Monday, May 27, 2013

Preaching & Persuasion

John Witherspoon's Lectures On Eloquence gives great insight into the fundamental importance of Rhetorics at Universities at the time. Raymond Blacketer's book The school of Pedagogy and Rhetoric in Calvin's Interpretation of Deuteronomy explains how basic knowledge of the classical and Renaissance rhetoric helps us understand Calvin's writings:
'It will also become evident that Calvin's exposition of Scripture bears the deep imprint of his training in classical and Renaissance rhetoric. Rhetoric for Calvin was an essential tool for teaching and preaching, so long as it served the subject matter and did not become an end in itself. Calvin advocated and implemented a restrained use of rhetoric for the purposes of teaching and persuading in the church and in a godly society. For Calvin, proper pedagogy and restrained rhetoric were two of the most important tools in the school of God.'
And in the speeches of John F. Kennedy we see the classical rhetorics at work as well. In the book Performing patriotism: national identity in the colonoial and revolutionary American Theater by Jason Shaffer we read in the chapter 'A School for Patriots':
'At Princeton, Witherspoon began in 1769 to deliver an annual series of "Lectures on Eloquence, the first official course in public speaking documented at an American college.In the first of these lectures, Witherspoon notes approvingly that "the grace of elocution and the power of action might not only acquire a man fame in speaking, but keep up his influence in public assemblies, citing as his examples the revivalist preacher George Whitefield and William Pit'
In the book Preaching Politics: The Religious Rhetoric of George Whitefield and the Founding of a New Nation Jerome Dean Mahaffey writes:
'seeking to understand him more deeply, I began reading Whitefield's sermons. As my graduate eduation progressed, I received sufficient training in rhetorical criticism to identify the persuasive action and forces present in the texts. I found in Whitefield a person who understood the art of persuasion, considered his audiences, and produced just the right kind of discourse to meet his goals. Surprised that nothing I had read to that point delved deeply into his extant sermon texts, I believed that my dissertation could provide a new perspective on Whitefield, on that analyzed his sermons to describe the rhetorical action that blended with features other scholarship had discovered.'
'Whitefield wrote very little to explain his peraching strategies or views on persuasion. I believe that one reason for this is that he knew everything was embedded in his sermon texts or otherwise available from studying the classical sources on persuasion.'

Jerome Dean Mahaffey writes on page 33:
'Whitefield's achievement of fluency in the mechanics of eloquence and his grasp of the psychology of persuasion - all gained through a rhetorical education far more rigorous than modern colleges provide. the combination of talent, study, and practice constitutes the three essential ingredients of fine oratory that teachers of rhetoric have emphasized since the time of rhetoric's Greek origin. These ingredients were manifest in Whitefield: his rhetorical education began early; he had competent models to imitate; he received a complete edution at Oxford; he developed his nonverbal delivery skills through obsessive participation in drama; he developed his voice through declamation; and even his eye deformity became an unexpected asset.'

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