Classical Argument

Thematic StructuresOverview

This structure interprets the teaching of the sermon as a point at issue in contemporary argument.  In response, the sermon progresses according to the five parts of an argumentative discourse in classical rhetoric:  exordium, narratio, confirmatio, refutatio, and peroratio.

The introduction (exordium) fosters good will with the hearers and leads them to the general theme of the sermon.  The narration (narratio) offers the basic facts under consideration in this argument.  The preacher focuses upon the material that needs to be known and states it briefly, clearly, and plausibly for the hearers.

He then leads the hearers from that material to a confession (confirmatio) and a defense (refutatio) of the teaching.  In situations where the hearers are congenial, the speaker usually moves from a confession of the teaching to a defense of that teaching in the face of opposing arguments.  In situations where the hearers are less congenial but not hostile, the preacher may need to begin with a defense of the teaching (that names and refutes the opposing viewpoints) before moving to the confession of the teaching.  This way, the argument that would prevent hearers from considering the teaching is dismissed before the teaching is then fully examined and confessed.

Regardless of the order of these two sections, the confirmation (confirmatio) offers the hearers the material that supports the teaching of the sermon.  Usually, the arrangement of these points begins with the strongest argument to be made for the case, lest the hearers feel that the argument is getting weaker as the sermon progresses. The refutation (refutatio) names and refutes the arguments opposing the teaching.  In this section, the preacher anticipates the objections of his hearers (or the culture in which his hearers live) and seeks to portray such objections honestly.  The preacher may make concessions to the opposing viewpoint, but ultimately he seeks to refute the opposition and thereby strengthen his own argument.

The conclusion (peroratio) offers the hearers a summary of the main points supporting the theme of the sermon and seeks to form an appropriate response in the hearers.  The conclusion, therefore, keeps the teaching of the sermon central in the minds of the hearers and appeals both to the head and to the heart.

© 2011 David Schmitt. All rights reserved.

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