Style and Substance

By Aaron Bass

A potential problem. There is a prevailing attitude towards gospel preaching that is very dangerous. There seems to be a greater interest among some preachers to-wards style rather than substance. Greater emphasis is placed on the delivery rather than the content of sermons. There is more focus and attention on how a preacher sounds and how he comes across rather than on what he says. Importance is placed upon catchy and attractive styles rather than upon the truth. Should a preacher’s approach be one that gives delivery and style more importance than content and substance? Should he focus more time and attention on style and delivery to the neglect of truth? Should all of his efforts be funneled into and concentrated on learning a better style and delivery? This approach is very dangerous and can give rise to good sounding, yet shallow preaching. With this attitude, preaching becomes very susceptible to a change for the worse by turning gospel preaching into a performance. With this way of thinking, good sounding orators emerge instead of sound preachers able and ready to defend, uphold, and preach the truth. One can preach with great style and delivery but if it is not the truth, then it profits nothing and is destructible to men’s souls. It is this writer’s concern that with this way of thinking there will be ill-prepared men who are unable to recognize error and defend the truth.

How does God feel about style? The apostle Paul was not trained in rhetorical speech like the Corinthian orators, but he had revealed knowledge (2 Cor. 11:6). Paul had what was important, revealed knowledge. Paul emphasized to the people at Corinth who were influenced by the philosophers of the age the simplicity of the gospel. Christ sent Paul to preach the gospel, but not in cleverness of speech (1 Cor. 1:17). Paul came to the Corinthians not with superiority of speech or wisdom (I Cor. 2:1). Paul determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul’s preaching did not come with persuasive words of human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:4). These things were not requirements for Paul to preach the gospel effectively.

The gospel is the power to save (Rom. 1:16). There is no wisdom of man or anything in his own estimation that has the power to save. The gospel draws men to Christ. People are not converted to Christ by reason of man’s cleverness or superiority of speech, but by the plain and simple gospel (Mark 16:15-16). He who preaches in such a way so as to cause people to focus their attention on himself instead of the words of the gospel obstructs the gospel. The emphasis should be placed on the message and not the messenger. All too often people become attracted to a preacher’s style and delivery rather than giving heed to the message. God does not want people to be converted to man because of his speech, but to Christ because of the gospel and its power to save. Do not consider style more important than substance.

Do style and delivery fit in with substance? God doesn’t say to preach with skillful, superior, and clever speech, He just says, “Preach the word …” (2 Tim. 4:2). Given that a preacher is in a place of great influence and is responsible, in part, for the souls of men, by teaching, reproving, rebuking and exhorting, he should be more than sure he has the truth and is leading people in the right direction (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 4:2; Jas. 3:1). God obligates a preacher concerning delivery and style only to this extent: (1) Preach with enough clarity and organization so people can under-stand the truth. Paul tells the Corinthians that one who speaks in tongues is speaking into the air unless there is one to interpret so all can understand and be edified (1 Cor. 14). (2) Be oneself and let one’s natural personality shine through so as to not detract from the message (Rom. 12:3-8).

The preacher should remember that he is an instrument of God to proclaim the gospel  he is another person like everybody else and is the same person when he is preaching and when he is not preaching. Delivery and style in this respect will come with time and practice. It should not be something where one spends a lot of time and puts a lot of focus on because all that will amount to is a clouding of the truth and a bolstering of oneself before men. One should first focus his attention on the truth (I Tim. 4:13; 6:11-14). Time and energy should be given to the truth. Importance should be place upon the truth.

With an attitude that puts substance first and style second, gospel preachers will be well equipped to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). True substance is important to the work of a preacher and the salvation of men’s souls, while style is not as important and should only go as far as a man being himself and letting his natural talents shine through.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 10 p. 23-24
April May 1, 1997