More Than Meets The Eye

A review of the book “The Homiletical Plot” written by Eugene L. Lowery

With 66 books in the Bible and preachers with personalities as unique as the human fingerprint, it’s hard to imagine sermons that sound the same. And yet the problem is put on display from pulpits everywhere, each weekend, for all to see. Week after week in church after church listeners are exposed to the same stories being told in much the same way. While the content of scripture is hardly up for debate (the Prodigal Son always comes home to his father), the similar conclusions, applications and even illustrations beg the question “Can we look at this another way?”

According to Eugene L. Lowry’s book “The Homiletical Plot” the answer to the question is “yes”. Lowry, a pastor and professor of preaching, seeks to change our perspective when it comes to preaching. Preachers are traditionally trained to think of sermons as “homiletic structures” that need” to be constructed. Information from the text forms the foundation while pieces of illustration and insight are added along the way. Once the preacher has all the pieces that fit, the sermon is assembled and considered complete. Lowry believes that this image of the sermon as a structure can lead to disconnected thoughts that are clumsily presented and easily forgotten. Instead, Lowry believes the sermon should be viewed as a story to be told. If scripture is the story of redemption and the purpose of the sermon is to effectively tell that story, then the creativity and drama naturally involved in storytelling will inevitably guide both the process of preparation and the experience of preaching.

For Lowry, the sermon is a story to be told and the details of the story should drive the presentation, not the other way around. The preacher is part journalist and part novelist, searching for anything that will describe the world in which the characters lived, explain the motivation behind their actions, and help the listener to relate to them as flawed human beings who deal with similar issues while living in very different times. It is this pursuit of relatability and use of creativity and forms the basis for Lowry’s imagery of the sermon as a narrative plot with twist and turns and lead the listener down unique yet familiar paths towards conclusions they discover on their own.

Lowry’s book is a well-written, helpful, and simple introduction to the concept of the sermon as a narrative plot. For any preacher who is interested in not only “upsetting the equilibrium” of the text they are considering but also upsetting the monotony of the sermon they are presenting by asking unique questions and looking at the Biblical account from different points of view, this classic work on the art of preaching is a definite must-read.

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