Preach for a Verdict, part 2

Continued from a previous post, Preach for a Verdict

Attorney Gerry Spence lists “Seven Steps for Winning the Final Argument”

1. Identify the Hero and the Villain

For the purposes of the preacher, who is the villain?

  • The sinner within us
  • The selfishness within
  • Self-righteousness
  • Procrastination

When Asahel Nettleton preached:
Immediate submission was ever set forth as the imperative duty, but it was presumed that certain moral or spiritual obstacles obstructed that goal. He sought to detect as quickly as possible, what that barrier was and to remove it. The particular obstacle, whether pride, shame, indecision, or love of some secret sin, was uncovered and rebuked. – God Sent Revival by J. F. Thornbury, 112

Empower the Jury to be Heroes. Cast them in the role of rescuing champions. – Spence, 232

The Christian preacher may well wonder if it is possible in a sermon to make the congregants into heroes. After all, Jesus told us, “In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:10. In one sense, God alone is heroic. Nothing good we have ever done happened apart from His initiative and empowering grace.

On the other hand, by the grace of Christ, we experience victory.

  • “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
  • “Because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith” (I John 5:4).

There is something in the human heart that longs to experience this. It is the very longing to which Hebrews 11 appeals. And, as we trust Him and obey Him we do experience something heroic. We can honestly appeal to people to experience this victory in:

  • Fulfilling the Great Commission
  • Changing the world

The hero might be:

  • God
  • The grace of God
  • The obedient
  • The repentant

2. Become the Victim

“Before we can argue effectively, we must become [the client], to join her at the heart level. It takes skill and caring to get there.” – Spence, 239

Who is our client when we preach? We represent Jesus Christ, of course. So, here are some possible answers as to who the “victim” might legitimately be:

  • The offended justice of God
  • The righteous standard of God
  • The “cheated-on” God (Hosea)
  • The God who calls out only to receive no response
  • The grieved Spirit of God

Our task is to make our listeners feel the heart of God.

I saw a good Tweet along these lines from Tim Keller Wisdom (@DailyKeller): Legalistic remorse says, “I broke God’s rules,” while real repentance says, “I broke God’s heart.”

Spence mentions the position the defense attorney as he represents a defendant in a criminal trial: Each of the jurors has likely been a victim… They are afraid of criminals and the most expeditious way of protecting themselves is to do away with the accused, guilty or innocent” (page 240).

Many members of our congregations have been victims in life in various ways and we all have self-protective mechanisms in place – to protect ourselves from guilt, embarrassment and, sometimes, even from God. We must help our hearers to overcome their fears and their desire for self-protection, and surrender to God.

3. Feel the Righteous Indignation

“Our need for justice will become the theme of the argument and will set its tone, and having felt it, it will erupt in an argument that will connect to the jurors’ native need for justice as well” (Spence, 242).

The parallel for the preacher is the knowledge that God has strong feelings about this matter – that is, whatever we are preaching about. Thus, our emotions concerning any issue about which we are preaching should align with His. Again, we cannot deliver a message dispassionately.

“Most of the time, it is common sense and passion that move a jury in a close call.”

Common sense and passion are often missing in the technician’s closing arguments while the jury is thinking about their life experiences. …Jurors are absolutely unimpressed with our training and ability to “think like a lawyer [read theologian]” in closing argument” (Levin, 11).

4. Determine the Justice You Want

What should we do in response to the message?

  • Live in light of the fact that…
  • Believe…
  • Trust…
  • Obey…
  • Stop…
  • Start…
  • Forgive…

5. Ask the Jury to Give You the Justice You Want

“If we are too timid to lay out our prayer for justice why should the jurors do it for us?

Being candid about our expectation of justice is merely a continuation of the policy of honesty we have learned to adopt in our presentation.” (Spence, 245-46)

“Lawyers ask me, ‘How do you get those big verdicts?’ I reply, I ask for the Money. I simply ask for it.” (Spence, 246)

Call for a response… clearly and specifically.

6. Create a Vision of a Better Person Creating a Better Tomorrow

“Most of us do not understand our power. We live so vividly in the present we have little understanding as to what the consequence of our act will be in the future” (Spence, 248).

“I dream that after your verdict has been read a great joy will erupt in this courtroom. I have a dream that when your verdict is read an indescribable, nearly godly relief will come over Jimmy and over us. He is free. And in my dream I see us walking out of this courtroom together as free persons—you as jurors who have done your duty, who will go home to your families knowing that you have done the right thing, and Jimmy who will walk of this courtroom with you, also a free man, a man who can go home to his wife and his family, a man who has learned that there is still love in this world—even for a simple man such as Jimmy—and that the greatest proof of such love are two simple words, ‘Not guilty.’”

“I have a dream that this great American system of justice still works, and that even the humblest of us, the poorest, those of us who were forgotten both by man and by the law, can achieve justice here within these hallowed walls.” (Spence, 249)

We can create a mental picture of what obedience to Jesus would look and feel like. We can…

  • Help them envision what an obedient response would look and feel like.
  • How will this make things better?
  • How will God get glory out of this response?

7. An Ending Transferring the Lawyers Responsibility for the Client to the Jury

“Soon you will march out of here and into the jury room where your decision of justice will be made. Perhaps you have looked forward to this moment. Perhaps, you have dreaded it—this moment when you will be called upon to pass judgment on another human being. It is a frightening time for me. In a few moments I will give up my client to you. In a few moments I must entrust this case into your hands. I do not want to let go. I am afraid.” (Spence, 249-50)

Here Spence tells the classic story about the smart aleck boy asking the old man whether the bird in his hand is alive or dead, planning to either crush the bird or let it live according the wise man’s answer – or opposite his answer. Thus, he would get one up on the man. But wise man responded, “The bird is in your hands my son.”

Preparing the Rebuttal First (Spence, 250-51)

“You should speak out loud all the negative thoughts your hearers have on their minds.”

“However, if plaintiff’s counsel believes that the opposing counsel cannot present any proof on a particular strong point… Issue a strong definite challenge to opposing counsel to address the issues sometime in his argument” (Levin, 22).

“The question for Pensacola Hospital is: Isn’t it true that if Pensacola Hospital had sent Keith Smith to the Navy Chamber, Keith would not be paralyzed today? That is the question that the Lawyers for Pensacola Hospital need to answer right now” (Levin, 23).

Anticipate what the devil or the flesh will tell them – and help them overcome such thoughts.

Thornbury writes concerning Asahel Nettleton:
“Occasionally he impersonated the sinners… Bringing out the feelings and thoughts of the unsaved at various stages of conviction was often as disturbing as it was shocking. Soon Asahel got the reputation of being somewhat of a mind reader… he was able to anticipate the objections and to follow the sinner through all his various refuges of lies, and strip him of all his excuses… …he studied the tactics of his enemy. He seemed to have a special wisdom relative to the devices of Satan.” (Thornbury, 81)

Compromise Responses

“The prosecutor knows that reasonable people like to compromise” (Spence, 262). Thus, the prosecutor may bring several charges against the defendant hoping to get a conviction on at least one of them.

People compromise in their responses to the Word of God. “I won’t go that far with it; that is too radical. So I will do this instead.” The preacher, therefore, should anticipate how his listeners might compromise instead of doing the right thing all the way – and warn against it.

The Power of a Single Juror (Spence, 265)

“The verdict here must be unanimous. Each of you must agree to send Jimmy away. That is a huge power vested in each of you—each of you—because when any one of you says, no, I don’t agree to send Jimmy away, that can stop it. To put it another way, what happens to Jimmy is your personal responsibility—not the jury’s responsibility as a whole, but the responsibility of each of you individually as jurors” (Spence, 265)

The preacher may say something along the lines of, “You may be the only person here today who needs to make this commitment or who is willing to make it…”

The idea of persuasion may make us feel uncomfortable. We may sense it is too closely related to manipulation or high pressure sales presentations. But God is a persuader — why not those indwelt, empowered and led by His Spirit?

Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. — Hosea 2:14

Properly understood, persuasion is giving people good reasons to do the right thing. And, though the would-be persuader respects their right to make the final choice, he cares what they decide.

“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious-and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” — Proverbs 16:23 (ESV)

Two books were especially helpful. First, Win Your Case by Gerry Spence, especially Chapter 15: Closing the Deal: The Final Argument (Saint Martins Griffin, 2005). Second,
Closing Arguments: The Last Battle by Fredric G. Levin, Mike Papantonio, and Martin Levin, Seville Square, Pensacola, 2003).
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One Response to Preach for a Verdict, part 2

  1. Pingback: Preach for a Verdict | Disproportionate Impact

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