It is good for written and spoken outlines to be striking and memorable. One technique that some writers and preachers use is alliteration – using key words that begin with the same letter.
Used sensibly, alliteration is a handy device. John Stott was not greatly given to its use, but I think it was he who noted from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that the apostle writes about (a) revelation, v15; (b) return, v14; (c) resurrection, v16; (d) rapture, v17; (e) reunion, v17; and (f) reassurance, v18. That’s a pretty faithful analysis of the passage.
In principle, the use of alliteration can be justified from Scripture itself, where we find the occasional use of similar devices, such as acrostics and puns.
But extensive alliteration is fraught with danger. The most serious problem is that the writer or speaker distorts the meaning of the text, as s/he strives to find one more word that begins with the favoured letter.
There are other problems, too. On the one hand, over-use, or bad use, of alliteration can draw attention away from the meaning of the text and towards the ‘cleverness’ of the writer or speaker. On the other hand, an alliterative scheme can collapse under its own weight, making the writer or speaker look very silly.
Just such an example of alliterative silliness is found in John G. Butler’s Analytical Bible Expositor. According to him, 1 Kings 1:1-4,15 tells us about ‘The Aging of David’. And this comes under four headings: 1. The certainty of aging; 2. The consequences of aging; 3. The counsel for aging; 4. The character in aging. Then, under the 3rd of these headings, we have the following set of sub-headings:-
1. the abomination of the counsel
2. the advocates of the counsel
3. the acceptance of the counsel
4. the ardour of the counsel
5. the attractiveness of the counsel
6. the artfulness of the counsel
But one more is needed (seven is a magic number, after all). So, finally, we have
7. the affects of the counsel
…at which point illiteracy has taken over (it should, of course, be ‘effects’, not ‘affects’, but that would ruin the alliterative scheme).
Writers and speakers: if you have a way with words, then by all means weigh in with words that help your message to sparkle. But serve your text, and don’t make yourself look sillier than you actually are.