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.

7 thoughts on “Persuasive Preaching

  1. I am reminded of 1 Cor. 2.

    Paul’s Message, the Spirit’s Power

    1And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

    Wisdom from the Spirit of God

    6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

    10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

    14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

    Another thing I am reminded of is that His Word tells us to GO OUT & PREACH the Gospel once given, as well as to TEACH & DISCIPLE those WITHIN the fellowship of the saints. Seems the traditions of men have turned these things 180 degrees from the original intent. In my mind at least this turning originated with the likes of Diotrophese and his ilk and as a manner of ungodly control of men.

    Manfred, you aptly pointed out that, “…if there be any unsaved among you…” Most now stay in to preach and send out the saints to gather in the unsaved to the fellowship of the saints. Is this not the fulfillment of the parable of the wheat and tares?

    So much has changed. Well did He teach regarding the “traditions of men” being such that they make His Word of little effect…

    Thanks for the book review, brother! Stay ever faithful to His Will for our lives!

    There is room in Northwest Penna. for a man of the calling, brother! And I might know of a fellowship of 30 that is lead now by a plurality of elders who just may soon be ready to support a man who would preach in view of a calling!


  2. Many thanks for your kinds comments and reminders from the Word about Who has the power of conversion.

    I am humbled and grateful to God for you as a brother. But I am cold enough in SE Oklahoma and would have to hear personally from our Lord to be convinced to move to Pennsylvania 🙂


  3. It is my understanding that Spurgeon did not give “alter calls”. Those who did come forward were told to come back on Wednesday. He was very fearful of facilitating false conversions. If they were truly in the grip of the Holy Spirit they would come back. If it was mere emotionalism they would not. Only God can say but it appears our pews and even the pulpits are filled with tares convinced they are real Christians. Much of this can be traced to the repeat after me “sinners prayer”. Todd Friel admits that he was halfway through seminary before he realized he had been a false convert. I “went forward” and was baptized at age fourteen but I was born again sixteen years later. My childhood church foolishly had almost loved me into hell.
    False converts would explain the plague of pornography in both the pew and pulpit. It would explain why so many are so easily moved away from the truth by the deceptions of the spiritual snake oil pitchmen. It would explain the lack of growth in their lives.
    It would explain why genuine fellowship is so lacking. Jesus said that our love one for another would be proof of Him being the Messiah. It follows that our lack thereof would accomplish the opposite.
    Unless the Lord builds a house those who labor, labor in vain. Unless the Holy Spirit has wrought genuine conviction and repentance the preacher labors in vain. How sound is his house when he has built it with the hay straw and stubble of confused false converts. Yet another reason why God will judge teachers more harshly. What a solemn fearful “spiritual” gift to be given. When a doctor errs the body dies. When a evangelist errs a soul may be lost for eternity.


  4. It’s 16 degrees here today brother. A nice coating of snow also, but no 6 feet like in Buffalo NY. Come check us out! You could bring a couple of fleece to lay on the ground and see if something happens…Either way the fleece could come in handy as it can help keep you warm! LOL

    My woodstove is stoked and I already got my venison in for the season. Now it’s just waiting and praying for the Lord to harden the water so I can go walk on the water and resume my fishing! LOL

    Perhaps I’ll mention you to Him so that you too can enjoy the 4 seasons here also.

    Fall, winter, spring, and the 4th of July…

    Actually Northwestern Penna. is a great place…to be from.

    Truly a field “white for the harvest” Manfred!


  5. Mickey – SE Oklahoma has more in need of the gospel than I can comprehend. And the low last night was 33 🙂

    I have kin in Leroy, NY and know about the 6 feet of snow up there.

    I do believe the fields are white for harvest in NW Pennsylvania – I believe there is a dearth of the gospel across this fair land.

    No matter where I live – I am from Texas. That’s a GREAT place to be from.

    I enjoy your humor – will stay away from fleece but pray you are able to walk on the water soon.

    Soli Deo GLoria!


  6. Mickey and Manfred, you brothers are hilarious. Here in Wyoming, our fleeces are already white and frozen. We were at -16F with the wind chill down near -30F last week.

    Seriously, Manfred, you are correct. There is a dearth across this land for the truth of God’s Word to be preached.


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