A Primer for Preachers, by Ian Pitt-Watson, pp. 83 – 104 Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1986
Ian Pitt-Watson’s chapter on Language and delivery is a toure-de-force through the peculiarities and intricacies of the speech medium. He presents language and the delivery of it as a precise art that can yield great dividend.
Language and Delivery
His basic argument hinges on the fact that speech is heard rather than read, and this channel of information reception is given to very specific nuances that set it apart from reading. Particularly, hearing relies on intonation and inflections of voice rather than sentence construction and punctuation. The eye and the ear work very differently to produce meaning. The preacher needs to be aware of this, and to plan his sermons more according to the demands of the ear than of the eye.
For example, one may decide on any of four ways of using a manuscript, but the focus must be to reduce reliance on the text and to increase opportunity for spontaneity and the extempore. Positioning the manuscript well can help sustain eye contact, and one-sided sheets will reduce obstructions from page turns.
Pitt-Watson is well aware of the trade-off between structure and word economy on the one hand, and immediacy and spontaneity on the other. He suggests that as long as we know exactly what we are going to say, the how of what “the Spirit has conceived within us” can and should be left to the moment of delivery.
On delivery, he dispenses useful advice: be yourself, trust your reflexes, don’t be afraid to pause, use your voice. The preaching must be, as he put it in the beginning of the chapter, oral, but also aural.
Biblical Truth and Biblical Preaching
The chapter on Biblical Truth and Biblical Preaching is a fascinating juxtaposition of two thought systems that converge in the modern Christian mind. The practical world of Jewish categories of truth and the esoteric intellectualism of Greek philosophy can wage war in us. Most times, he argues, Greek philosophy wins, and our preaching is marked by an emphasis on what we should think truth is, separate form what we should do or will to do.
He argues that the biblical paradigm is all encompassing: truth is what is thought, what is felt and what is done, not in separate instances, but all at the same time. This should come through if our preaching is to be biblical.
Pitt-Watson’s explanation of the differences in the Greek and Jewish thought paradigms raises interesting questions. One of them is: does the fact that the Bible has a composite view of truth mean it denies its separate constituents of thought, feeling and will as separate categories? Another, and on the other side, is, does Greek philosophical thought deny the simultaneous interplay of the three categories even as it outlines their individual features? I am not too sure if a necessary tension exists between the two thought systems, apart perhaps from a difference in emphasis.
Finally, I find his admonition that we must not bypass the propositional and emotional and go straight to “the truth done” to be extremely important. Especially in an Adventist tradition that emphasizes the evidentiary nature of faith through works, it would be all too easy to fall into this trap if we neglected this caution.