In this post we continue our discussion of the rhetorical processes or what Donald R. Sunukjian calls the developmental questions. John A. Broadus originally described these forms of discourse for preaching in 1870. The most commonly used version of Broadus is the 1944 edition, edited by Weatherspoon:
“Preaching is inherently a form of rhetoric. Rhetoric is designed to influence others. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.”
“These four rhetorical questions appeal to the whole person to whom we are preaching. Explanation appeals to the intellect. Argumentation appeals to the reason. Illustration appeals to the imagination and Application appeals to the volition” (Wayne McDill, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, Nashville: B&H, 2006, 119, 126, 127).
The rhetorical process (or the developmental question) called Explanation answers this question your listeners are asking while you are preaching, “What do these verses mean that he just read?” We discussed this rhetorical process in Step 5, Part 1.
The rhetorical process called Argumentation of the explanation answers the question, “Why should I believe this Biblical explanation?”
Under Argumentation of the explanation, you could bring in the theology found in the text. For example, if you are explaining the deity of Christ in human form in Philippians 2:6, for argumentation you could support your explanation by referring to Paul’s similar Christology in Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” When in explaining a text, think systematic theology for argumentation.
Paul is always supporting his New Testament truth with Old Testament quotations or theology. For example, in Romans 3 Paul discusses justification by faith and not by works of the law (3:22). In Romans 4, Paul buttresses this same truth with theology found in the Old Testament: “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord and it was counted unto righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This is how we inject theology into our preaching.
Albert Mohler in his book, He is Not Silent has Chapter 3 “Preaching is Expository: A Theology of Exposition”. In this chapter, Mohler contends that our view of God’s revelation in His Word will be reflected in our preaching. If we possess a low view of revelation then our preaching will be theology deficient. If we have a low view of the doctrine of revelation, then in our preaching we will preach “pop psychology and culture, or we will tell compelling stories.” We preach the theology of a passage because it is God’s authoritative Word that is life changing.
Illustration answers, “What does this truth look like in concrete terms?” I discussed illustrations in Step 5, Part 2.
Application brings God’s Word home by answering, “What does this truth have to do with my life?” Application is examined in Step 5, Part 3.
I want to now to discuss Argumentation of the application which answers your listeners’ objection to your application: “Why should I do this?” Driscoll addresses this developmental question as the fourth of the six questions he always asks as he prepares to preach.
1. The Biblical Question: What Does Scripture Say? I answer this question by Driscoll with Explanation.
2. The Theological Question: What Does Scripture Mean? I answer this question by Driscoll with Argumentation of explanation.
3. The Memorable Question: What is my Hook? “A word, image, concept, doctrine, emotion, or person needs to be the hook that is woven through sermon.” I answer this question, though not completely, with the proposition.
4. The Apologetical Question: Why do we Resist This Truth? I answer this with Argumentation for the Application. Driscoll states well the need for this developmental question: “Here we are assuming that people will not simply embrace God’ truth but fight it with their thoughts and/or actions because they are sinners who, like Romans 1:18 says, suppress the truth. So we attempt to predict their objections so that we can answer them and remove their resistance to get them to embrace God’s truth for their life” (Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, 100).
5. The Missional Question: Why Does This Matter? I answer this question by Driscoll with Application.
6. The Christological Question: How is Jesus the Hero-Savior? I would answer this with Argumentation for explanation if there is Christology in the text.
Arguing for application is one of the strengths of Donald R. Sunukjian’s Invitation to Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007.
Sunukjian gives three reasons and examples our listeners do not practice our application.
1. Our listeners do not see the cause-effect connection.
James 1:5 presents a cause-effect connection. The cause for much of our praying is our need for God’s wisdom.
If you are preaching on this verse after you explain, argue, and illustrate you would apply by saying: “You can come to God anytime. He will give you wisdom.” Your listener may need to be convinced by additional argumentation for the cause-effect connection such as when Solomon asked God for wisdom and God granted him his request. Or the “distraught father who stood before his kicking and screaming child. He was baffled by his son’s temper tantrums. When his son started beating his head against the floor, the father dropped his chin to his chest, shaking his head in a silent prayer, ‘Help me know what to do.’ When an idea flashed, he got down on his knees, grabbed his son’s head, and said, ‘Here, let me help you bang it.’ Careful not to hurt his son, he helped him with his tantrum, instead of resisting it. His surprised son stopped, cured of using tantrums that no longer worked” (Charles Sell, The House on The Rock. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1977, p. 19).
2. Our listeners think the Biblical statement is contrary to real life.
You are preaching on Ephesians 6:2 “Honor your father and mother.” You anticipate this objection: “If you knew my parents, you wouldn’t tell me to do that. If you knew their vices . . . if you knew how manipulative they were . . . if you knew what my father did to my sisters as they were growing up . . . if you knew how my siblings and I are still trying to get rid of the baggage from living in that dysfunctional home, you wouldn’t tell me to honor my parents.”
Your argumentation for your application would go like this: What do the key words mean? “Honor” means “speak politely and respectfully to,” not necessarily “publicly praise.”
Sunukjian suggests the following:
1. Probe the alternative course of action: “If your parents are unsaved you will never win them.”
2. Find positives for obeying God’s Word. “You might say to a man who finds it difficult to honor his parents: They may have been poor parents. They may have made a lot of mistakes. But they probably did some things right. Whatever their failures, we owe our parents a great debt. They gave us life. They fed us, clothed us, and put a roof over our heads for years. The human infant is not like an animal infant—able to take care of itself after a few months. Unless someone was watching out for us, and taking care of us, we would have died. Maybe your dad went to a job he hated and gritted his teeth while some supervisor gave him a bad time. Everything in your dad wanted to stuff it down the boss’s throat, but jobs were hard to come by and he was determined to provide for you. And as we think of the years of that debt, we may be able to speak quietly and respectfully in his presence.”
3. Our listeners do something that is more important to them.
The example given by Sunukjian is 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel.” Your application of this verse to your Sunday morning listeners is, “Dress in non-provocative apparel.”
How do you deal with the objections such as the teenage girl who might prayerfully commit herself on Sunday to “dress modestly to the glory of God” but then on Saturday, at the beach, she wears a bathing suit that doesn’t fit anybody’s definition of modesty and twines herself around some college guy. This doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a hypocrite. It may simply mean that though she buys modesty, she buys even more having a boyfriend or getting affirmation that her femininity is desirable.
So our Argumentation for our application would sound something like this: To get her to buy or value God’s truth most of all would require bringing up the other values on Sunday, acknowledging their tug on her, and then showing either the superior benefits of acting according to God’s truth or the dangerous side effects of acting according to the contrary values. One way or another, the goals is to help her see the biblical truth as more important” (Donald R. Sunukjian, Invitation to Biblical Preaching, 93-105).
I want to close with McDill’s thoughts on preaching: “All preaching aims for repentance. The New Testament word for ‘repentance’ is metanoia, which basically means ‘a change of mind’” (McDill, 128). One way God changes minds in our “reproving, rebuking, and exhorting” is when we answer their objections to our applications.