Aristotle, in his work On Rhetoric, described three modes of persuasion.
1. Ethos – this is the appeal of the speaker’s personal character, his authority, sincerity and integrity.
2. Pathos – this is the appeal to the emotions.
3. Logos – this is the appeal to reason. The speaker seeks to persuade by offering relevant facts or arguments.
It scarcely needs saying that effective preaching will draw on all three modes.
Ethos: The preacher must be known as a person of integrity, whose life is consistent with his message. He should be willing to let his hearers know something of how the message affects him. Well-chosen personal anecdotes have a part to play here.
Pathos: Many preachers – at least in Britain – use limited emotional appeal. This may have something to do with English ‘reserve’: we don’t express our emotions in public. It may also have something to do with the university education that many of us have been through (and the public school upbringing of many of our best-known models). But it is also linked to a general feeling of distrust of emotional appeal in public speaking, as if it is inevitably dishonest and manipulative. However, if emotional appeal is true both to the speaker’s character (‘ethos’) and his message (‘logos’), then it is natural, appropriate, and helpful.
Logos: It is often supposed that preaching (again, I am thinking mainly of preaching in the Western hemisphere) is over-cerebral, over-logical. I’m not at all sure. It is true that preaching can lack ‘ethos’ and ‘pathos’, but that doesn’t make it stronger in ‘logos’. It is also true that a sermon can be too packed with information. But that is no argument for a sermon lacking content, or for that content not to be presented in an orderly way.