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Stuart Olyott: 2010 Martyn Lloyd-Jones Lecture on Preaching

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Date October 8, 2010

Stuart Olyott gave the 2010 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones lecture on preaching at the John Owen Centre in London on September 27. Mr Olyott began with a tribute and a statement of his personal indebtedness to Dr Lloyd-Jones, mentioning hearing him on spiritual warfare in 1964 at the last Campbell Morgan lecture and on that famous occasion in 1966 when Lloyd-Jones called on evangelicals to unite.

His topic was ‘preaching that gets through’ and essentially this did. He began with a story of an overseas student seeing the sea for the first time. He only saw a bit of a vast ocean, of course, but was well pleased. That was the aim of Mr Olyott’s address. He had three points.

1. A True or False Quiz

  1. Words are powerful things? TRUE. God, the serpent, promise, prophecy, prayer and praise, preaching, Hitler, Churchill, etc.
  2. Words are units of writing that are the smallest meaningful elements in language that may be written or not written? FALSE. Words are units of speech . . .
  3. Words are powerless to raise the spiritually dead unless they are accompanied by the Spirit? TRUE. Words cannot regenerate. They can do many wonderful things but alone they cannot save.
  4. As we use words, there are ways of getting through or not getting through, and these are appointed by God? TRUE. Efficient and inefficient modes exist, e.g. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Why? The construction of the human soul. It is the way God made us.
  5. These ways of getting through can be learned? TRUE. Hence the many books on homiletics.
  6. However, the Holy Spirit is no more likely to use effective ways than ineffective ways? FALSE. God uses means and he will use the most likely ways. If this is not so, why make any effort at all?
  7. Our study then can be limited to what is to be preached and how it is to be preached? FALSE.

2. Aristotle and Paul

Aristotle (BC 384-322) noticed three characteristics of effective speech – ethos, pathos, logos.

  1. Ethos – some form of credibility makes people willing to listen. If you don’t know the speaker there are little clues to his qualifications – looking the part, authority, expertise, etc. If you are reasonably convinced someone has something to say you are more likely to listen. Ethical appeal.
  2. Pathos – he is sympathetic to the audience and he is marked by feeling for his subject and his audience. Emotional appeal.
  3. Logos – there is content. He takes a position. He argues his case. Logical appeal.
  4. All this is very fine but there is a problem. 1 Corinthians 1:17, 2:1, etc.

    Paul was interested in ethos, pathos and logos, however, as is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 2, etc.

  5. Dunamis – the extra dimension. By way of example Dr. Olyott mentioned the 500 converted in 1630 through John Livingstone preaching at Kirk o’ Shotts. He wrote:

    There is sometimes something in preaching that cannot be ascribed either to the matter or expression, and cannot be described for what it is, or from whence it comes, but with a sweet violence, it pierces into the heart and affections, and comes immediately from the Lord. But if there is any way to attain to any such thing, it is by a heavenly disposition of the speaker.

In what ways does Paul accept and reject Greek rhetoric?

Ethos was important to Paul. He appealed to his integrity – which is what pleases God. He was concerned not to bolster his reputation but to please God. This explains 2 Corinthians 2, etc.

Pathos was important to Paul – not to manipulate people but due to deep sincerity. His humanness is evident – in greetings and benedictions, in his Philippian dilemma (better to die or live), etc.

Logos was important to Paul – not the Greek idea, but making things clear, answering objections. Hence Romans, Ephesians, etc.

Dunamis was important to Paul – though not to the Greeks. Hence his prayers, his conviction that only God could give the increase. Unction is in God’s gift.

There was no real preaching until Pentecost. The disciples saw so much before that – miracles, the resurrection, etc. Did it make them preachers? It was only when the Spirit came that they were able to preach effectively. Think of Stephen – ethos, pathos, logos but the key was that he was filled with the Spirit. Who will be determined to seek God for that blessing?

3. Upside down thinking

Mr Olyott’s final point used a rhetorical device which he introduced as a way of helping people to think more clearly. He spoke of the Peppeti family, whose restaurant was going down the tubes. The owner sat them all down and instead of asking what they could do to save it asked how they could ruin it. Make it a mess, don’t open when people are hungry, ignore the people, serve bad food, etc.

And so we had the question, what can a preacher do to make sure he does not get through?

Ethos – keep your distance from people. No self references, no connection. You won’t need to live a holy life this way or pray, etc.

Pathos – show no feeling. Don’t feel for the subject or the people. Avoid the impression that you want to do people any good. Don’t sympathise or use stories, etc. Forget people have imaginations. No applications. Long words. Never get worked up. No grief, no joy, no humanness.

Logos – Don’t work too hard. Why bother with good exegesis, with order, with helping them to think. Put no emphasis on certain things, certainly not the gospel. Keep it abstract. Make it an indigestible lump. Forget the day of judgment – which will be stricter for preachers.

Dunamis – ignore this element. It’s such a mystical idea, why think about it anyway? Praying is not emphasised today even though it was in the past. ‘Think of the time it takes to pray anyway. There is simply too much else to do.’

Is this what Paul did? Did Jesus do that?

From Gary Brady’s blog of September 28, 2010.

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