The Homiletical Plot: the Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Expanded Edition)
Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001
Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Quick Summary: Dr. Eugene Lowry is an ordained United Methodist minister and retired professor of preaching. Having taught at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City for over thirty years, his vita includes many scholarly books and articles on preaching, as well as various honors and lectureships.
When I was first forced to read The Homiletical Plot for a narrative preaching course in seminary, I strenuously resisted it. I hated it. Already having pastored for several years, I believed that the only valid type of preaching was expository preaching, book by book. Now, some years after that time, my own view of preaching has broadened, and while I still believe in expository preaching, I no longer believe expository preaching to be the ONLY valid evangelical method of preaching (my apologies to Dr. Killian). I finally developed an “itch” for expanding my preaching in new directions.
Reading Lowry’s book again, I discovered a helpful process for preaching that my earlier view kept me from seeing. His work contains three sections: The Sermon as Narrative, The Stages of the Homiletical Plot, and Other Considerations.
In section one, the Sermon as Narrative, he says that sermons are not a reasoned, rhetorical argument, but an event-in-time. The sermon consists of a plot with a problem, process, and solution. It is at the intersection of the problem and solution that ambiguity or the homiletical bind occurs.
In section two, Lowry teaches the stages of the sermon. In the Afterward, he renames these stages: conflict, complication, sudden shift, good news, and unfolding. This sequence forms the phases of the sermon’s progression and the storytelling. Each of these stages is discussed in detail.
In section three, Lowry discusses other considerations in narrative preaching. He acknowledges what most seasoned preachers already know that sermons vary according to the text and occasion. Thankfully, he discusses in greater detail the discovery of the sermon idea. I did not really “get that” in section one.
In part three, he provides twelve pointers in storytelling. These are helpful suggestions for studying the text, preparing and preaching the sermon. Lastly, instead of updating and revising his work, originally published in 1980, he adds an Afterword that further discusses lessons that he has learned since its initial publication. This was a helpful addition.
Using literature, philosophy, and psychology in addition to Scripture, Lowry produces a helpful book on narrative preaching. Simply written, yet with depth of understanding, he provides a basic guide to developing narrative sermons.
Evangelical Assessment: There are many positive observations that an evangelical may make concerning The Homiletical Plot. First, whether expositional, lectionary, or topical, his method could be utilized by evangelical preachers to communicate Scripture. While narrative preaching may work best with narrative texts of Scripture, it could be used for any style of evangelical preaching.
Second, while we probably would not agree with his exact theological definitions, we can appreciate his emphasis on the Gospel as the solution in his sermon methodology. It concerns me that he does not “spell out” what he means by the Gospel, although he may hold to a neo-orthodox view, which in many ways is close to the evangelical view.
Third, the work is theologically sensitive. Lowry says that the most fundamental issue that preachers must decide is their view of the human condition in regards to the fall, sin, and salvation. In addition, he interacts with both Liberal Protestant and Neo-Orthodox theology before providing a third alternative that incorporates aspects of both into his sermon methodology.
While not evangelical, his sermon methodology may produce fruit for evangelical preaching. In relation to postmodernism, it may provide a new vehicle of communication to reach the current generation. In using narrative preaching methodology, one does not need to compromise an evangelical understanding of Scripture or the Gospel.
Who might this book interest? Specifically, I think that this book may interest pastors who desire a renewal and refreshing of their preaching. Whether a narrative preacher or not, this work contains useful guidance for any pastor on communicating a sermon to a congregation.