Christian Books

Friday, September 30, 2011

Doing Time in the Pulpit by Eugene L. Lowry

Who might this book interest? This book would most likely interest the preacher who already has a basic knowledge of Narrative Preaching and desires to deepen their understanding of it. In addition, it may interest those who are skeptical of Narrative Preaching by providing the philosophical rationale to consider it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Quick Summary: Doing Time in the Pulpit is the fourth book by Eugene L. Lowry that I have reviewed. My other reviews can be found here on the Christian Book Revue.

In my previous reviews (The Homiletical Plot, How to Preach a Parable, and 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.

This work is about time in the pulpit: preaching. It is a verb, not a noun; an action. From the Introduction, Lowry says, “The phrase ‘Doing TIME in the Pulpit’ refers not to a jail sentence, although preachers may wonder from time to time! The phrase refers to the connection between time and the sermon” (7). What is a sermon? He states, “A sermon is an ordered form of moving time” (8).

From chapter 1, what are we ordering? Lowry says that instead of ordering ideas, timeless truths, we are ordering experience (13). He then proceeds to differentiate between the ordering ideas and experience.

Chapter 2 extends Lowry’s discussion of time by distinguishing the various types of time: chronos time, inner time, kairos time, God’s time, story time, and narrative time. Narrative preaching incorporates all the various types of time as they interact in the ordering of experience.

Chapter 3 focuses on story time. Story time deals with setting, characters, action, plot, and tone. While he speaks of his interview with the novelist and preacher, Frederick Buechner, in previous chapters, he utilizes that interview more in this chapter than in the others. I found his discussion of suspense and ambiguity helpful in extending Lowry’s previous work (52-58). In contrast, his discussion of action results in a discussing plot, but never really explaining action (49-52).

Chapter 4 discusses narrative time. Narrative time is the time that it takes to deliver the sermon. It brings together all of the various types of time into itself in that twenty or so minutes. He also expands his discussion of ambiguity. For him, ambiguity is the key to narrative preaching (66). As the sermon moves from disequilibrium to resolution, ambiguity provides the fuel that keeps it moving (69-74).

Chapter 5 speaks of the Bible in relation to time. As Lowry comments, Scripture is more narrative, non-propositional than propositional. He says that it is more like looking at a painting than reading a book (or book review). Narrative, Scripture and hopefully preaching, engages and examines us at the depths of our being (83). From the universal human experience, it reaches deep into our own specific experience of life (90). It has great potential transformational moments.

Chapter 6 finishes by helping preachers to become creative and practice behaviors which will increase creativity in their sermon preparation. He first deals with those who would object that they could not do Narrative Preaching because they are not creative enough and suggest ways to turn on one’s creativity.

Evangelical Assessment: While theologically I probably would not agree with Lowry, nor he with me on many issues, I have developed a real appreciation for his work. As I continue to experience a theological evolution of my own, Lowry has provided a homiletical method which compliments that development. His work has served to instruct and revitalize my own desire to preach in a manner consistent with my philosophy and theology. I find that he has tapped into the many areas that I have felt intuitively but had no words for those brief, fleeting notions.

Lowry refers to various theological issues throughout this work. He says, “Even in our preaching, salvation by works is dominant – although camouflaged beautifully by most of us” (72). As Protestants, especially Evangelical Protestants, we claim that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), but how does our preaching reflect our theology? Are we really preaching do-it-better-ourselves theology? We are saved by grace, but then do we switch to works-righteousness? Grace makes the difference! The Gospel changes everything! I appreciate this about Lowry’s theology and preaching method.

Lowry challenges me with another idea that I cannot deny, but I am not sure how to incorporate. Scripture is primarily narrative, not propositional, yet in my circles, the narrative nature of Scripture has been largely ignored and is just now beginning to be recognized in any sort of tangible way. This is not to say that there are not propositional statements in Scripture. There are. Part of my hesitation is that I do believe that Scripture is inspired and inerrant and is an exclusive story or revelation. So, our study and preaching incorporates both objective and subjective aspects. Sometimes, Lowry’s focus on the intuitive, subjective downplays the proposition and objective.

One thing, that we cannot honestly ignore, is the narrative nature of Scripture, nor can we ignore the fact that Jesus used narratives in his preaching. Drawing on these and the narrative arts, Lowry helps us to preach the Gospel of grace in a potentially powerful way, which brings it to life. While I am not arguing that Narrative Preaching is the only valid method of preaching, it is a valid method for preaching.
Lowry, Eugene. Website:

Lowry, Eugene. The Homiletical Plot: the Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

Lowry, Eugene. How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989).

Lowry, Eugene. Living with the Lectionary: Preaching through the Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992).

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