Duane Litfin, IVP, 2015, 400 pages, 3 of 5 stars
First Corinthians 1-4 is the only place in Scripture where we find the specifics of Paul’s philosophy of rhetoric, or put more biblically, his theology of preaching. This is cast in the milieu of the Greco-Roman world, where the people prized oratory above all else. The ancient populous lionized the greatest speakers whose ultimate goal was to persuade, move, and win. Nothing in Greek culture was higher, more ideal, than the man of eloquence.
Shockingly, Paul smashes this ideology with the words of a herald, a proclaimer, not an orator of great rhetorical gifts. “Not with words of eloquent wisdom” had he come to speak (1Co. 1:17), but with a message of “folly” to the majority (v. 18). Such a message actually destroys the wisdom of the wise (v. 20) and places the onus of success not on results, but on faithfulness (4:2).
Does this mean Paul is opposed to all rhetoric? Do homiletics have any place in the preacher’s bag of tools? At first, it appears Litfin’s answer to this is no. He writes in Paul’s Theology of Preaching: “It is not the herald’s job to persuade but to convey” (264). He is a proclaimer, an announcer.
It was the proclaimer’s function to make certain that the recipients heard and understood, but it was not the proclaimer’s role to engage his rhetorical skills so as to induce his listeners to yield to the message (264).
These latter two quotes by Litfin reveal two things. First, Litfin has a habit of overreaching and overstating his point. I said to myself over and over while reading–“that can’t be true”, only to later say, “Oh, now I see where he’s coming from.” Second, Litfin is probably speaking more about persuasion as the ultimate force that makes the hearer yield, rather than the content of the sermon that urges the listen to change. Continue reading