The Connection of Style to Substance

James Harris, in Preaching Liberation, writes:

I am suggesting that style and substance are partners in preaching liberation. The way the sermon is preached–the style of delivery, the involvement of body and mind, the engagement of the audience, the rhythmic crescendos and decrescendos of the voice punctuated by staccato cadences and words uttered in musical style–all this is, to a degree, as important as the substance of what is being said.

In some circles style is totally ignored. They argue that substance is more important than style and it is the substance that is helpful or needed. However, African American rhetoric consistently seeks to unify the two. They state that preachers should seek to become an embodiment of the message. There is not a notion of separating the two.

With this concept in mind, substance without style is just as problematic as style without substance. In both cases, style and substance are lacking. There can be no strong style without strong substance. Likewise, there can be no strong substance without strong style. It is very interesting hearing some evangelicals argue that style is unimportant. And yet listen to some of these same preachers, white or black. Listen to how they have control of their preaching. Listen, to how these preachers demonstrate style in their presentations. The other day, a preaching theorist had talked about how style was unimportant, and yet when I listen to the preacher, I see powerful use of cadence. The preacher puts words together effectively, and even raises and lowers voice on cue. Simply put, show me a great preacher, and I am quite sure that in most cases, they make use of some or all of the aspects of style that Harris writes in this quote.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that style is not important. In addition, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that style is all that is important. Both are important and both should contribute to the people’s understanding of truth.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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