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The Persuasive Preacher

David Christensen

Wipf and Stock, 2020, Paperback ISBN 978-1725265998

Review by Neville Manning, Retired Priest in Chichester Diocese

<strong><em>The Persuasive Preacher</em></strong>

Preachers must never misuse the power the pulpit offers to them and preaching must always have an ethical dimension in its practice. That is the message of this book at its simplest level. The Persuasive Preacher is written by David Christensen, a Baptist pastor in a distinctly North American context. He has also taught in a Bible College, has clearly thought about this issue over many years, and therefore deserves to be heard. The nub of the book is that the Christian Gospel needs to be proclaimed and people need to be persuaded about the truth of it, but not in any way that manipulates them. For him key biblical texts are 1 Corinthians 1:18, where Paul says that for those being saved the message of the cross is the power of God, and 2 Corinthians 5:11: ‘Knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others.’ It is argued that Paul would have been trained in the methods of rhetoric practised in his own day, even if he avoided the more dubious aspects of them. The issue of how we persuade others ethically is relevant, whether to a mega-church in the USA or to a smaller struggling congregation.

Christensen has some telling turns of phrase so a few quotations may help to give the flavour of what he has to say about motivating people without manipulating them: ‘We preach the word of God by the power of God, to the people of God, who hold us accountable to the truth of God.’ ‘The preacher must avoid manipulating or manufacturing a result based on human methods. This forms an important boundary for Christian rhetoric but does not mean all rhetoric is antithetical to Christianity.’ ‘New Testament preaching was word-saturated, gospel-centred and Christ-exalting.’ ‘Ultimately God does the persuading, he uses human persuasion in the process.’ ‘If we achieve our goals at the expense of truth, we fail Christ and destroy our witness.’

However, I have three reservations about this book. Firstly, a North American context in a book addressed almost exclusively to ‘evangelical’ Christians makes it very limiting. I suspect also that ‘evangelicals’ in the USA are a different kettle of fish to those accepting this designation in the United Kingdom! Secondly, we hear a great deal about Saint Paul but relatively little about the teaching of Jesus. With no disrespect to the Apostle, it would have been fruitful to examine our Lord’s own methods of engaging people with the message of the Kingdom, especially through the parables. Finally, Christensen seems to treat preaching sermons as a dominant and almost stand-alone activity instead of seeing it as part of liturgy, where the Holy Spirit does the work of persuading people through hymns, prayers and all the other elements of worship.

Here then is a book worth reading but with the use of some critical discernment, whatever the kind of congregations in which we minister.


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