Wednesday 11 January 2012

Preaching and the use of Rhetorical Questions

These blog posts can only achieve so much, but one of my desires is to encourage those who are called to the office of pastor, in order that they can better serve the flock of God. As a fellow pastor-teacher, I regularly evaluate my method and approach in preaching so that I can better serve the church for the glory of the Triune God. In recent times it has come to my attention, how important the use of rhetorical questions are in preaching in order to keep people's attention and to drive home the truth of God.

By preaching I mean expositional preaching, a sermon that draws it's message out of the Bible. The reading of a text followed by preaching based on the text read, with clear headings, the putting forth of clear doctrines and warm-hearted applications. Let me explain what a rhetorical question is, and why they are important.

What is a rhetorical question? It is a question that is asked for effect, where the answer may sometimes be obvious or it may help the listener to understand the message. A verbal answer is not expected. Additionally we can ask why are the use of rhetorical questions helpful in preaching? Such questions invite people to think, question, analyse, examine and evaluate. They raise that attention span of people listening and they just naturally speaking, encourage active listening. The need for such questions also aids the application of the truths of God. A preacher should not be simply 'giving out' information. The preacher needs to connect with his audience so that they can meaningfully apply the truth of God's Word and the use of rhetorical questions in preaching can help that to happen.

However, there is a more important reason why rhetorical questions should be used in preaching. Jesus Christ models this example, God speaking in the Old Testament uses these questions and so have effective preachers in church history.

1. The Lord Jesus used Rhetorical Questions

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this perfectly. Matthew 5: 13 'You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?'. Matthew 12: 12 'Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!'. It would be an interesting study to read one of the Gospels and to note how many questions our Lord asked in his teaching ministry.

2. God Spoke Directly through the Prophets using Rhetorical Questions

One you become aware of this you begin to see this teaching method everywhere. For example in Amos Chapter 3, the prophet is defending his ministry and the Lord speaks through him in a whole series of rhetorical questions, questions that really make you think. Read Amos 3: 3-8. Another example is the end of Micah Chapter 7:18 and this question really leads us to the throne of grace. 'Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?'.

3. The Example of the Preacher Samuel Davies

In the last Reformation Christianity for Today conference, one of the sessions looked at a sermon by Samuel Davies. Davies was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and the title of the sermon was ‘The Vessels of Mercy and the Vessels of Wrath Delineated’, Romans 9: 22-23. The number of rhetorical questions was beyond number almost. Here was a great preacher, one who knew how to drive home his message. What did he use? Rhetorical questions. May we learn to do the same.

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