The Snare of the Exuberant Style
By Fred O. Blakely
In this day of high expressiveness, any inkling of the limitations —not to say, outright shortcomings—of that quality will shock many and probably be resented by them. As an exponent of objective truth, however, we are constrained to break the unwelcome news, and warn against being captivated by the snare. Although, within proper bounds, exuberance of manner is both desirable and profitable unto all, it is not an unalloyed boon for earth’s woes. In fact, certain built-in elements of this characteristic make it a quite evident danger, against which those who would be rooted and grounded in actuality must constantly be on guard. This is especially the case with respect to ebullience of style in preaching and teaching.
It Projects Personal Reaction. In the first place, the exhilarated pattern in the religious speaker, at best, but projects his personal reaction to what he is presenting. When due allowance is made for the prevailing emphasis on histrionics, or play-acting (for the sake of effect), it is altogether possible that such projection can fall somewhat short of genuine representation of that individual reaction. But, to accept the matter at face value, a very hard fact of spiritual life still must be kept firmly in mind. The fact is, One cannot live before God on the reactions to divine truth of another person, however bona fide and effervescent they may be. The preacher, with his beaming and demonstrative techniques, may be a literal spellbinder, and his radiations may be wholly authentic. That is, they may truly reflect his personal grasp of, and godly exhilaration by, spiritual substance. Still, the hearers will not by those means experience for themselves the liberating and delighting power of the gospel, though they may be pleasantly entertained by the performance. It will remain for them to spiritually apprehend the God of truth, since it is only the personal knowledge of Him and spiritual things which can confer such blessings.
This is simply to say that, in the heavenly kingdom, we do not subsist on pre-masticated food. Each, according to his own eating, must come to the table of God, partake of its bounty himself, and personally chew and digest it, if he is to be nourished by it in the faith and life of Christ. The requirement in the wilderness for the individual gathering of the daily manna places beyond controversy that as the situation with which we are confronted (Exod. 16:16-18). Admittedly, this is a laborious task which involves much effort by the individual, and one which obviates much of the glamorous approach in religious proclamations today. However, it is the only effective way to realize the power and joy of godliness, which realization makes the required effort abundantly worthwhile.
It Tends to Distort Values. A second flaw in the effervescent style is its proneness to distort values in the presentation of its subject matter. The rule among those given to this manner seems to be to impart relatively unwarranted weight to the considerations with which they deal. In other words, they major in minors, but in such a way as to conceal the fact from their hearers. This, of course, they do sheerly by dint of their personality and the forcefulness of their proclamations.
Seldom, if ever, given to expounding to any extent the “deep things of God” (I Cor 2:10), such speakers charm their auditors with comparative trivia. Evidently this is because such exposition requires either an ability which they do not possess, or an expenditure of preparatory effort which they are unwilling to make. In any event, we often have had to boredly endure rhetorically drawn out development of points that could well have been dispensed with by a sentence or two, minus the theatrics, or personal play to the audience.
In consequence of such self-selling in preaching, the people go away feeling that they have been effectually served by the discourse. As a matter of fact, they have received little of the heavenly bread which their souls require for spiritual life. Instead, they have been given a generous helping of the natural ability and platform attainments of the speaker, to the praise of his glory. The end of a steady diet of this kind of pulpit ministry is that those afflicted with it forfeit both the desire for, and the capacity to assimilate, the essential meat of spiritual fare. This forfeiture is, indeed, a terrible and tragic price to pay for the indulgence of their preacher’s personally engaging techniques.
Its Draws to the Speaker. A third peril of the gushing and obtrusive pattern in preaching is equally as dangerous as the others. It is that of the almost-unvarying proclivity which it has of binding people to the preacher rather than to the Lord and His Word. This snare is particularly effective in our day, when people have been inveterately conditioned to the power of glamor and demonstration as opposed to that of truth. In this captivity to human personality and ingenuity, they sorely need to be brought up short before another unrelenting reality of spiritual life. That reality, which is closely related to the one already cited, is that one cannot live unto God on the strength of another’s personality, however godly appealing it may be. Neither can he wage effectual Ispiritual warfare with the Devil, the flesh, and the world by his devotion to a human being. In order to prevail in these areas, the individual believer must come to know God himself, and be strong “in the power of His might,” quite in detachment from his admiration for, and relationship with, anyone else (Eph. 6:10). It is only as the preacher, entirely aside from the glorification of himself, succeeds in assisting his constituency to the realization of these ends that he is truly effective for God.
Its Lessons for the Sincere. From these undeniable considerations, some plain conclusions are evident. While it certainly is in order to allow the Spirit to have full sway over one’s being while presenting the truth, the perils attaching to the exaltation of the earthen vessel should be kept sharply in mind. The truly devoted servant of Christ will determine, first of all, that His Lord—not himself—is to be exalted in his ministry. And, in that determination, he will adopt and rigidly adhere to the principles necessary for achievement of that result. As for ourselves, if it came to a choice between the glamorless speaker who, nonetheless, patiently proclaimed “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ASV), and the personally captivating one whose ministry, designedly or not, drew people primarily to himself, we should unhesitatingly choose the former. We could rejoice and triumph in the God and truth which the prosaic brought to us long after the skin worms had done their grisly work upon the body of the exuberant, to whose person we had been mostly attracted. After all, it should be remembered, Paul—clearly' the ‘most effective of all the Apostles—was “weak” and “base” ‘in his appearance before the church, and “contemptible” in his delivery (II Cor. 10:1, 10; cf. I Cor. 2:3-4).