Preaching and hyperbole

Preaching and hyperbole

Preaching is oratorical. Whilst we might be wary of being overly styled in our delivery, there's no doubt that most of us probably preach differently from how we speak. Not least this is because preaching is more like a monologue than most conversation which is a dialogue. And that means that all of us, to some extent or another, probably make some use of rhetorical skills. Take hyperbole. Even the master preacher, Jesus himself, uses such a device (e.g. Matt 5.29 or Matt 6.6 in a literal rendering). But it's a dangerous device if used unwisely.

We've been chuckling about this in the office because our very own Christopher is a guest blogger over at The Gospel Coalition and has written a very thoughtful and, I thought, gracious blog about presonal presence and preaching. You can read it here. We've not been chuckling at the post itself which we all think has something to say. Rather, we like one of the many comments posted as a result:

"dumbest thing I have ever read put out by The Gospel Coalition"

Now that is quite an opener! We've doctored it a bit and decided we're quite proud to be home to the dumbest blogger (which is, I admit, not quite what it says). But it did get me thinking about hyperbole:

  • at best, it can make a very strong case for something - in the case of the sermon on the mount for taking a very serious attitude to sin
  • at worst, it can simply be offensive and add nothing - I think this comment veers towards that overstatement.

Woah - that's quite a range! Anything from powerfully hitting the target to being unnecessarily offensive. And everywhere in between. Moreover, in multi-cultural situations, hyperbole can very often not work. People from other cultures where spoken language is more straightforward simply don't get it. What does that mean for preachers?

It must surely mean:

  • we need to take care with preparing words. One of my favourite preachers (I won't tell you who) preachers without notes, but he is not unprepared. He has prepared what he is going to say beforehand and remembers it. That means he can take care with how words are presented. The preacher who has not done this stage but just preaches from a short set of bullets is much more likely to get this wrong. Now, I don't think we should be prescriptive about how we prepare and what notes we use - but I do think preachers need to take care over words.
  • we need to take care, in particular, with hyperbole. I think it can be a useful tool but - as with many rhetorical devices, use with care.