Recently at the Priority of Preaching conference (I hope you were able to make it), Dr. Jim Shaddix from Southeastern Seminary added an element to the typical three elements of preaching in which most of us were trained. I am referring to the elements of the sermon, AKA explanation, illustration, and application.
At one point in his presentation, Shaddix added a fourth element: argumentation. This element deserves some thought and discussion. What is meant by this?
First of all, we may push back against it because we equate it with being argumentative. Of course, this is not what is meant. The meaning is that every sermon should be making a case, an argument about something, not simply articulating some thoughts or ideas. It carries the idea of persuasion, of winning someone over to a particular belief or a course of action. We are familiar with the Great Commission in which Jesus says, “…teaching them to obey…” That sounds like argumentation or seeking to persuade someone to take a particular course of action.
We see an example of this in Acts 17:2-5. In Thessalonica, Paul went to the synagogue and “reasoned” with those present. The Greek word used there is the source of our word “dialogue.” A second activity of Paul was “explaining,” Luke uses the word “dianoigon” here and it means to “open the mind.” The same word is used in Luke 24:31 of the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and whose eyes were opened to recognize the Lord. Finally, Paul employed “proving” in his preaching at Thessalonica. Here the idea is to set something before another person so that they might experience it through sight, taste, or proximity. Once again, Luke used this word in his Gospel account (9:16; 10:8; 11:6) to describe giving something to someone and setting it before them.
The outcome of Paul’s activity was that some in Thessalonica were “persuaded” to join Paul in his pursuit of Christ. This of course indicated that those hearers were convinced that Paul’s argument was corrected and embraced it spiritually and mentally. This persuasion was Paul’s objective in his conversations with King Agrippa in Acts 26:26-29. He was making the case for Christ.
This raises another question: what subjects should be the focus of the preaching argument? Once again, Paul gives us the example in Acts 24:24-26. He dealt with the subjects of righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, as well as the need to center personal faith in Christ. Of course, Paul covers these topics elsewhere in his writing, particular in Romans.
So what is the point? As preachers, we should learn to make an argument in every message. Part of our preparation should include the question: for what am I arguing in this sermon?