Shaddix, Jim. Decisional Preaching. Spring Hill, TN: Rainer Publishing, 2019, pp.147, $11.47, paperback.
Dr. Jim Shaddix is Professor of Preaching, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), holding the W. A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching, also serving as Director for the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership. He has made homiletic contributions to numerous multi-authored works and along with Jerry Vines has co-authored Power in the Pulpit (Moody, 1997/2017) and Progress in the Pulpit (Moody, 2017). He has authored The Passion-Driven Sermon (B&H, 2003).
Decisional Preaching is a much-needed book for every practitioner of Christian preaching seeking to discern the difference between pulpit manipulation and biblical persuasion. Seasoned homiletician Jim Shaddix takes the reader from stem to stern on the necessity, purpose, and practice of the persuasive elements of preaching. The book unfolds in six chapters: “Confessions of a Spurgeonist” (argumentation for decisional preaching); “Preparing to Call for Decisions” (preparation of the preacher through Word and Spirit); “Decisional Qualities of Sermon Foundation (utilizing persuasion in the sermon’s formal elements); “Decisional Qualities of Sermon Function (using persuasion in the sermon’s functional elements); “Decisional Qualities of Sermon Force (understanding the sermon style issue of force and its expression); and finally “Public Expressions of Spiritual Decisions” (where the main focus centers upon a multidimensional persuasive public appeal).
Persuasion may be that one distinctive that separates teaching from preaching. To teach is to inform, to preach is also to inform, but also to move; preaching informs the mind and persuades the heart. Shaddix states, “We believe the sermon does more than make the Gospel known. It makes the demands of the Gospel known and calls for a response” (p. 13). Preaching by nature is always confrontational, pressing for a decision; it draws the ‘line in the sand’, calling for a verdict. Shaddix discusses the tension between divine sovereignty (no one can choose Christ on their own) and human responsibility (whosoever will may come); as an example he employs Spurgeon who “applied his conviction about this irreconcilable tension to his preaching for decisions” (p. 23) and “believed the preacher should apply pressure and emotion to compel people to respond to the Gospel” (p. 33). Much modern preaching lacks bold, urgent, and passionate appeals and Shaddix provides several culprits, among them a forgetfulness of the nature of preaching (preachers have biblically and historically called for decisions).
Proper sermon preparation includes both sermon and preacher. He must immerse himself in Scripture, studying it, obeying it, and preaching it. “Preaching for right decisions about Christ begins on our knees before an open Bible” (p. 43). He must also experience the Spirit’s presence in prayer asking Him to 1) illuminate his mind in preparation and preaching, together with the hearers’, 2) convict hearts, 3) apply truth, and 4) empower him. “As preachers, we have a responsibility to assume that no authentic decision-making is going to take place in our preaching if we come to the pulpit in the flesh – not having been in the counsel of God and not having pursued the help of His Spirit” (p. 58).
Shaddix rightly posits that sermon focus and form should be persuasive. “The focus of every sermon should be the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (p. 60). Therefore, 1) text must drive the sermon for “you will influence decision-making by building your messages on the biblical text … such a text-based, Spirit-empowered approach is true biblical preaching, the only kind of legitimate preaching” (pp. 61-62). 2) Expose the Spirit’s intended meaning of your text, 3) let text determine your sermon subject, and 4) highlight the Gospel in your text. Where there is no Christ – there is no true Christian preaching for, “Gospel-centered preaching calls individuals to decide on a relationship with a person not just a change of action” (p. 66). Since sermon structure is conducive to listener attentiveness, the preacher should be persuasive in sermon form (introduction, exposition, and conclusion). “You preach for changed lives, so your calling for a verdict. The conclusion is your last opportunity to specifically and formally call for that verdict, but you should be doing that in your introduction and exposition as well” (p. 75).
The sermon’s functional elements should have a decisional tone. The preacher explains to transform knowing “we explain it so they can understand it because that’s what changes them! He argues to convince, anticipating objections listeners may make. He applies to demonstrate; exhorting to both do and believe, lifting high the cross which is relevant to believers and unbelievers. In the rush to apply “we’re often led to believe that application is what brings about life change. Application doesn’t change people; it just helps them demonstrate the change that’s already taken place inside them” (pp. 78-79). Finally, he illustrates purposively to shed light.
Shaddix provides handles for a proper understanding and expression of “force.” Others may use terms like anointing, filling, unction, pathos or passion; he says “force – or energy – is the impact created by a combination of other elements of sermon style. It’s the quality of propelling your thought into the hearts and minds of your listeners” (p. 101). Force should be 1) convictional. “We need to be passionate about what we preach, but our passion must be driven by our convictions about what is true” (p. 104). 2) Passionate, 3) Authoritative, characterized by “certainty about two things – his message and his role as the messenger” (p. 110). 4) Free, as notes can impede force, it is not about “the degree of notes we use, but how we navigate our notes, and how that navigation affects our engagement with the audience” (p. 130).
Proclamation of the Word requires both public and immediate response, yet Shaddix advises “while I don’t believe such expressions are required for authentic spiritual decision-making, I do think they can help with the process in healthy, spiritual ways” (p. 119). He rightly encourages us to take this risk, noting other practices that we deem as appropriate public displays of faith, such as weddings and offerings. He suggests variety: vocal expression, physical gestures (raise hand, kneel), written record, physical relocation (altar call), or post meeting ministry. He suggests a multi-faceted approach noting that the preacher must exercise each of these with integrity for the Gospel, the preaching text, and the listener.
Decisional Preaching’s niche? The calling for integration of persuasion into the sermon’s entirety. “Preachers are responsible for offering everyone an opportunity to decide rightly for the truth we preach, and for persuading them to do so” (p. 11). Persuasion is not optional, since preachers have a heavenly mandate, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:11). Consequently, preachers had better know why they are doing it, do it and do it well. Whether greenhorn or old hand, Shaddix places his work on the shelf where every preacher can reach it. There are preaching books out there that are nothing more than self-help narratives that Paul would have condemned at Corinth, others shortsightedly limit persuasion to evangelistic preaching – Decisional Preaching is neither, as it seeks to turn the sermon’s totality into a decision focus. This book would serve admirably alongside Josh Smith’s Preaching for a Verdict (B&H Academic, 2019) and Jerry Vines and Adam Dooley’s Passion in the Pulpit (Moody, 2018). Decisional Preaching is a welcome edition to every preacher’s shelf.
Tony Alton Rogers
Southside Baptist Church