Preaching and Personality

Posted on: June 25th, 2023

Oratory is an important factor in the history of mankind. The contributions made by great speakers dot the pages of history. Ancient oratory reached its prime with speakers like Demosthenes and Aristotle, who were known for their eloquence. Modern times have produced great orators as well. Men like General Kitchener, who stirred his troops with emotion toward Flanders fields during World War I. Adolph Hitler—a man of meager talents and a poor education, but of extraordinary abilities to move people by oratory—induced his people to the brink of total immorality by his impassioned speeches in the 1930s. And it is said that Sir Winston Churchill once actually turned Parliament from one position to a totally opposite one by use of his unique oratorical skills.
    The great orators of Jewish history—Noah, Moses, Joshua, Ezra, Daniel—admittedly guided by the Holy Spirit, but speaking in their own vernacular and in accordance with their own personalities, gave meaning to the will of God and caused people, by their grand speeches, to return to the old paths. While the preaching of the ancient Greeks lacked morality as the one ingredient to qualify it for greatness, God’s interjection of the same into the preaching of the Old Testament prophets by the Holy Spirit brought not only greatness but effectivity to their speeches.
Preaching is “the gospel in personality” says Dr. Broadus in his Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. That fact is illustrated in every New Testament preacher. The preaching of John the Baptist gives us some idea of what kind of person he was—fiery, unmovable. Barnabas is called “the Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36), telling us something about his personality as well as his preaching. Peter’s impetuosity is continually in evidence in his preaching, and Paul’s dedication was not only common to his preaching, it was part of his personality. Apollos is referred to as “an eloquent man” (Acts 18:24), a fact which would have been so whether or not he ever preached the gospel. Preaching is a blend of the personality of the preacher with the message of the Savior.
Amos was a preacher with little emotion, one who “was not a prophet nor the son of one” (Amos 7:14); his call was for justice, not mercy; while Jeremiah, sometimes called “the weeping prophet,” had an obviously different disposition. Jonah is an example of arrogance coupled with superb oratorical skills (he converted a huge city-state). Luke’s gospel is a manifestation of his own deliberate and cultured personality, and Paul’s concern in the book of 2 Corinthians shows us a side of him not seen in some of his other epistles. The books written by these men would lose some of their flavor, some of their appeal, if divorced from the personality of the writer.
It is somewhat of a paradox that the same message—unaltered, undisturbed by human innovation—is to be delivered in so many different personalities. What a disservice is done to the arrangement of God when we seek to make every man into a clone of what we have surmised in our imaginations to be the best preacher. What is the best preacher, anyhow? Is he timid or gregarious, loud or soft, verbose or concise? And who decides the matter?
God did not choose one man to write the Bible, nor did He choose only one kind of temperament to preach it. He put His gospel in personality. Certainly it is one gospel—complete, immutable—but we do it a great disservice when we try to make every man say its message in the same way, with the same emphases, the same inflections, and without respect to his own personality.