Persuasive Preaching

Persuasive Preaching Overstreet revised3 (7-19-14)

A review by Stuart Brogden

R. Larry Overstreet has subtitled this book, A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion, and in his prologue (page 4) makes the case that in order for preaching to be persuasive it must include a public invitation. We will see, in chapter 12, that Overstreet is not a disciple of Charles Finney – he warns about the abuse that has followed after Finney’s “new methods”, comparing persuasion with manipulation. What, then, does our author mean by the term “persuasive preaching?” He defines it at the end of chapter 1, page 14:

“(a) the process of preparing biblical, expository message 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 towards God, His Word, and other individuals,

(f) resulting in their lives being transformed into the image of Christ.”

While I would combine (c) with (b) and (e) with (d), the overall point he is making is one I think any pastor could embrace. What pastor would not want his people to be transformed by the renewing of their minds as a result of the Spirit working through his preaching?

The bulk of this book, chapters 3 – 11, is an extensive, technical argument in favor of persuasive speech, from the Bible and pagan perspectives – heavily footnoted. I found this part of the book ponderous and laborious; perhaps because I am already convinced that the Lord has shown us we are to be persuasive in our presentation of His Word, while not trusting in our ability to persuade men as an effective means of building His people up.

I think chapter 13, “The Holy Spirit in Preaching”, is the most important part of the book. Overstreet rightly points out that He is the originator of God’s Word (page 172), the revealer of God’s Word (page 172), the communicator (page 175), and the propagator of God’s Word (page 177). We are reminded that the Holy Spirit equips the preacher (180) and the listeners (181). These are excellent reminders and much needed in these days, as so many people have apparently latched on to the notion that preachers are the ones who do these things! Our author instructs us to not grieve or quench the Spirit, but walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and in prayer to the Spirit (pages 184 – 191). If the book had ended here, it would have been fine. But Overstreet told us in the prologue that persuasive preaching must include an invitation – so the last chapter, 14, is on that topic.

Much of this last chapter presents the reader with the notion that chapter 13 was not for real – as men are presented as the change agents for “receiving Christ” and “committing themselves to full-time Christian service” (page 194). Overstreet acknowledges (195) that decisions are sometimes known only to God but tries to make the case for public invitations in order make them known to men. He quotes Faris D. Whitesell, who comes across as a Finney disciple: “Anything that helps us to carry out the principles and teaching of the Scriptures in a more effective and practical way is scriptural.” I cannot help but think of Eli’s children and wonder of Whitesell and Overstreet recall their doom.

As he pulls together his arguments in favor of public invitations within the local church, he draws on myriad passages of Scripture that show public invitations and exhortations being made without the local church. The invitations in the Bible are consistently “repent and believe!”, called out all men everywhere. Within the church, we see an intense struggle to stay faithful to the Word to equip the saints. Only once that I am aware of do we see unbelievers in the church – and they are not invited to the front. The focus from Paul is to be clear in the presentation of the Word of God, that the unbeliever might be convicted of truth (1 Cor 14:22 – 25).

While I am not in agreement with Overstreet’s premise – persuasive preaching does not have to end with a public invitation – I am encouraged by his counsel on the use and construction of the invitation:

Be Sensitive to Length

Be Clear in Appeal

Be Exact in Action

Be Loving in Presentation

Be Consistent with Message

Be Positive in Expectation

Be Earnest in Delivery

And he is wise in his warnings the problems one might face with the use of public invitations:

The Liability of Confusion

The Liability of Narrowness

The Liability of Weariness

The Liability of a “Canned” Invitation

The Liability of Unethical Behavior


The focus of this book is good – preachers ought to be persuasive in their preaching! Preachers ought to call men to repent and believe, to cast aside sin and press on with our eyes fixed on the Lord. But we find no biblical warrant for having a public invitation at the end of our sermons. I am thankful for men who understand the dangers of abusing the invitation system – though that abuse tends to be the model followed by most who use it. My prayer is that those who think it important would find in this book a sound argument for being sober and restrained in its practice, lest men think it’s the preacher upon whom all things depend.

Taste and See!

Taste and See!

A review by Stuart Brogden

Barry Cooper has written a short but most excellent book, entitled Can I really trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks. While many very good and expansive apologetics books have been written, this small volume provides the reader an accessible wealth of information and insight as to the nature of the collection we call the Bible. Cooper gives us 5 short chapters, answering three questions, “Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?”, “Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?”, and “Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?” from 5 different perspectives:

  1. The world, the word, and what Jesus thought of the Bible.
  2. The word, the Word, and the rightness of writing.
  3. Consistency, conspiracies and corruptions.
  4. Canon, contradictions and criticisms.
  5. Tasting, seeing, and the sweetness of Scripture.

Our author introduces his book with a short look back at Winnie the Pooh and his penchant for honey – and how Pooh proved honey. The jar had a label claiming it was honey, but could the label be trusted? The contents looked like honey, but you can’t tell for sure by looking. The only way to be sure the jar contained honey was to taste it and see!

In explaining how the Bible is trustworthy, Cooper reminds us that the Bible does not claim to contain all knowledge about God – but that it contains all we need to know about God. And, still in chapter one, he points out Jesus’ attitude towards Scripture – He does not differentiate between the words of God and the word He caused men to write. The inspired word is trustworthy – not all any human author of Scripture wrote is inspired, only that which God intended and caused to be included in the canon of Scripture. In explaining the need we have of God’s written word, our author explains that giving it to us in writing allows God’s people to be sure and definite of knowing God’s word. If someone comes along claiming to speak for God, God’s word tells us how to respond – as the Bereans did, by searching the Scriptures to see if things are true; to test all things and cling to that which is good. Having God’s word in writing provides us this defense.

And since the Bible is the word of God, it is reasonable that He provided for its protection, preservation, and its identity as His word. The Roman Catholic Church claims that it decided what was in the canon of Scripture. Some evangelicals have been put off or discouraged by these claims. But Cooper rightly points out that the early church (hundreds of years before anything recognizable as the Roman Catholic Church) “didn’t willfully “declare” certain books to be from God; they could only recognize what was already apparent.” If God is God, sovereign over all He created, why should we be surprised when He uses His creation to produce, preserve, publish, and declare His word?

In chapter 4, Cooper gives us 7 quick arguments to refute claims that the Bible has errors:

  1. It’s not an error if it’s not in the original documents. There are scribal errors in every translation, but the enormous number of copies across the ages allows us to know what the autograph said.
  2. It’s not an error if we misunderstand the author’s intention. The Bible contains several genres of literature and literary customs of the authors’ eras. We cannot understand the Bible if we do not try to comprehend the historical and literary context of each passage.
  3. It’s not an error if it’s a paraphrase. Biblical authors often sum up accounts to provide something easy to listen to or read – same as when you summarize a movie you’ve seen.
  4. It’s not an error if it’s “phenomenological language”. When people describe things from their perspective, rather than objectively reporting facts, that phenomenological language. Cooper observes that a weatherman who talks about the sun rising is not called a liar – his audience knows what he means. He is using a literary custom of our day and telling it from his and our perspective.
  5. It’s not an error if someone else says it. This is when the Bible records someone telling a lie – the Bible is not in error. It is accurate in that it reports the lie. The liar is in error.
  6. It’s not an error if the Bible doesn’t speak definitively or exhaustively on every subject. Scripture doesn’t cover every topic, but it is authoritative on everything it does cover.
  7. It’s not an error if it ain’t written proper. Unlearned men speaking in sentence fragments are not errors. The issue is truthfulness – not passing a journalism exam.

Lastly, our author exhorts us to taste the Scriptures, to see if they are sweet to our souls as honey is to our tongues. Since the Spirit of God is the Author of Scripture, and since He lives in everyone who has been born of God, He will work in each child of God to develop our taste buds and give us understanding as we read and ponder the Word of God. Cooper warns us, the Bible “hasn’t been given to us so that we can know about God. It has been given to us so that we can know God.” He then quotes A.W. Tozer:

The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

This, dear reader, is the bottom line: Those who have been made alive in Christ will experience what Cooper and Tozer wrote about. Those who have not been born again will not be able to. Our goal is not to convince unbelievers the Bible is true. Our goal is to know the Bible is true by our our knowledge of the Word Himself – and make noise about Him and His gospel to those who are not of His sheepfold, trusting that He will bring all the sheep home that the Father has given Him. This is what His word tells us – and His word is trustworthy.

Is Predestination Biblical?

I was asked to serve at a small Baptist church near the property in SE Oklahoma my wife and I bought some years with hopes of moving to in 2015. So this opportunity to shepherd a small flock provided the impetus for us to move a year ahead of schedule. I had traveled up to this church once on a general call to preach, having been recommended by the local Baptist association. I preached twice that day and was quickly invited back to “preach in view of a call”. I drove the 400 miles to do that on July 6, preaching from Hebrews 1:1-4 (telling them I would preach through that book if called) and had a meeting with the members of the church that evening.

I was asked if I believed in “once saved always saved” and I explained the believer’s security such that “easy believism” was not an option. The same lady asked me if I would be willing to have little children bring trinkets to me during the service so I could relate the trinket to Scripture. I told her the service was for the worship of God, not the entertainment of children.

I asked them what they thought the main function of the pastor was and was encouraged to hear several say “pray, study, preach”. I asked them what the main function of the church was on the Lord’s Day and was encouraged to hear several say “worship the Lord in song, hear the Word preached.”  That provides a foundation upon which to build.

I was also asked if I believed in predestination and confessed that I had no choice because it is clearly taught in Revelation, Romans 8 and Ephesians. I was encouraged when that answer was met with a few “Amens!” Some questions about programs and Sunday School – I pressed on them the need to engage parents and to help young people grow into adults; so I would accept some “age appropriate” Sunday School for small children, but by 12 they need to be with adults – because we see this in Scripture and we see the need in our culture.

I was asked to step outside. About 5 minutes later, I was asked back in and told that they wanted to call me as their pastor. The terms were acceptable. We made provision to sell our house in Houston, bought a trailer to live in for a season and I moved on up on Aug 6, with my dear wife following in a couple of weeks. I preached several sermons (available here: http://gowenbaptist.blogspot.com/) and they had a very nice welcome dinner for us on Aug 24 and then the deacons told me they could not tolerate my preaching that included predestination, so they asked me to step down on Aug 31. They corralled the members the next day and then told me on Wed evening the whole church voted for me to leave.

The deacons would not answer questions about their view that altar calls are necessary nor would they be willing to reconsider their view on predestination if I showed them clear passages of Scripture that declare it. They are free-will people, have been all their lives and they have no interest in growing in grace and knowledge of Christ. I told them that if I had known they held to free-will theology, I would never have come to serve there. That being said, they have been very nice and generous and have offered to help us move our trailer off their property.

I am heart-broken over this, but unashamed of the messages I delivered while there – all 4 week’s worth. I put together a list of  Scripture passages touching on this topic, see below. No man can come to the Father unless He draw him. How can free-will in a sinful creature claim credit for choosing to be saved? The lack of willingness to ponder Scripture and let that be a guide flies in the face of Christianity and denies the authority, sufficiency, necessity, and clarity of Scripture that I preached on while there.

On Predestination:

John 1:11-13 (ESV) 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 3:6-8 (ESV) 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 10:25-30 (ESV) 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

John 15:15-17 (ESV) 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:11-14 (ESV) 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Revelation 13:5-8 (ESV) 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 17:6-8 (ESV) 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

On man’s inability:

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

1 John 5:11-12 (ESV) 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

God saves, not man:

John 6:36-40 (ESV) 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:44 (ESV) “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Titus 3:4-7 (ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Romans 9:14-18 (ESV) 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

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God’s Story

God’s Story  Gods Story

A review by Stuart Brogden

 

This book is subtitled, A Student’s Guide to Church History. As one who has greatly benefited from studying church history, I was most eager to read this book as I think all Christians would learn much that is helpful by such a study. In the introduction, Brian Cosby says “knowing church history helps explain our identity … helps explain the present … guards us from repeating mistakes … testifies to God’s powerful working as HIS STORY.” Studying church history done well will have much in common with the historical narratives in Scripture – showing the brute truth about God’s people: redeemed sinners who still struggle with sin and obey with less than perfection.

 

In chapters 2 – 10, our author provides a quick overview of the history of God’s people from Genesis through the Great Awakening, giving details that should whet the appetite of any young – or older Christian – to discover more about the providential care for His people in all ages.

 

The last couple of chapters provide a warning to all who might be drawn aside from the study of the Scriptures. Church history shows that those who do not cling to the Bible as the Word of God inevitably drift to using human wisdom to determine eternal outcomes. In the 11th chapter (they are not numbered), Cosby details four categories of abandonment of Scriptures as the rule for life and godliness, with shipwrecks of faith being the inevitable outcome. First, he describes revivalism, headlined by Charles Finney – who gave us altar calls and myriad “new measures”. Dispensationalism arrived at about the same time. Second, Cosby tells us about liberalism – which denies the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. This leads professing Christians to deny the virgin birth, the creation account, and pretty much anything essential to the Christian faith. He names people so we will recognize them when we read other documents, so we are properly warned. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is known as the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology” and had many followers, including Henry Ward Beecher, Adolf von Harnack, Albrecht Ritschl, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, John Hick, and John Shelby Spong.

 

The third abandonment of Scripture is cults, which are typified by the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both of these cults have a heretical view of Jesus and the trinity, each has their own twisted version of the Bible. These factual departures from the Word of God does not stop millions of people from following these cults and leading many to a certain doom apart from Christ. The fourth and last category is evolution. I was happy to see this listed, as I have come to see this view as particularly incompatible with Christianity, yet accepted by many Christians who are too impressed by what men call science. There is no evidence of any evolutionary change in kinds – from non-dog to dog, etc. All the “proof experiments” document that environmental adaptation (known as micro-evolution) is common. Change in kind (macro-evolution) has never been documented, much less has evolution been shown to be the cause for the origin of any species.

 

The last chapter is a review of four influences in the 20th century that have encouraged or derailed many Christians: fundamentalism (reaffirming the essentials of the Christian faith), neo-orthodoxy (the Bible becomes the Word of God when used by God to draw a sinner to faith), Pentecostalism (a focus on experience rather than Truth), and evangelicalism (emphasizing the historic Protestant theological convictions). This last also brought a mixture of revivalism and new measures as churches experimented with different forms of entertainment worship.

 

This excellent book finishes with an exhortation from the author that should encourage every Christian, young or old:

 

As we look back through the history of the Christian church, we see God’s faithfulness to preserve his people in spite of their sin and rebellion against his truth. We see a great cloud of witnesses, generations of those who have embraced Christ by faith, beckoning us onward as we will one day be translated from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. And until that day comes, we pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

 

I say amen!

 

This is a very good book, easy to grab hold of. Parents should put this in front of their children, read it with them and discuss the attributes of God and the sinfulness of man that are always on display. This latter ought remind that none but Jesus does helpless sinners good. Flee to Him. This book shows us the way.

Unity in the Trinity

This came to me while I was working on a sermon from Hebrews 1:1 – 4, on a point focusing on the identity of the Son of God. 

Consider this parallel – when God the Father completed His creation work, He rested from that worktrinity_diagram. He continued to guide redemptive history and the Scriptures show His active involvement in shaping history and the lives of men. The Lord Jesus, after He had finished His work of atonement, He sat down at God’s right hand – resting from His work of redemption. He yet works – serving as our high priest and advocate, our protector and shepherd. And so it is with the third person in the holy trinity – the Holy Spirit worked during and after Pentecost to bring about the birth of the church, with many signs and miracles. Though the bulk of these miracles have ceased, the foundation of the church having been completed, the Holy Spirit continues His work of giving us illumination as we read the Scriptures; convicts the world of sin and the righteousness of Jesus. In each of these creation works and in all of the ongoing works, the three persons of the trinity are completely unified. Recall that the world was created through Jesus, and we read that the Spirit hovered over the waters during this event, as if giving birth. The Father chose those to be redeemed, Jesus atoned for them, and the Spirit has sealed them until the Day of Judgment. They each had a time of one-time creation work, followed by resting from that work, while continuing on, in unity, with other work required for our good – and their glory. This is the identity of the Son – completely at one with the Father and the Spirit.

Baptist – What does it mean and why is it important?

It was my privilege to preach at a small country Baptist church this past Sunday. My sermon for that eveningBaptists-logo  was to help them better understand why being a Baptist church matters. The outline for the sermon is this:

Baptists – where did the name come from?
Four Distinctives:
1) Baptism: Mode, Candidates, Significance
2) Nature of the local church: Local autonomy, Offices, Membership, Relation to civil governments
3) Liberty of Conscience
4) Authority of Scripture: Individual responsibility to know the Word of God and live in light of eternity.