Lowry Preaches Plot; Reveals Gospel

Plot_12122013Eugene L. Lowry. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Orig pub 1980). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In Greek, John’s Gospel begins: Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1 BNT). The English translation reads: in the beginning was the word. By contrast, Spanish follows the Vulgate and translates λόγος, not as a noun, but as a verb: in the beginning was the verb. This translation is generally interesting because Hebrew is a verb-based language which makes it easier to tell a story.  It is specifically interesting because Jerome observes John’s choice of Εν ἀρχῇ mirrors Genesis 1:1 reminding his reader of the creation account.  Creative work requires creative words–action verbs, not passive nouns.

In The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry likewise sees a sermon as a narrative event rather than as a content transmittal (12, 90-91). The narrative event discovers content and meaning rather than merely reporting it. Lowry explains: the sermon is a bridging event in time, moving from itch to scratch, from issue to answer, from conflict to resolution, from ambiguity to closure born of the gospel (118).  Motion, not information, drives the sermon.

For Lowry, the sermon does not so much tell a story as adopt a narrative structure. He outlines this structure in five moves: (1) upsetting the equilibrium, (2) analyzing the discrepancy, (3) disclosing the clue to resolution, (4) experiencing the gospel, and (5) anticipating the consequences (26). Lowry’s craft is displayed in how well he unpacks these five moves.

In the first move of the sermon, for example, the preacher upsets the equilibrium by introducing dramatic tension, conflict, or ambiguity. Lowry’s illustrates this move with the dilemma presented in the film High Noon (1952). In the film, tension arises as the marshal has promised his pacifist fiancée to retire only to discover that a band of desperados just released from prison have vowed to take revenge on his town.  Here is the dilemma:  if the marshal retires with his fiancée, he is a coward; if he stays, he breaks his promise (57).  The backstory on the film is that only a decade earlier a pacifist America had sat on the sidelines in the early stages of World War II.  Just like the film helped Americans relive their dilemma, Lowry’s sermon strives to help the congregation feel the tension.

Eugene Lowry is the William K. McEvaney Emeritus Professor of Preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology of Kansas City. This printing commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Homiletical Plot. The forward is written by Fred Craddock, another well-known homiletics professor and author. The book itself divides into three sections—the sermon as narrative, the stages of the homiletical plot, and other considerations. These sections are preceded by an introduction and followed by an afterword which reflects on how things might have changed over preceding 20 years.

Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot is a short book and a good read. Why is an average Christian interested in reading a preaching (homiletics) text?  Because the Word of God is meant to be read out loud, the gospel itself lies within the ambiguity and tension of the narrative event.  That makes homiletics a key to biblical interpretation. Consequently, Lowry’s book is more than just another preaching text and is worthy of careful reading.

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.

[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.


How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. What is “in the beginning” alluding to? (Hint Genesis 1:1)
  2. Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the vision?  What is special about the process of hearing? (v 1) (Hint:  how many people are involved in hearing versus seeing?)
  3. How many descriptions of Christ can you count in this chapter? Which is most meaningful to you?  Why?
  4. What is meant by the references to light and darkness? (vv 4,5 8,9) What is meant in Genesis 1:3-5)?
  5. Who are God’s children? (vv 12-13)
  6. Who is John and why did he come? What was his mission? (vv 6-7, 15-36)
  7. Which of John’s disciples went to follow Jesus?Why do we care?  (vv 35-37, 40)
  8. What was special about Andrew and why do we remember him? (vv 40-42)
  9. What is strange about how Nathaniel came to Christ? (vv 46-48)

JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

Also see:

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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