I’m beginning to think that tone and nuance have more to do with how a sermon is heard than almost anything else. People hear Law and Gospel, doctrinal content and statements and so forth, but hearing and receiving a sermon is more than just the content of the speech–the Law and Gospel are delivered with rhetoric which carries its own flavor and connotations and tone. Saying “This behavior is sin,” strikes much harder and different than describing the effects of the behavior and showing relationships fractured and undone by the sin. In matters of tone, concluding a thought with “this is sin” is different than beginning the thought or phrase/section/movement with the same sentence.
Having an ear for tone also means hearing what kinds of descriptive language the preacher uses. Does he use emotive language which draws in the hearer’s emotions and feelings? Does he use violent imagery, with Christ always “destroying” or “removing” or “breaking” sin or whatever? This is not to say only emotive language is good, or that violent or “masculine” imagery is better (or worse), but images and language and rhetorical approaches add up, and add up quickly to give an impression on the hearers.
Likewise with nuance, and by “nuance” I mean not having a finely tuned argument, or delving deep into the points and counter-points, but simply in acknowledging that a topic or doctrine or application of Law or Gospel is greater than bald sentiment or doctrinal thesis. For example, a sermon regarding predestination may not address all the nuances of single versus double predestination, but admitting there is more to the argument is helpful. Nuance in a sermon will acknowledge that our world is one where we can sin by good intent and by bad intent suffer good consequences. A nuanced sermon gives–at least–a tip of the hat to whatever cultural objections may be raised.
Add this together, square or cube the effects, and then you have how a sermon is heard by the people. But in this a balance must also be kept. A preacher is not a people-pleaser and should not write and structure and deliver his sermons with a good ear for tone and nuance in order to make people feel nice only. It has to be balanced so that the Law has the effect of driving people to the Gospel, that the Gospel will be heard as sweet and comforting, and giving power for our salvation, both now and in the Kingdom. Sometimes this means crucifying sin and false gods and making people squirm for a bit. Always it means proclaiming that the Gospel comes in with the clearest tone possible. Sometimes it means “going easy” on a sin, in order for it to be heard at all. It always means going easy with the Gospel, for His yoke is easy and His burden light.