How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons
Eugene L. Lowry
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Quick Summary: This short, helpful book provides many insights from a seasoned scholar and preacher into Narrative Preaching. In my previous reviews (The Homiletical Plot; Living with the Lectionary), I mentioned that 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.
In introducing his work, Lowry acknowledges two concerns: preachers tend to “shy away from” parables and believe that normal preachers cannot preach narrative sermons. The exact opposite of these is actually true (13). Section one covers the steps to narrative sermon formation such as: listening to the text, determining the focus of the text, finding the sermons “turn,” and deciding the sermon’s basic aim. He summarizes by saying, “Three major moments, then, or three major preparation tasks are fundamental to a sermon: focus, turn, and aim” (35). I guess that “fire” could be the final one? He also introduces the four basic sermon forms: running the story, delaying the story, suspending the story, and alternating the story.
In section two, Lowry uses actual sermons by Dennis M. Willis, Leander Keck, himself, and Fred Craddock to illustrate the four types of sermon forms. After each sermon, he gives a running commentary, and an analysis of the narrative capabilities, techniques, and norms. I found it enlightening to read aloud, as Lowry suggests, the sermons. This helps the reader to experience the sermons. His commentary and analysis provide a different, more experienced pair of ears with which to hear and understand the sermon. He explains the movement of the sermon and helps the reader to see with greater depth into them.
Evangelical Assessment: Lowry’s theology is not evangelical. This is the third book of Lowry’s that I have read, and it is doubtful that he affirms the supreme authority of Scripture, human sinfulness, or the need for evangelism in the evangelical sense. So, I do not recommend his theology, but I find it difficult not to recommend his preaching form. There are many useful suggestions here that, without much imagination, may be utilized in evangelical preaching.
Most evangelical preaching is rhetorical whether it is expositional or topical. It argues a case. While I think that this is still an effective form of preaching, it need not be the only form of preaching that is faithful to the Scriptures. Narrative preaching is a story based form, and since much of Scripture is written in story form, narrative preaching makes better use of Scripture in preaching. It utilizes what is already there.
I appreciate Lowry’s desire to listen to the text. He warns against quickly going to commentaries and other helps (31-32). Allow God to speak to you through the Scriptures. While Lowry may not mean all that an evangelical might mean with this statement, he still recognizes the value of the preacher coming humbly to the text first. Also, he points out that narrative preaching can be an effective form to preach about controversial issues without raising the defenses of those who disagree (134).
Who might this book interest? This book provides a needed compliment to the Homiletical Plot. While the Homiletical Plot provides a methodology for Narrative Sermons, this work adds sermonic examples and various forms. I think that this book would interest pastors, who desire to further their communication skills and experiment with a different form of preaching. Narrative preaching could provide pastoral refreshment and congregational renewal for those pastors who have served for several years in their current context.