems that, due to the publication date, Litfin has not read Overstreet. Overstreet does not sustain a cogent engagement with Litfin’s work on the background of Paul’s controversy with the Corinthian church and thus his exegesis. He also fails to take Litfin’s apologetic goals into account. Despite Overstreet’s fine survey of New Testament uses of the πείθω (peithō) word group, it seems that he has misunderstood Litfin’s basic point about the dangers of persuasive rhetoric yielding a purely human or natural result. When Overstreet asserts that Litfin bases his critique of preaching as persuasion on three Scriptures (Zech. 4:6, Ps. 127:1, and 1 Cor. 2:4–5) one wonders if he has actually read Litfin’s book (Overstreet, 29, cf. Litfin, 280–82 “The ambiguity of ‘persuasion’ ”).

Overstreet’s assertion that Litfin limits Paul’s theology of preaching to 1 Corinthians 1–4 is unfounded. Litfin clearly states that he understands that this passage is not exhaustive on the subject of preaching.

We discover the principle (Paul’s insight that informed his preaching) at work throughout Paul’s preaching and writings, but it comes to its fullest expression in the passage we have explored at length: 1 Corinthians 1–4 and 1:17–2:5 in particular. (Litfin 131, 260)

When, as Overstreet critically quotes, Litfin asserts, the preacher “is not called upon to persuade the hearers to respond,” (30) Litfin is not saying there is no need to apply the truth of the proclamation to the lives of the hearers. Litfin insists:

We need not refrain from urging, entreating, exhorting or beseeching our listeners to follow Christ. The essence of the gospel is invitation, and some of the terms used in Scripture—for example παρακαλέω (Acts 2:40) and δέομαι (2 Cor. 5:20)—clearly portray this aspect of the preacher’s ministry. Nothing we have said is meant to deny the validity of straight forward encouragement or exhortation to receive the gospel. After all, invitation in and of itself can scarcely be viewed as a persuasive technique designed to induce, rather than simply be the agent of, yielding. (348)

Overstreet responds to an earlier version (1994) of this quote by complaining that Litfin doesn’t demonstrate the difference between the exhortation he approves and the persuasion he opposes. First, Litfin reminds us that the issue Paul is “addressing in 1 Corinthians 1–4 is primarily the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers” (339). But he goes on to say that “the insights of 1 Corinthians 1–4 remain relevant” as well to believers who already possess the Holy Spirit (Overstreet, 340). Litfin wants to stop after the first two steps in the process of persuasion (attention, comprehension, yielding, retention, and action)[8] because “yielding” is the internal work of the Holy Spirit (347). Overstreet insists that mere comprehension is not what Paul aims at, as if scholars like Litfin do not advocate yielding or action as the result of proclamation (41). He fails to distinguish between the actions of the agent of proclamation (the preacher) and the agent of yielding, retention, and action, which is the Holy Spirit.

Litfin is using persuasion in a technical way to describe the ancient audience-driven mode of rhetoric, which he sees appearing in modern form in preaching in, among other things, the Church Growth movement. He would also see it in Overstreet’s own advocacy of the invitation system. Litfin distinguishes between two types of audience adaptation:

Training in ancient rhetoric was designed to help the speaker mold his efforts to the needs and values of the audience so as to produce the desired response. The Christian preacher, on the other hand, molds his efforts to his audience for a different reason: to ensure that they comprehend the King’s message. The preacher should use all the techniques at his disposal to put the message in terms his audience can understand, to break through the hearer’s defenses so as to confront him or her with the truth. (347–48, cf. 279)

Litfin gives a very helpful list of practices he believes Paul’s theology of preaching would have us avoid:

  • Gatherings centered on a charismatic, pseudo-celebrity communicator who revels in the spotlight.
  • Styles of preaching or music that tend to rev up the emotions but short-circuit the listener’s engagement with the gospel.
  • Sentimental story-laden messages that captivate the audience but fail to direct them to Christ.
  • Empty, anthropocentric pulpit therapy that draws the listener in by purporting to deal with life’s issues while lacking the gospel’s biblical and theological substance.
  • Interminable invitations designed to wear down resistance until someone, anyone, responds.
  • Such techniques as asking people to raise their hands to be prayed for and then urging all who raised their hands to come forward. (349)

After all Litfin does believe in persuasion, it’s just that he attributes persuasion to the Holy Spirit, which is clearly the biblical emphasis (Overstreet, 30). But in Overstreet’s discussion of persuasion in Paul’s epistles he quotes Litfin’s identification of the force of the persuasion verb in 2 Timothy 1:5, “Because Paul was persuaded that Timothy possessed true faith (v.5), … he urged the young minister to fan into flame (or perhaps, “keep at full flame”) his God-given ability for ministry” (Overstreet, 45). His footnote indicates that Overstreet thinks this shows Litfin’s inconsistency. Again, however, I think Overstreet misunderstands Litfin’s more precise use of “persuasion” and confuses the use of persuasive verbs by the Apostle with his own theory that the persuasion comes from the preacher.

Overstreet’s own emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching, and in particular persuasion, is precisely what Litfin aims at in limiting the kind of preaching Paul was advocating—proclamation—in contrast to the rhetorical expectations of the Corinthian church.

In the end both Litfin and Overstreet believe in the central importance of the Holy Spirit in the act of preaching and in its effect on the hearers. They both believe in the supernatural power of biblical preaching and its message. Litfin, however, gives a more consistently biblical account of Paul’s theology of preaching.

The preacher is called, not to a results-driven, but an obedience-driven ministry (317).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)


[1] Jay Adams, Preaching with Purpose (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 13.

[2] John A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, ed. Jesse Burton Weatherspoon (Nashville: Broadman, 1982), 214. Originally published in 1870.

[3] Alan H. Monroe, Monroe’s Principles of Speech (Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1945). Overstreet is confusing here since on page 122 he attributes this five-step sequence to Alan Monroe, whereas on page 29 he says that Litfin gets this sequence from William McGuire. It seems like a common usage in communication circles. Cf. fn 8.

[4] Raymond S. Ross, Persuasion: Communication and Interpersonal Relations (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 182.

[5] Michael S. Hanna and James W. Gibson, Public Speaking for Personal Success, 3rd ed. (Dubuque, Brown, 1992), 359.

[6] Cf. Ian Murray, The Invitation System (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967).

[7] There are three excursuses on this topic: “Good Rhetoric Versus Bad Rhetoric,” on pages 150, 260, 294.

[8] Based on a modern analysis of human persuasion in William McGuire, “The Nature of Attitudes and Attitude Change,” in Handbook of Social Psychology, edited by G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, vol. 3, 136–314, 2nd ed. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1969), 173. It may also be found elsewhere. Cf. fn 3.

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, November 2015.

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Ordained Servant: November 2015

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