Previously in Part 1, we discussed preaching narratives with variety by using the three deductive sermons with either the demand, declaration, or question proposition. In this post, we will consider six inductive narrative styles and the also the inductive/deductive narrative style to add variety to your narrative preaching.
First, the two categories of inductive preaching will be briefly discussed.
The first inductive sermon form is similar to life-situation preaching and contemporary problem-biblical solution preaching. It starts with life’s problem and moves toward the biblical solution. Ralph and Gregg Lewis advocate and define inductive preaching. “Induction begins with the particulars of life experience and points toward principles, concepts, conclusions. The inductive course can grow out of the hearer’s needs rather than the uncertainty of the preacher.” Chapell issues a warning concerning this kind of inductive preaching.
“Because the inductive process emphasizes matters not directly off the pages of Scripture, it raises suspicions . . . it is weak on exposition of the Bible. The sermon revolves around the life situation, and whatever is said about the Scriptures is often incidental to the message rather than its central core.” Chapell’s concern is well founded. The two examples of this kind of inductive sermons in Lewis’s book,
Inductive Preaching, are over ninety percent anecdotes, facts, and examples from history. This kind of inductive sermon is not included with the others types of narrative sermons in this post.
The second kind of inductive sermon also starts with a problem and is called The Biblical problem/Biblical solution Narrative sermon. This is the inductive narrative sermon advocated in this post. The problem is presented in the narrative text and the solution is also found in the Biblical story. This kind of inductive preaching reflects the problem/solution characteristic of biblical narratives. David Duel advocates this approach, “If the preacher’s goal is to be expositional, what is more expositional than preaching the text in its story-line form.”
Inductive sermons can be preached with two emphases: Direct and Indirect Application. There is a debate whether narrative sermons should be preached inductively and open endedly as narratives are written in Scripture and let the audience make its own application or if the narrative must always be directly applied. Richard A. Jensen supports the position that narrative sermons need not always be directly applied based on the parabolic preaching of Jesus, “The story is the preaching itself. That is my translation into the art of homiletics of Bornkamm’s dictum regarding the parables of Jesus: ‘the parables are the preaching itself.’ I am convinced that preaching can be ‘parabolic’ in just that sense. Preaching in story form can be revelatory in and through the medium of the story. It need not point somewhere else.” It is true that some of the parables Jesus preached were self explanatory as the parable of the lost sheep, coin, and son in Luke 15. Jesus told this story with no direct application to his pharisaic audience because the application was so apparent. They were the self-righteous elder brother. The three story sermons that Jensen provides as examples in his book are inductive sermons that find the problem in the life situation and the solution is the Bible. They are weak in the Bible content. It is possible for this indirect application method to be used occasionally when a Bible narrative is preached as in first person sermons. But most of time narrative sermons will be directly applied by the preacher to varying degrees as the preaching occasion demands.
Six Inductive Narrative Sermons
1. The Biblical problem/Biblical solution narrative sermon. This kind of sermon simply follows the crises/resolution pattern of a biblical narrative. Steven D. Mathewson provides an example of this kind of direct application sermon. This is the first of three options in his homiletic guidelines.
“Option One: Develop theological points that are developed from the ‘crisis’ and ‘resolution’ elements of the plot . . . . A sermon on Exodus 5:1-6:13 can relate the crisis in chapter 5 and the resolution in 6:1-13. Moses’ plea to Pharaoh for the release of God’s people resulted in harsher work conditions. The raw materials were reduced while the production quota was increased. The Israelites then turned on Moses, and Moses turned on God. The story is resolved by God’s promise in 6:1-13.” The preacher’s first point could actually state the problem and the resolution in the second point.
2. The Narrative/Applications narrative sermon. Mathewson describes this sermon in his second option for preaching narrative passages. “Option Two: Retell the story in a series of ‘moves’ that lead to the big idea. This tactic is more subtle. Its effectiveness depends on an expositor’s storytelling skill. Instead of proceeding from ‘point one’ to ‘point two,’ the sermon unfolds in a series of what Buttrick call ‘moves.’ In a sermon on a narrative passage the various ‘moves’ will consist of scenes in the story, as well as an eventual discussion of the narrative’s central idea.” First, the preacher tells the narrative scene by scene following the crisis/solution pattern of the narrative.
Once the story is told, then the preacher presents the applications at the end. This differentiates the Narrative/Applications sermon from the Biblical problem/Biblical solution sermon where the applications are spread throughout the sermon. Swindoll’s article, The Shadow of the Giant, on David and Goliath takes this approach. After telling the old, old story in the modern garb of contemporary language, he draws “two timeless truths” at the end of the story. The two applications are: “Prevailing over giants isn’t accomplished by using their technique” and “Conquering giants isn’t accomplished without great skill and discipline.”
3. The Hidden Outline narrative sermon. This narrative sermon also plots the story line of crisis/resolution making applications through out the sermon but the outline is not emphasized as in the Biblical problem/Biblical solution sermon. The outline like a skeleton is present but not observable. James Rose preaches a narrative sermon entitled, The Big Valley and conceals his outline from the audience and thus, does not distract from the story of David and Goliath in 1st Samuel 17. His first point is mentioned in the flow of the story sermon but not identified as point one. “Giants are overwhelming to those who look at life from that level.” That point is developed with sub-points, again not stressed, and applications. The second point is even more camouflaged. “Those of us who see life from God’s level, like David, are ignited into action by the giants that block the path of God.” The second point is developed with unrecognizable sub-points and applications.
While it is true that Jesus preached some parables with no applications, at other times, he did make applications or one application at the end. When Jesus told the parable of the rich fool, he made one application in His conclusion in Lk.12:21, “So is he that lay up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” With the next two narrative sermons only one application will be made at the end of the sermon. This will vary the approach from the Narrative/Applications sermon which has multiple applications presented at the end of the story.
4. The Pure narrative. The Pure Narrative is defined and advocated by John C. Holbert. “A pure narrative sermon is just that: a narrative. In other words, a pure narrative sermon is a story — no more and no less. The story may be embellished in its detail and dressed up in its execution, but it is still only a story. Pure simply means that the story is in no sense explained to the hearer, or commented on, outside the bounds of the narrative. In such a sermon, no introduction or conclusion outside of the story is used. The story’s introduction is the sermon’s introductions; the story’s conclusion is the sermon’s conclusion.” Once in a while for variety sake, an open-ended, i.e. a sermon with no explanation, can be preached. The argument against the pure narrative sermon is that the listeners will not make the correct application. Holbert justifies the open-ended sermon. “Finally, open-endedness in preaching provides openings for the unique work of the Holy Spirit.” Holbert, in his book, Preaching Old Testament, provides an example of the pure narrative sermon entitled, The Best Laugh of All, with helpful comments interspersed through out the sermon. My modified version advocated in this post would have one application at the end. The one application is the big idea or the proposition. So the proposition would be stated with applications made in several different areas of life.
5. The Frame narrative. The Frame Narrative is much like the Pure Narrative with an introduction and a conclusion. The usual materials for an introduction can be used and in the conclusion, the preacher “focuses the narrative for the congregation.” Holbert also provides an example of a frame narrative entitled The Moabite Widow with a running commentary to explain how to preach frame narratives. Like the Pure Narrative there is one application at the end.
6. The First-Person narrative. The First-Person narrative is in a category all by itself. In contrast to third-person sermons, where the preacher tells the narrative as an observer from without the story, first-person sermons tell the story in character from within the narrative. The book of Nehemiah is a narrative book told in first-person by the cup bearer. Haddon Robinson defends the first-person sermon. “One reason that expository sermons sometimes seem as out-of-date as running boards on automobiles is that they never change form. Preachers assume that sermons take only one shape and that no matter what genre the biblical writers use, the preacher must refashion it as a sermon.” The first-person sermon is an opportunity for the preacher to throw away the homiletical cookie cutter.
There are two excellent examples of dramatic monologue in Robinson’s Biblical Sermons. One first-person sermon is by George Kenworthy entitled, For “Wait” Watchers Only from Luke 1:5-25. The other first-person sermon is by Donald Sunukjian on the book of Esther. The story of God’s providence in the life of Esther and other Jews in Persia is told in first-person monologue from the vantage point of Harbona, the private secretary to King Xerxes. Another example of a first-person sermon is preached by Paul Borden in expositapes (tape number 2290). Paul Borden tells Paul’s autobiography in 2nd Cor. 11.
One Inductive/Deductive Narrative Sermon
Steven Mathewson offers the inductive/deductive sermon as a third kind of narrative sermon in his homiletic guidelines. He describes it as “Option Three: Retell the story in a series of ‘moves’ that lead to the big idea and then return to the story to explore the big idea at length. This represents a combination of the previous two approaches. It is semi-inductive because the big idea emerges in the middle of the sermon. So, while the first half proceeds inductively to the big idea, the second half proceeds deductively and develops the idea.”
James Rose in his sermon The Big Valley uses the inductive/deductive method. His first major point presents the problem.
“I. Giants threaten those of us who look at life from the ground level (1 Sam. 17:1-25).” After moving inductively from this point, the big idea is stated in his second point which is deductively developed.
“II. Giants ignite those of us who look at life from a ‘God-level’ perspective (1 Sam.17:26-58).”
We have discussed and illustrated ten narrative sermons with variety: Three deductive narratives (Demand, Declarative, and Question proposition), six inductive narratives ( The Biblical problem/Biblical solution, Narrative/Applications, Hidden Outline, Pure Narrative, Frame Narrative, and First-Person Narrative), and one inductive/deductive narrative sermon.
Not only is variety the spice of life but of preaching. These ten different styles can rob our sermons of predictability and make coming to church a new adventure for our listeners.
Lewis, Ralph L. and Gregg Lewis. Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen. (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1983), 32.
Chapell, Bryon. Using Illustrations to Preach with Power. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 26,27, 30.
David C. Duel, “Expository Preaching From Old Testament Narrative.” In Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. John MacArthur, 275. Dallas: Word, 1992.
Jensen, Richard A. Telling the Story: Variety and Imagination in Preaching. (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980), 134.
Mathewson, Steven D. “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives,” Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no.616 (October-December 1997) : 410-35.
Ibid., 427, 428.
Swindoll, Charles R. Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns. (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1978), 14.
Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Sermons. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 54, 57.
Holbert, John C. Preaching Old Testament: Proclamation and Narrative in the Hebrew Bible. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 42,43.
 Robinson, Biblical Sermons, 143.
Mathewson, Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives, 429.
Robinson, Biblical Sermons, 62.