The Sermon as Narrative Art Form
Eugene L Lowry
Except for the addition of a "Foreword" by Fred Craddock and an "Afterword" by the author himself, this volume is identical to the 1980 release of the book. Which is fair enough -- it was a ground-breaking work and remains a valuable alternative view of the sermon.
Lowry's argument is that instead of viewing a sermon as a bullet chart with three main points filled out with subpoints and illustrations, it is possible to construct sermons with plots. This is not to say that the whole thing becomes a story, but rather that the non-fictional prose takes on a similar shape to a story or a play, displaying the vital elements of continuity and movement. In fact, Lowry goes so far to suggest that all sermons that "work" will display some of these elements, even if their writers are unconscious of having included them.
A good sermon, then, for Lowry, starts off with some ambiguity or problem to be solved. It then continues with an analysis of this problem. There is then a turning point in which the sermon presents a clue to resolution -- something that invites a shift or reversal of perspective. This does not solve the ambiguity or problem, but it makes resolution possible. What remains for the sermon to do is to follow that through, picking up the key and applying it to the "lock", and then finally describing and corroborating the solution, perhaps by mapping the new territory opened up, or working out the consequences in some other way.
Much of the book is written at the "professional" sort of level, but the central thesis is simple enough for anyone to understand and benefit from. There are sentences as baffling as any professor ever uttered, but Lowry also provides simple diagrams and even shares with us his students' abbreviations for the 5 stages: 1. Oops; 2. Ugh; 3. Aha; 4. Whee; and 5. Yeah!
Everyone who speaks in public will benefit from this slim volume, either in finding reassuring validation from hearing a model described which they've unconsciously been following without really understanding or because they'll find food for thought in changing their approach. Even with the addition of an Afterword, this is not the final word in preaching, but provides a healthy counterpoint.
Conrad Gempf, January 2002
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.Westminster John Knox Press | Order from www.christianbookshops.org