I have so enjoyed Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.
If you are writing books or sermons, blogs or lesson plans, you will greatly benefit from his thoughts on good communication.
One particularly poignant section captures the secret to good style in a simple metaphor. Pinker writes:
The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is distinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation. (p. 29)
I love the imagery Pinker provides. A good writer simply leads the reader to the window and shows him something hitherto unseen.
Come with me. Do you see that tree? Good. Now, go up to the third branch from the bottom. Look to the end of that branch and you will notice a little red bird. That is a cardinal.
This kind of plain, conversational leading is good communication in a nutshell.
Pinker, S. (2014). The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. New York, New York: Viking.
A sermon of nothing but illustrations and stories feels thin and will leave the hearer hungry. But a sermon without any illustrations will fall short of deep impact. A healthy sermon needs truth illustrated.
Bryan Chapell makes this point well in Using Illustrations to Preach with Power:
“The mind yearns for, and needs, the concrete to anchor the abstract…Illustrations are not supplemental to good exposition; they are a necessary form of exposition in which biblical truths are explained to the emotions and the will as well as to the intellect. Illustrations will not allow mere head knowledge. They exegete scripture in the terms of human experience to create a whole-person understanding of God’s Word. By framing biblical truths in the world in which we live and move and have our being, illustrations unite our personalities, our pasts, our present, our affections, our fears, our frustrations, our hopes, our hearts, our mind, and our souls in the understanding of that which is divine. They are integral to effective preaching, not merely because they may entertain or clarify, but because they expand and deepen the applications the mind and heart can make.”
Illustrations are therefore more than just “sermon breaks.” They are marks of true and deeper understanding.
Eutychus never knew that night would forever change his life. He never knew how close to death he sat. But he soon found out.
What happened? Well, he fell asleep listening to Paul teach. Normally, we don’t consider following asleep in a sermon to be the end of the world, but in this case, for Eutychus, it was.
Continue reading Book Review – Saving Eutychus
Paul Tripp rips mediocre preaching. He challenges preachers everywhere to improve.
“Preaching is more than regurgitating your favorite exegetical commentary, recasting the sermons of your favorite preachers, or reshaping notes from one of your favorite seminary classes. It is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he now stands to communicate.”
Read his full post on real preaching, a stirring call.
“They read from the Book of the Law, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” Nehemiah 8:8