Friday, February 9, 2018

Passive Voice Preaching

Preachers know how to punch in their sermons. We also know how to pull punches.When the Word is coming in fast, doing its work, a preacher can pull the punch at the last second to lighten the blow, as some false teachers like to do. See? I just pulled the punch. I said something hard, then I let you off the hook at the last second by attributing this to false teachers. I said what I wanted to say, but I pulled back so you wouldn't get made at me and request a refund for this post.

You can also hide the truth in lingo and unclear turns of phrase.  In Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, Tracy Kidder wrote:
Institutionalese tends to obscure responsibility for what is being said, or to locate it in a heavenly source. One hears that old bugaboo, the passive voice: “Mistakes were made”; “Actions will be taken.” Everyone recognizes the phenomenon. Why does it continue? The skeptical reader will credit the offending writer not with ineptitude but with a positive talent for obfuscation. The annual report writer declares, “Year-end results were negatively impacted by seasonal downward profit adjustments, consistent with global trends, insufficiently offset by labor force reductions.” It’s not that the guy doesn’t know how to say, “We lost money last fall, fired some people, but it was a tough year all around.” He either doesn’t want to say that, or, more likely, would get fired if he did. Sometimes people simply have to give the appearance of saying something without the risks that come with doing so. Then prose becomes dowdy clothing, concealing more than it reveals.
Don't hide what you are trying to say in passive voice mumbling or obscure wording. Be clear and speak plainly. Kidder said, "It takes some confidence to write clearly." Indeed. When you say what you mean clearly and precisely, then everyone knows were you stand. Don't say "sins were committed" but "you sinned."

He closes the chapter saying, "And if you should find yourself sounding that way, ask yourself what you are trying to avoid." If your preaching or writing is obtuse, are you doing that on purpose? Sometimes it is just bad writing, or trying to sound eloquent. But make sure that you are not concealing instead of revealing. Are you trying to say something without anyone noticing? By avoiding clear language, what are you trying to avoid?

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