Evangelism as team sport (a review of Sam Chan’s Evangelism in a Skeptical World)

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of review, and I know the author so mostly just refer to him as ‘Sam’; I’m sure this breaks all sorts of conventions, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have reviewed it (and I would’ve told him). 

Sam Chan is a sharp thinker, so when he set out to write a textbook on evangelism (literally a textbook, not metaphorically), it was always going to be a must read. Here’s the short review: if you’re interested in helping people understand Jesus get hold of this book and read it; the chapters on ‘Everyday Evangelism’, Evangelism to Postmoderns, and Gospel-Cultural Hermeneutics are particularly useful summaries of game changing ways to think about how we do the task of evangelism (which isn’t to say you should bother with the rest)

Like many people who write textbooks, Sam is an exceptional thinker — what makes this book particularly useful is that he’s also both an exceptional practitioner and an exceptional teacher. While lots of textbooks deal with abstractions and theory and even feel beyond the grasp of us mere mortals, Sam practices what he preaches — in that evangelism is ultimately about connecting with people and helping them change what they believe and how they live. The book is written in a way that manages to bridge the ‘technical world’ of the theologian with the practical world of the layperson who is keen to share their belief better with friends. There are some technical parts of the book (perhaps especially chapter 1, A Theology Of Evangelism and the last chapter on Religious Epistemology, Apologetics and Defeater Beliefs), but the technical bits are essential to the very practical and relatable technique-applying chapters. It’s packed with practical advice that’ll work for anybody interested in sharing their faith, and those of us who may be asked to speak publicly at different events. It draws strongly on his (previously reviewed) doctoral work on speech-act theory and preaching as the word of God (and the Word of God being the proclamation of the Gospel).

I want to acknowledge certain beliefs that I have up front, so that you’re aware of my biases… I think the way the church in Australia (and particularly my Reformed Evangelical scene) approach evangelism is largely fundamentally broken; not just because we are living in a ‘skeptical world’, but because our theological emphases, developed through internal conflicts with other Christians, are limiting our ability to speak the Gospel in its fullness to our Aussie neighbours in ways that resonate with their hearts; plus I use hearts because I think we’ve bought holus bolus into modernity and a propositional way of arguing from rational evidence because we think people are rational creatures who are predominantly convinced by ‘thinking things’ (the ‘brain on a stick’ model of the human discussed at length by James K.A Smith in his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ series). I think our attempts to persuade people about the truth, beauty, and goodness of Jesus are limited by our western individualism. So, as a result, people in my tradition have tended to emphasise evangelism based on reason, rationality and evidence (particularly history), on trying to establish a certain set of categories that help people ‘know’ the truth, and with a particular (almost exclusive) emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement and its individual implications as the ‘entire’ Gospel. If you ask the average Joe to summarise the Gospel I suspect you get something like ‘you are a sinner and Jesus came to save you by dying in your place’. I don’t think this is wrong, but I do think it is limited in its scope (in terms of what the Gospel is, and even what the word ‘Gospel’ meant to its first users whether Jewish or Graeco-Roman), and I think as a result it is limited in its ability to engage with actual people who aren’t fully bought in to all the categories we’ve assumed.


Our approach to evangelism is broken. Last year the Presbyterian Church of Queensland — my denomination — buried more people than it baptised; and we baptise babies; our death rate is outpacing our birth rate and the rate of non-Christians joining our churches; while we’ve grown numerically it seems to me that growth is mostly ‘transfer growth’… and we need a bit of a shake up in terms of how we evangelise.

This book is important because I think it points out several examples of where the ’emperor’ we’ve created of this particular system of thinking about the Gospel, and thus, evangelism, actually has no clothes on, or perhaps is in a state of undress where not everything that should be covered is. It invites us to think afresh about how topical presentations of the Gospel might still be the ‘word of God’ (continuing on from Sam’s speech-act treatment of preaching as the word of God); it invites us to embrace multiple ways of presenting the Gospel as good news (beyond just guilt and forgiveness, it gives us different pictures of sin to use (from the Bible) and their antidote — like ‘idolatry and true worship, ‘ or ‘brokenness and reconciliation (or restoration). It gives a bunch of different examples of proclaiming Jesus as good news and reminds us that all of these are faithful and pictured in the life of Jesus. It’s also a whip smart reading not just of Christian culture and where we might have miss-fired by buying in to the worldview we swim in, but of the culture around us and where it has changed so that these old clothes no longer cover what we need to cover.I found his embrace of some of the positive aspects of the death of modernity and swing to post-modernity — especially his wholehearted embrace of narrative in the place of dry propositions — refreshing (especially when we hear so much negativity from people looking back to the halcyon days of modernity that ends up being hopeless for us young’uns, and people like us).

I reckon one test of an evangelistic textbook is how comfortable you’d be for your non Christian mates to read it over your shoulder — how much it feels like a handbook for the Christian equivalent of ‘pick up artistry’ or a manual for manipulation; this is a book I’m quite happy to very publicly recommend and discuss because it so charitably engages with and depicts the thoughts of those who don’t yet know Jesus, and it doesn’t recommend anything underhanded or tricky; it’s, in some ways, a rebuke for Christians in that we tend to place our confidence in the wrong things (sometimes methodology, sometimes particular aspects of our theology) rather than doing the not so hard work of listening to and connecting with those people in our lives such that we understand what part of the good news of Jesus might resonate with them.

Another test for me, as a pastor, is to imagine how I might use a book in the context of church life; can I just hand this book to anybody confident they’ll find it helpful without interpretation? Could I use this as the basis for training at church for key leaders? Is there stuff I feel like I need to qualify as I hand it to someone, the ‘just skip that chapter because it’s the opposite of what we taught on Sunday’ disclaimer… I’m happy to think about how to use this book almost without reservation — in fact, my only reservations are that I’d like Sam to write whole books on some of his chapters (or just to come up and run the seminars he’s been running or his old lectures on evangelism in the flesh) because one of the weaknesses of the brevity and breadth of the text book genre is some gaps aren’t filled and you’re left to make certain connections yourself.

I want to be really clear that I heartily recommend this book; I’ll be both handing out copies to people at church and running training based on a few of the chapters (both training people to preach, and in terms of thinking about how we participate in the mission of God to make Jesus known together as a community).

What follows is a slightly longer review teasing out some of how to apply the textbook to life as an average Christian (rather than a ‘professional’), and connecting it to some broader conversations about what evangelism is and who should do it (and how we should do it).

Evangelism as team sport

Sam defines evangelism as:

“The essence of evangelism is the message that Jesus Christ is Lord. Evangelism is our human effort in proclaiming this message — which necessarily involves using our human communication, language, idioms, metaphors, stories, experiences, personality, emotions, context, culture, locatedness — and trusting and praying that God in his sovereign will, will supernaturally use our human and natural means to effect his divine purposes.

In a general sense evangelism refers to our human efforts of proclaiming this message to any audience of believers and nonbelievers. In a narrower sense, evangelism refers to our human efforts of proclaiming this message to nonbelievers. But in both senses, we proclaim the gospel with the hope that our audience responds by trusting, repenting, and following and obeying Jesus.”

Also, because to proclaim the Gospel is to preach — following Sam’s book on preaching — evangelism is to speak (or communicate) the word of God; so when we do this as his people according to what he commands, it is God speaking. I want to make the case that this means that evangelism is a speech-act not simply of an individual, but of the whole body of Christ. It’s not an individual act, though individuals might do particular tasks of evangelism, but the product of a ‘team’… and I think Sam’s book gives us certain building blocks to solve a dilemma or debate that operates around the question of who is meant to do evangelism. And the answer is ‘everybody… differently and together’… like any good team.

Sam spent some time in the US, and refers to that context throughout the book, so I’m going to use a sporting metaphor from that scene — from American Football. Teams playing ‘gridiron’ live and die by the playbook; they have to imbibe it (there were great stories about our own Jarryd Hayne trying to cram his team’s playbook into his head in his short lived career with the 49ers), but nobody more than the quarterback, the guy who does the work of calling and implementing the plays on the field. In some ways this feels like a playbook for evangelism. It feels like the sort of thing a coach works up from his experience as both player and coach, and the sort of thing that is useful for a whole team, but especially necessary for the quarterback; and then each person filling the other slots in the team needs to know the plays they’re involved in. It’s clear from different parts of the book that evangelism in a skeptical world is basically a team game, but it’s also clear that not all of us are going to have to decide between giving an expository evangelistic talk and a topical one.

There’s been a longstanding debate about whether evangelism is a thing that all Christians, as individuals are called to participate in as individuals, or whether it is a particular gift for particular individuals; Sam’s book goes some way towards providing a helpful corrective to both positions in that debate. It’s clear that not all Christian individuals are called to stand up and preach an evangelistic talk, but perhaps all of us are called to think about how we present our testimony or use our houses in ways that promote the Gospel (to borrow the title of John Dickson’s book (reviewed), that advances the idea that ‘evangelism’ itself is a technical function of particular, gifted, individuals, though we all have a role to play in ‘promoting the Gospel’). The debate is alive and well, a recent multi-hundred comment discussion in the Christian ‘deep web’ (Facebook), confirmed it… But I’ve long suspected this ‘figuring out what ‘evangelism’ is’ debate — whether it’s for some individuals or all individuals — seems to miss something fundamental about what Paul says about how gifts work; that they’re functions of the body, the church. What does seem clear is that evangelism is a necessary function of the church; a thing that all of us are invested in, and that all our lives support. If we particularise that function too much we fail to see how truly integrated any action within the context of the body of Christ, using gifts given by God for the building up of that body, is, if we generalise a function too much we end up with everybody doing the same thing, when we might actually all have slightly different and complementary roles to play. A team can’t function if everybody wants to play quarterback; but a quarterback also can’t function without the team (and isn’t actually more important than the players on the field around him). It’s perhaps unhelpful to suggest the person carrying out the function of an evangelist is more like the quarterback than a running back who receives passes and tries to get things over the line… but I had to pick a position.

Lots of Sam’s book is exceptionally useful for those with the particular gift or calling to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ (2 Timothy 4:5), there’s great and useful gear in there for the individual, let’s call them the quarterback in this team effort, but it isn’t just a book for these individuals, but it’s real strength is in starting to stretch our categories a bit, to understand that maybe part of us buying into a western model revolving around individual brilliance and focused on intellectual arguments or logos doesn’t actually mesh well with how humans really tick (let alone how the church is meant to understand our shared task in the world). Sam challenges several elements of our assumed anthropology in order to provide some alternative solutions for how we evangelise together; with some people playing particular roles.

First off, if we adopt an individualistic anthropology we’re likely to have certain assumptions about how individuals shift in their beliefs that particularly emphasise the individual will, and our reason. If we assume people are simply rational beings, then that will shape our content and methodology… but this picture of being human seems wrong, or as Sam puts it in his chapter on Religious Epistemology, Apologetics, and Defeater Beliefs:

“The way we choose to communicate reveals our anthropology (our understanding of what it means to be a human being). If we reduce human beings only to rational minds, then we will think that we only need to transfer ideas and cognitive information. But if we believe that human beings are holistically bodies, minds, and emotions, then we will try to communicate the gospel at the level of information (logos), body (ethos), and emotions (pathos). This is what James is getting at in his New Testament letter. He points out that it’s no good only telling someone the idea — “God loves you” — without also feeding their bodies (James 2:14-17).” — Page 244

For Sam, this has obvious implications for our emphasis on the skills needed for evangelism.

“I’m emphasising the need to include the pathos and ethos because in the Western church, we’ve traditionally encouraged smart and gifted people — doctors and lawyers — into full time paid Christian ministry. But cultural changes suggest that maybe we should also encourage emotionally smart people — those in the creative arts — into full-time paid Christian ministry. Conversely, rather than encouraging people into seminary, where we learn the cognitive aspects of Christianity, we may want to encourage some people to pursue the creative arts, where we learn to express ourselves through body and emotions.”— Page 244

Some of this gear on ethos and the focus on plausibility coming from communities of belief and practice dips back into an earlier chapter. One of the things I’d most been looking forward to in the book is the chapter everyday evangelism works, I’d seem this material presented in evangelistic training sessions Sam ran, and I’ve been encouraging people to take up his concept of ‘merging universes’ — creating overlaps where your friends are hanging out together so that you aren’t a lone wolf — the only weird Christian your non-Christian friends, family, and colleagues know — since hearing him speak on it (McCrindle’s last faith and belief in Australia survey showed most Aussies still know a few Christians, but a staggering (and growing) percentage (8%) no longer know any Christians let alone many Christians, 38% know less than 5 (NOTE: the first version of this piece wrongly suggested ‘a majority don’t know any’ — a misremembering of the data, and I should’ve checked it before publishing).

“Here is the key idea you need to grasp: people will find a story more believable if more people in their community, their trusted friends and family, also believe the story.”  — Page 43

There’s a weighty amount of sociology of knowledge stuff under the hood of his gear on Plausibility Structures — especially Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Sociology of Knowledge which makes the case that none of us arrive at positions through purely rational thought, our beliefs are made possible (plausible) because of our thought categories but also our environments (especially the people who teach us things) — we believe more than we think we do because of the people around us. Berger and Luckmann weren’t writing particularly about religious belief (or to help people ‘trick people’ into belief), but were rather giving an account of how and why people come to believe anything (and for anyone reading trying to figure out if this is a playbook for manipulation — it’s worth pondering what plausibility structures any of us are part of and how they might account for beliefs we think we’ve come up with on our own):

“The most important social condition is the availability of an effective plausibility structure, that is, a social base serving as the “laboratory” of transformation. This plausibility structure will be mediated to the individual by means of significant others, with whom he must establish strongly affective identification.” — Berger and Luckmann, Sociology of Knowledge

Or, in other words, if you want to help someone ponder their beliefs, and maybe make a shift, get your friends to become friends with each other. The thing that I reckon keeps Sam’s stuff particularly above board is the vital first step of making sure you’re getting out of your own plausibility structures and entering the world of the people around you first (‘go to their stuff first’). That being open to having your own view shifted, and showing an openness to not exist in some sort of cultic bubble is important for more than just understanding other people. Merging universes is wise advice because we are social animals, and it’s one way that evangelism is quite clearly a team thing, but it is wise not just because of plausibility increasing in a rational sense where other people believe, but belief becoming more plausible when you’re around people who do. This comes up more as Sam focuses on ethos or the place of the Christian life in evangelism throughout the book, in the chapter Evangelism to Postmoderns, in his section on authenticity (the “buzzword for postmoderns”) he says:

“Unlike moderns, the first question is not ‘is it true?’ but ‘is it real in our lives?’ Are we living consistently — or better, coherently — with our beliefs? Are we being true to ourselves? Do we walk the walk as well as we talk the talk? This should lead us to think about how we evangelise to our postmodern friends in a way that communicates authenticity.” — Page 116

Note: there’s an irony in talking about the ‘strategy’ of being authentic — it doesn’t work it if’s put on for show… he goes on:

“While the gospel is something we speak, words that communicate God’s truth, there is also a sense in which we ourselves are a component of how the message is communicated. We speak the words of truth, but we speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Our message is embodied. It doesn’t come in a vacuum. It comes in the context of shared lives and trusted friendships. This is the model of evangelism that Paul himself uses with the Thessalonians. “Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake (1 Thess 1:5). The Thessalonians don’t just believe the gospel to be true; they also see that it is real by Paul’s authentic living.” — Page 116

Now. I want to very gently point out the plural in that italicised bit (emphasis Sam’s), and suggest that it wasn’t just Paul’s authentic living that was convincing, but the authentic lives of the Pauline circle on mission in Thessalonica that made the Gospel plausible. Evangelism was a team game for Paul — even as he ‘did the work of an evangelist’ — and his evangelism was very much a product of his embodying the Gospel (so he appeals lots to his example and his suffering for the crucified king), and in the next chapter he says:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” — 1 Thessalonians 2:8-10

The ‘we’ isn’t just a quaint referring to one’s self in a third person plural — a ‘royal we’, but Paul appealing to the lives of his team.

The real challenge from the insights throughout Sam’s book aren’t just for the individual (even if there are great tips for individuals in how to put the theory into practice), but for our Christian culture — for our communities — our churches. One of the things I’d love to have seen more of in the book is the implications beyond how we think of evangelism to how evangelism drives and shapes the way we live as the church — the body of Christ — in the world; how it impacts the typical Sunday and the typical sermon (if to evangelise is to speak the word of God — why would we want to speak anything else? Why wouldn’t Sam’s suggestions about talk structures — whether expository or topical — shape how we preach every week if one of our shared tasks is to evangelise?). There are small challenges to recalibrate this way dotted through the book… but here’s a clear call to re-think moving from the training paddock to game day in our mentality.

“Our usual approach to evangelism is to add some activity to our lives: maybe I’m going to try to tell someone about Jesus at lunch, or I’m going to join a book club. Churches do the same thing by adding an event such as an outreach night to their calendar. But we need to change our lives so that we live an evangelistic lifestyle, not a life with add-on bits of evangelism. Churches need to do the same thing.”

It’s a worthwhile challenge; and this playbook is a great asset that I’m hoping will help our church community do just this; I’m thankful for Sam and look forward to reading the ten extra books this one commits him to writing…

What is preaching? A conversation with Sam Chan’s Preaching as the Word of God

From time to time I write about preaching. The stuff I write about preaching isn’t necessarily going to be all that interesting to you (and sometimes these posts blow out in length), but preaching is what I get paid to do, so it probably pays to think about it sometimes, and it’s nice to be able to look back on how my thinking has developed over the years.

This is a post about preaching, and more than that, it’s a review of a relatively academic book on preaching, Preaching As The Word Of God: Answering An Old Question with Speech-Act Theory by Sam Chan. This is a very important book on preaching, and if thinking academically about what preaching is, or having a thoughtful academic approach from an academic/practitioner transform your practice sounds like a good thing, then you should read the book before you read the rest of this review.

It might help to think of the question at the heart of this book as the question of whether preaching is like holding up a cricket ball to be examined and understood, or as like bowling a ball with intent. That might help when we get into what speech-act theory is all about.

A primer on how/what I thought about preaching before this book

I read lots of book reviews; and write a few. I have a personal bugbear with book reviews that assess a book through some sort of unacknowledged/unexplained bias and or system; and I have issues with book reviews that don’t seek to use the thing they’re reviewing as a conversation partner; that simply assess a book through a grid and don’t look at how the book might modify the grid, or the grid might modify the book, a good book review — a review essay — takes readers somewhere new because it’s a re-mixing of the ideas of the book through the head of the reviewer. Those are fun. That’s what this is, and it’s what I hope to do whenever I review a book, or I can’t be bothered…

Sometimes I review preaching books like The Archer and The Arrow, Hearing Her Voice, and Saving Eutychus, and I use these books as opportunities to extend the conversation (and my own thinking) about what preaching is (or at least what our churches try to do on a Sunday). I wrote my Masters thesis on persuasive communication and how to do it ethically as well; this was about more than preaching (in that it was about public Christianity), but it also provides a lot of my framework for preaching and thinking through books like this. I’ve touched on it in posts about how ethos, pathos, and logos all need to be part of our preaching, and also about how ‘word ministry’; or the proclamation of the Gospel, is not just the spoken monologue, but can include singing (including the non-verbal communication bits (our pathos and ethos) both music and movement) and other media. I say all this, and link to all these, because nothing appears in a vacuum. I’m about to engage with a new book on preaching, and it’s worth declaring what my assumptions/framework are up front. Here are some of the things I thought about preaching before reading this book, in sum.

  1. Preaching is preaching (the Greek κηρύσσω) when it is the proclamation of the Gospel of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus. Other forms of public speaking are not really preaching, because the preacher acts as the herald of the king. There might be other types of speaking that Christians engage in in public.
  2. Preaching is a corporate act of the gathered body of Christ (ala 1 Corinthians 12) no matter which individual speaks, all are speaking (and engaged in the act) just as when I make words with my mouth, my lungs, vocal chords (and hopefully brain) are engaged. It’s not the act of a special ‘set apart’ priestly mouthpiece from God who speaks to the people of God. It is for both believers and unbelievers because the Gospel is what both believers and unbelievers need to hear (with slightly different rhetorical ends, but it is possible for one piece of communication to say more than one thing to different people at the same time).
  3. Preaching is tied to who we are as the church — we are the body of Christ, we are the bearers of his image in the world (and image bearing is a vocation tied to representing the name and nature of God and his kingdom in his world), and we are ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation between humanity and God (2 Corinthians 5).
  4. Preaching is one of the things the church does, along with the sacraments, as the essential function of the church in the world, and the church for the church. The sacraments are also essentially preaching (just with more than words, ala 1 Corinthians 11:26), and it is possible that preaching is essentially the same as the sacraments because, basically, when we gather in the name of Jesus, Jesus promises to be there.
  5. The authority behind any preached word comes from God’s word (it’s that we proclaim), it is the proper explaining of how God’s word in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus, and how Jesus being Lord shapes the way we live now as the people of his kingdom. It also comes from the role of the Church, and via the work of the Spirit. It isn’t human authority, and it isn’t in the hands of an individual, no matter how persuasive they are.
  6. Preaching involves words, but it also draws on (and draws credibility from) the life of our community-in-the-world, and the life of the speaker-in-the-community (our ethos), and our ethos is to be shaped by our message if we want to preach ethically and with integrity. You can’t have words without an ethos helping those words be interpreted and persuasive any more than you can have ‘the word of God’ without the God who speaks. Separating logos from ethos is like trying to separate the persons of the Trinity. Our message is Christ crucified for us, sinners. We preach as sinners being reshaped by the message of the Cross (a message that represents God’s power, but is weak in the eyes of the world). Part of our ethos and our pathos will involve the connection of our words to communication mediums that support the message and help produce an appropriate emotional response, not simply an appropriate rational response (and the medium is the message, so good preaching-as-communication involves thinking about what the best medium to effectively carry our message is, and what mediums (like singing) might support other mediums (like speaking) so that the body might preach Jesus together employing a range of gifts and methods).
  7. Preaching also, in order to be effective communication, involves some sort of listening to God (in his word, that we’re aiming to preach), to the people we speak to — outside the church in order to understand the barriers to the Gospel, and in the church in order to understand where the pull of ‘false gospels’ is being felt, and where people need reassurance and encouragement.

These are the basic assumptions I brought with me as I read Sam Chan’s new book on preaching

A brief overview of Preaching as the Word of God

Like me, Sam Chan thinks preaching is a really, really, big deal. This relatively recent book (based on an older dissertation) takes the reader through what the Reformers, specifically Luther and Calvin, believe about preaching, what the Bible suggests preaching is from the Old Testament to the New, and then gets super fun using speech-act theory to support his conclusion that when preaching really happens (according to a defined set of parameters), God is speaking. When we preach, according to certain criteria, God speaks. Preaching is God’s word.

I like it. I mean, I guess I’ve just outlined a framework where this idea seems relatively uncontroversial. And while there are certain bits of that framework that don’t necessarily get a run in the book, the book doesn’t contradict any of them (as far as I can tell), and I’ve been bouncing some of these ideas back and forth with Sam since finishing the book. But what I really like about the book is not so much the stuff that agrees with what I already thought… no. I like the implications of the way Sam gets there; via the Reformers, the Bible, and speech act theory, some of the stuff he suggests should change how we approach not so much the content of preaching, but the delivery, our intention, and our understanding of what is happening (and of our responsibilities as speakers and hearers). Now. The book is relatively academic, but it’s a fruitful read (and a challenge) for anyone who preaches or wants to be a preacher… since I don’t have any major disagreements with its thesis; indeed, I wholeheartedly agree… so rather than reviewing the book the ‘old fashioned’ way and telling you what it says, I’ll explore some next steps in the conversation from my own dabbling with speech-act theory in my thesis. Sam has been pretty generous as a dialogue partner online so I have some sense that he’s at least intrigued by where this stuff goes… but he’ll, like anyone, have right of reply here.

It’s worth saying that in a year where lots of people are wanting to celebrate the Reformation, preaching was a really big deal in that movement… and preaching of a particular sort. Gospel preaching. And this book is a worthwhile reminder that Gospel preaching isn’t just incidental to the life of the church; in some ways it is the life of the church. One of the things that struck me about Luther as I read his works during college, and again as I read Sam’s book, is that if anything Luther held the preached word as more important than the other sacraments (and I use those words provocatively and deliberately to suggest that Luther essentially treated the preached word as a sacrament where God is present in preaching in much the same way as he is present in the bread and wine). This book is a bracing picture of what preaching could and should be if we approached it in the Spirit of the Reformation, the Spirit of the New Testament, and, arguably, necessarily, in the Spirit of Jesus. Cause it’s ultimately the same Spirit.

What is speech-act theory?

So let’s do a bit of a breakdown of Sam’s argument here and some of its implications. First, it’s handy to get a little bit of a primer on speech-act theory. It’s a theory that when you first hear it, especially as a Christian, just seems relatively obvious. Words do stuff. Spoken words are actions that achieve results (wedding vows are a good example). Separating word and action doesn’t really work in our experience of the world (I’d argue for an Act-Speech theory too… that actions can communicate things, that we as images communicate by being and doing… but that’s far beyond the scope of this piece and you should read my thesis to get some of the thinking there). A ‘speech act’ performs something… in some sense it creates a reality, whether it’s a promise, a proclamation, an order, an invitation, a warning, a thanking, or a greeting (this isn’t an exhaustive list).

Sam does a really helpful thing of regularly summarising his argument so that you stick with it all the way through; what follows under these headings are the numbered summaries of his argument from the book, but I’ve split them into the component parts of a speech act, and then responded a little to advance the conversation (either by agreeing and considering implications, or positing some alternatives to consider).

The Locutor: who speaks on God’s behalf; or who speaks on God’s behalf?

1. God is a God who speaks his word.

2. God raises, commissions, and sends human messengers to speak on his behalf.

3. These human messengers are anointed, gifted, and empowered by the Spirit, who is the author of the word of God.

This whole speech-act thing is great, and these three points are foundational to the argument — but I want to broaden them a little bit… because where Sam goes here is basically to say that the individual preacher has this particular role in and for the church (and that the church is part of commissioning the speaker as a preacher); he suggests that preaching is an individual function, and certainly, in a descriptive account of what happens in our church services where the ‘preaching’ happens, this is true. There is a preacher, and they play this role, and hopefully they’re gifted… But here’s where I want to tweak things slightly — to suggest preaching is a corporate function of the body (working together in its various parts).

What if the ‘human messengers’ commissioned to speak on God’s behalf are coterminous with ‘the church’, that this commission is corporate, not individual; so it’s the body of Christ, which is ‘anointed, gifted and empowered by the Spirit’ and when the one speaks in our gathering, as the ‘mouthpiece’ they speak for the whole body; as part of the body, appointed by both God and the body to speak in this way; so ‘preaching’ shouldn’t just be seen as the job of the preacher, but of the body; and this is a bit of a game changer, because if we conceive of preaching in reformed terms, as Sam wants us to, we conceive of it not as a priestly act of a priest, but as a (even ‘the’) priestly act of the priesthood of all believers; which means the preacher isn’t detached from the body to speak to the body from God, but is, as part of the Body, speaking God’s word to the body and to the world the body is ‘incarnate’ in… which, in practice, means the preacher not thinking of themselves as a specially called individual — God’s gift to the church — but as the person appointed by the body to speak on its behalf and for its good. The ‘body of Christ’ is given life, and nurtured, by the word of God and this nurturing happens, in part, through preaching.

corporate model like this changes, for example, the way the preacher conceives of their task; the task becomes to listen carefully to God’s word, but also to listen carefully to the body (in order to speak corporately). This challenges an evangelical practice where preaching is essentially priestly in a pre-reformation sense; a special commission some how set apart from the life of the body, not from the life of the body. The preacher speaks the word of God, certainly, but it’s like they get amputated from the body of Jesus to do so, and then turn around and speak back to the body. In a practical sense the way this priestly thing works out is that the preacher sees their primary job as speaking for God to the body; rather than speaking God’s words as the body to the world (actively listening to other members, being supported in prayer, expertise, and the enrichment that comes from multiple perspectives from different ages, stages, and experiences of life), and also speaks God’s words to the body for its building up; its mutual edification.

Do I do my job best locked away in an office with the Bible and some commentaries open, typing into a word processor for 30 hours a week, or do I do my best listening to the wisdom of the body talking to others, with the Bible open, and thinking through how the passage best speaks to the diversity of people in the body, and to the world in a way that makes what is being said plausible and engaged, rather than detached and idiosyncratic. Let’s take Paul’s metaphor of the body seriously; and metaphorically — a metaphor is not an exaggeration of the true state of affairs, but an accessible simplification — a sign that points to a greater reality — a ‘simplification’ you use to make something more complex understandable… so when Paul speaks of the church as a body we’re not meant to think he’s over-applying the reality of our union (with Christ, by the Spirit), but pointing to a deeper mystery. And we might, to use Paul’s metaphor, understand preaching — as in the spoken word in the gathering — as the act of the body’s mouth; when my mouth speaks it is connected to my brain, powered by my lungs, informed by my eyes and ears… and representative of the rest of me (and my actions) if my words have integrity.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” — 1 Corinthians 12:17-20, 25

The Locution: if we’re going to speak the word of God, what do we say?

4. These human messengers do not invent their own message, but receive it from God’s revelation; these human messengers faithfully proclaim this received message by preaching the message without modification.

5. In a general sense, any message received from God would be the word of God. But, in a special sense, as a result of God’s progressive revelation, an important content of the word of God is the Christocentric gospel. In this special sense, the word of God is now not only the word from God, it is the word about God, namely, his Son. This message is continuous with the message of the OT prophets, which was subsequently inscripturated as OT Scripture, but it is also a climactic new message that has only now been revealed through the preaching of Jesus and the apostles, which has now been inscripturated as NT Scripture.

One way of thinking of the locution is that it’s the message; it’s what is transmitted from speaker to audience. But the thing that separates ‘locution’ from other forms of communication is that it is part of a speech-act — it is spoken not just transmitted, or read. The message in this sense starts to include the ‘medium’ which is part locution, part illocution (the next bit); and here’s where some of my thesis intersects with Sam’s work; because in some sense the act of preaching is where the communication maxim “the medium is the message” kicks in a bit (which is from media ecologist Marshall McLuhan); the way this plays out in preaching is that somehow what we locute — the Gospel — is connected to who we are (appointed speakers of the Gospel; God’s ambassadors/image bearers), and in some way the act of speaking, as a dynamic and relational act is a ‘medium’ choice that reinforces the nature of the message (and that it comes from the God who speaks). This also helps speech-act theory integrate with classical ‘oratorical’ theory — where each ‘speech act’ incorporates elements of logos, ethos, and pathos — the locution is in a sense the overlap between ethoslogos and the action of speaking (I’d argue pathos is more caught up in the illocution but not totally removed from locution because we speak words that move our emotions too, not just speak emotionally).

There’s a reason God’s message is best spoken, not just read, that preaching is a thing and we don’t just hand out Bibles. It’s because God is a dynamic and relational God, and somehow our locution and our illocution is an opportunity to model that. Here’s more from the book, and they’re important, because it’s at the heart of Sam’s thesis that preaching is speaking the words of God, that we understand what the ‘word of God’ looks like.

In one sense, Christ is the Word because he is the Word from God; he is the climactic revelation from God. As the Son sent by God, he speaks the Father’s message on the Father’s behalf; as God incarnate, his words are also God’s words. But in another sense, Christ is the Word because he himself is the message. The message from God is about Christ; the referent of the word is Christ himself—his person, work, and message. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament message of eschatological salvation; he is the Messiah who will usher in the kingdom of God and bring salvation and vindication for God’s faithful people.

Therefore, today, God reveals his message of the gospel to his commissioned, Spirit-anointed preachers through the reading of the word and the proclamation of the word. This word is a Christocentric word, namely, the gospel that calls all to recognize Jesus as the Christ and to live a life of trust and obedience in Christ. In turn, the Christian preacher is to proclaim this Christocentric gospel message, and in doing so, preach the word of God. This message should be consistent with the message of the gospel in Scripture; and the hearers can confirm this by examining the Scriptures.

The question to determine whether or not God’s word is being spoken at this point in a speech-act, according to Sam’s thesis is:

“Does the preacher’s locution correspond with that of the gospel message of Scripture?”

The Illocution: If we’re speaking the word of God how do we say it?

“the illocutionary act is the performance of an act in saying something. It corresponds to the force of what has been said.”

In terms of speech-act theory the illocution is what makes the speech an action (so a ‘promise’ (‘I do‘) not just the words used in a promise (‘I do’) — it’s the difference between me reading aloud the words of an oath on a page and making an oath).

It might be helpful to think of the locution as a ‘ball’ and the ‘illocution’ as the throw. If the locution is the content of a speech act, the illocution is the act itself; the manner in which it is delivered consistent with its purpose and function. So if the ball is a cricket ball the ‘throw’ might, depending on context come from a bowler, a fielder, or a member of the crowd; each ‘ball’ is the same, but the meaning is different because of the context and understanding of the action (one is bowling, one is fielding, one is fetching).

In a speech-act, the locution is what is said; the illocution is how it is said (and what makes the ‘locution’ something more than ‘just words’). It’s partly context that determines this; including our expectations of the locutor (so, neither a fielder or a spectator ‘bowl’… but a fielder ‘becomes a bowler’ when they give their hat to the umpire and take their mark). It’s ultimately context that enacts the speaking of certain words to make them a ‘speech-act’; the words ‘I do’ become a vow in a wedding, rather than simply an expression of my opinion, or description of my actions (“do you eat chocolate?” “I do” is very different to the act of saying “I do” in a wedding ceremony but the same words). This context also includes things other than who the speaker is, who they’re speaking to (and the recognised conventions this creates), it also includes intent. So, to pick up the cricket analogy again; we know a ball is bowled in cricket when the bowler bowls to the batsman, and there are rules around what is recognised as a legitimate bowling action (behind the crease, between the popping creases, below the shoulders of the batsman), there’s also a certain force required and the intent to get the ball into play, but there’s still, in terms of how we assess the bowling, a required interaction with the batsman (this is where the next bit, perlocution, comes in). An over in cricket is not just six balls, but six balls bowled from bowler to batsman. A speech act is not just words, but words spoken in a particular context with a particular force.

It’s useful to think about illocution as the thing that makes you feel the weight of the locution so that it is an action (a bit like how ethos and pathos intersect in the old rhetorical triangle). And one act of speaking might have multiple illocutions; multiple purposes, and this depends on the contexts. A ball bowled in cricket is bowled to terrorise a batsman, to be hit by a batsman, to get a batsman out, to excite the crowd, to encourage the field, and to please the captain; the same ‘ball’ bowled can do all these things. And it’s the same with a speech-act; there can be multiple illocutions at play. And Sam argues this is true in preaching. It’s not our job simply to say ‘ball… ball… ball’… we actually want the ball to do something. Here’s Sam’s next point:


6. The human preacher preaches with a divinely commissioned intention, which is an expression of God’s purposes, on behalf of God; and God achieves his purposes through this human proclamation.

This is where we move from content to method; and though experience listening to some sermons that don’t nail the ‘gospel message of Scripture’ might suggest otherwise, there’s nothing particularly controversial in Sam’s thesis until this point. But this is where things get interesting. There are some popular approaches to preaching that see our job simply as describing the word of God propositionally; our job is to simply show what God’s locution is; one way this happens is in a certain sort of expository preaching.  Sam suggests this evangelical sacred cow is not all it is cracked up to be; that it may, in fact, be undermining what preaching should be. He’s quite charitable about the theory behind expository preaching, but asks a legitimate question about whether it might actually be imposing a pretty modern construct on a text that had a purpose apart from the delivery of authoritative propositions. He suggests it’s possible that our approach of turning the Bible into propositions (bits of data), or put another way, treating it as a ‘locution’ not a dynamic speech-act where illocution matters too, might rob it (and our preaching) of its speech-act nature (a way of thinking about this might be to say that when we do this the Bible, God’s ‘living and active word’ simply says something, but if the speech-act thing is captured in our reading and preaching, the Bible does something again, and the challenge of our preaching is that our spoken words don’t just say something, but also do something).

“The merits of this approach are that it is founded upon a high view of Scripture—for Scripture is the word of God—and it emphasises the need for objective controls in preaching, namely, Scripture itself. However, this approach is not without problems… often, this approach is somewhat dependent upon a “propositional” view of revelation, for the preacher is essentially gleaning ideas, concepts, principles, and propositions from the scriptural text. But this reliance upon a “propositional” view of revelation would share some of the weaknesses of such a reductionist approach. Further, much of the literary genres of the Bible are not easily reduced to propositions or principles. Is such preaching, then, committing the so-called “heresy of propositional paraphrase”?

Sam says expository preaching reduces the speech act to locution, so the word of God in the sermon is basically the bits where the Scripture is quoted, paraphrased, and explained, and “there is little attempt to recapture the illocutionary act of Scripture.” So sometimes, for example, when we preach a passage of narrative with the ‘three points and an application’ model, and we do this by picking out details and ‘facts’ rather than by telling the story, we rob the passage of its function (and thus, it’s meaning and purpose). He suggests, using speech-act theory and this concept of illocution, that we should not just be transmitting the locutionary content of Scripture, but that we should be seeking to preach in such a way that the purpose of a particular piece of scripture is achieved in our speaking; our illocution when we teach a passage should line up with its illocution (especially in the context of the whole Bible, so as it helps bring the Gospel to people in different contexts to produce different actions (promise, threat, etc) and these actions are shaped by the text. There’s a responsibility here not just for the ‘mouth’ of the body; the preacher; to speaking well, but for the rest of the body (and other hearers open to the premise that God might be speaking) to be playing a role “to check that the locution of the proclamation is indeed identical to that of Scripture.” Expository preaching makes this a bit easier because all the audience has to do is make sure the preacher is saying what the text says, not also doing what the text does, but the challenge of Sam’s thesis (which draws on the methods of preachers in the Bible, not just their content), is to aim not just to ‘teach’ the locution (the Gospel) but to bring it to bear. We don’t just hold up the cricket ball so all might see it’s a ball, we bowl it with the force required to achieve a purpose; God’s purpose, and just as a ball well-bowled achieves a variety of purposes depending on who you are relative to the ball (batsman, bowler, fielder or spectator), the preached word does this too, as Sam puts it:

And not only that, it must recognize that there is a variety of illocutionary acts that accompanies the single locutionary act of the gospel. In the proclamation of the apostles, the gospel message (“we preach Christ crucified”) is accompanied by a variety of illocutionary forces. For example, it is a promise to those who believe, an urge to repentance to those who don’t believe, a blessing to the faithful, a curse to the unfaithful, an encouragement to those who suffer, a warning to those about to fall away, a command to persevere, an assertion of a historical fact, an explanation to those who ask, an apology against the attackers of Christianity, and so on… there is a variety of illocutionary forces at the level of a single passage of Scripture, the level of a single book and its genre, and at the level of the entire canon. Thus, it also follows that there is a variety of illocutionary forces that accompanies the single locutionary act of the preached gospel. And a holistic understanding of preaching will appreciate this. In other words, it is important to maintain the distinction between the locutionary and the illocutionary act; for although there is only one locutionary message, there can be multiple illocutionary acts that accompany it. Thus, an approach that emphasizes one particular illocutionary act, such as “teaching” or “explanation,” and equates this with “true preaching,” has unfortunately confused the distinction between the locutionary and illocutionary act, and has become reductionistic in its use of illocutionary forces.

…when the gospel was preached by Jesus and the apostles, it was accompanied by a variety of illocutionary forces—promise, exhortation, encouragement, command, warning, blessing, assertion, explanation, judgment, etc. Thus, here, the preacher has a choice of a variety of illocutionary forces with which to preach the gospel; the preacher is not restricted to only one particular illocutionary force. In the same way that Jesus and the apostles used different illocutionary forces for different audiences and contexts, the contemporary preacher might also choose to use different illocutionary forces. Therefore, we cannot say that there is only one illocutionary force that is necessary for the preached gospel to be the word of God; there exists a variety of illocutionary forces that may accompany the preached gospel as the word of God.


So Sam’s question about whether a bit of preaching is a speech-act where God is speaking is: “Does the preacher’s illocution correspond with that of the gospel message of Scripture?” What is the illocutionary force?”
And it’s useful to think, briefly, about how we go about doing this, how we illocute, not simply locute. How we preach the purpose of the passage not just display the passage. How we approach narrative as narrative, not simply as a text to turn into propositions (Sam follows Kevin Van Hoozer in suggesting that both genre, and the passage’s place in the ‘canonical’ context of God’s grand ‘gospel centred’ acting in the world is really important for understanding the illocutionary force of a passage). We don’t just read Old Testament law as commands for us, but as part of the canon that shows how these laws help us understand the story of Jesus, so the illocutionary force isn’t in making people feel the weight of obedience to a command from the Old Testament, but in understanding the function of these commands.
But part of capturing and expressing the force of God’s word might also include things we might describe as media, or delivery decisions (just as a bowler at the top of his run considers pace, and line, and length, and swing, and seam position): do I shout, or whisper? What tone or expression or emphasis do I use? What body language do I employ? How do I distinguish in manner between, for example, a threat and a promise? How do I shape the delivery of the message in order for it to be heard according to its purpose (this leads into the next bit, the perlocution)? It also includes questions of audience like ‘what is my relationship to these people? How will they understand the nature of these words?

I know a promise is a promise not a threat, even if the same words are used, because somehow I’m geared to feel the difference not just by the words used, but how they’re used (and who is using them).


The perlocution?

The perlocutionary act is the performance of an act by saying something. It corresponds to the effect of what has been said.

The question at this point is: how much responsibility should the preacher take for the response to the preached word?

Can we talk as though we are responsible for the response to the preached word, or as though the response to the preached word should be part of how we measure the efficacy of preaching? Should we, for example, determine how good a preacher is by how persuasive they are? By how many people are persuaded? Or be aiming at persuasion at all?

And if the answer to the first question is ‘none’, then how much should persuasion be a factor in our preaching (how much should we think about the result for the hearer, not simply the act of speaking (locution and illocution).

For Sam, because of a theology I share, which sees God responsible for the effect of the preached word (and the effect produced by the Spirit), the answer to the first question is that God is ultimately responsible, and the speech-act is complete, so far as the speaker is concerned, with illocution, rather than the effect. The perlocution is the responsibility of the Spirit working in the hearer. Here’s Sam’s point 7:

7. Nonetheless, because of God’s “hidden” intention, and because of the different roles of the preacher, the hearer, and the Spirit, the ultimate result of preaching among the hearers is not a criterion for determining if the word of God is preached. Thus, the status of the preached word as the word of God is independent of its results. It is precisely because the preached word is God’s word that the preacher is not responsible for the hearer’s response and the hearer is accountable to God for his or her own response.

And a couple more quotes to flesh out the summary of his position above:

“The aim of preaching, as I have argued, is to perform a speech act on behalf of God…  in order to perform a speech act on behalf of God, the preacher’s locution and illocution are to correspond with God’s locution and illocution.”

“The distinction between the illocutionary act and the perlocutionary act is crucial. The preacher is responsible for the illocutionary act, which in turn is dependent upon the locutionary act. But the preacher is not responsible for the perlocutionary act. Instead, it is the Holy Spirit and the hearer who have the dual responsibility for the perlocutionary act, that is, belief and obedience.”

He draws on Paul’s words regarding his own approach to preaching (and ministry) to conclude:

“The proclaimer cannot coerce, manipulate, or force a hearer to believe or obey. That is, although the proclaimer must ensure that the gospel is illocuted, the speaker cannot ensure that the hearer responds with faith and repentance. The hearer is responsible for his or her response, not the proclaimer. Thus, a proclaimer is to illocute “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) without resorting to “wise and persuasive words” (1 Cor 2:4), that is, to coerce or manipulate. For that would be to confuse the illocutionary with the perlocutionary act.”


Now it would be possible to take this point of Sam’s on board and therefore not see preaching in terms of its fruit at all; or even to not aim to persuade as the human vessel of God’s speech. And exactly how this works out in the wash is one area where we hit the limits of Sam’s book (it can’t do everything), but also where my thesis picks up; I wrote mostly trying to figure out how we should be God’s communicating people in the world — how we might bear his image and so glorify him — and then approach worldly methods of communication like rhetoric, oratory, and public relations; how we might ethically engage in persuasion using some of these tools; rather than engaging in manipulation; how we might recognise the theological limits of our involvement in producing a result, not have our faithfulness measured by results, and yet still seek a result, and see results as a good thing to humanly pursue, and even to celebrate.

Here’s some stuff from my thesis:

“Most communicative acts, as actions of the sender, are produced for a purpose; this purpose may simply be to transmit the information, but usually the purpose is to produce a “perlocutionary effect” – such communication aims to bring sender and receiver to a common understanding of the information, and apply its implications. At this point communication becomes an exercise in persuasion, and while the sender cannot dictate the recipient’s response, they can “strategically” consider the desired perlocutionary effect in the communicative act. This consideration will affect the choice of content, genre, and form within certain “rules of the game,” supplying a context such that both sender and receiver are aware of the implications of the act.”

I go on to argue in this thesis that speech-acts that are open about their intent to persuade; and the ‘perlocution’ they intend to achieve are not manipulative, and are actually more ethical than communication because, in acknowledging the intent up front (or through genre/convention — and I think a ‘sermon’ carries with it a particular contextual expectation where the listener, Christian or otherwise, expects to be persuaded to act according to the word and authority of God mediated through the preaching). The key control here is that the what (the locution: in this case the Gospel) is thoroughly embedded in its connection to the who is speaking (the locutor: in this case, as above, the preacher/church/God); and for it to be ethical (for the ‘ethos’ component to work; the perlocutionary affect needs to reflect the life, or desired life, of the speaker, not just the audience).

Paul also says:

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” — 2 Corinthians 4:2

And this has often been used to suggest that Paul swore off persuasion the way it was practiced by first century orators; I’d counter that this is actually a rhetorical practice/strategy and ‘commending himself’ is actually a perlocutionary effect produced by his strategy (the sort of effect he relies on elsewhere when he says ‘imitate me as I imitate Christ’). But. We’ve got to hold this alongside Paul’s statements about his own perlocutionary goals in his ministry (which includes his preaching); and it’s worth noting that his goals are to produce people just like him in their shared being just like Jesus — people who imitate him as they imitate Christ; but also people who by the Spirit are brought into the body of Christ-in-the-world — the church… the messengers who are commissioned to live and carry this message.

Like Sam, Paul suggests the heart of God’s locution (or his message as one speaking God’s word to the world (as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20), is the Gospel. His illocution is shaped by the Gospel too, inasmuch as it includes not just shaping his illocutionary speech-acts with the Gospel (renouncing ‘powerful’ and ‘underhanded techniques), but also shaping his ‘act-speeches’ — his ethos — around the Gospel. Here’s how the Gospel shapes Paul’s locution, illocution, and understanding of perlocution in his preaching speech-acts from 2 Corinthians 4… and this does support Sam’s conclusions about who produces the perlocutionary affect:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ… 

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. — 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 10-14

But this belief that it is God who will raise us from the dead by his word, and bring ‘light to our hearts’ so we might know the power of the Gospel truly; free from blindness, does not stop Paul believing that somehow he is involved in securing a perlocutionary affect, and so aiming his communication to that end.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul spells out why he preaches the Gospel the way he does in Corinth (despite their preferences for flashy persuasive speech from people they pay to influence (orators). And having spelled out why he does not take up certain rights as a preacher, he says:

 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” — 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

This becoming is to produce a perlocutionary affect — it’s to win as many as possible. It’s also a reflection of the Gospel (parallel this with Philippians 2 and Jesus ‘making himself nothing’). How he understands himself (and the church) as ‘locutors,’ his methodology, his message, the force he gives it (in 1 Cor 1-4, and 2 Cor 3-5) and his intended results, and how that shapes the other elements so that they are in harmony. We see Paul shift methods and emphasis in his locution (and illocution) throughout Acts based on who he is speaking to (so compare his preaching in Athens, before the Pharisees and Sadducees, and before Felix or Festus), though the perlocution he aims for, under God, in this shifting strategy and method seems consistent, that people might know Jesus as Lord. And this is, I think, part of why he sees himself speaking the word of God (and it’s why Sam’s book is a good one for us to grapple with).

To pick up the cricket analogy, this means that while we expect good bowling to produce wickets, and we value wickets, and bowl with the intention of taking wickets, we measure the bowling on the effort of the bowler, on the quality and consistency of the balls delivered, their integrity within the team context and that they bowl in such a way that wickets are a reasonable expectation based on past experience and a reading of the present conditions. It’s not wickets being taken that determines if a bowler is bowling for Australia, but that they are selected to represent our nation and are doing what they are appointed to as part of the team (and on our behalf).

This is a great book on preaching not just because it is carefully thought through and argued, and not simply because it brings some fruitful modern insights into language and communication to give us a sense of what is happening as we preach, but because it reminds us as hearers and speakers of God’s word that preaching is powerful, and more than this, that God is a God who speaks and life happens.