Review: The Homiletical Plot, by Eugene Lowry

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Eugene Lowry’s work sits under the broad umbrella of the New Homiletic. His work overlaps considerably with Fred Craddock. Other New Homiletic writers have been criticized for writing well, but failing to provide a clear model of what they are suggesting. This charge cannot be leveled at Lowry. The Homiletic Plot was first released in 1980, then re-released twenty-one years later. The text of the book remains unchanged, with the only significant change being an additional afterword. This addition is very helpful, clarifying elements of the book and providing an overview of the New Homiletic field.

The Homiletical Plot provides a plotline for narrative sermons which suggests the preacher might typically move through five discernible stages in a narrative sermon. Don’t confuse narrative preaching with preaching on narrative texts. The former is an organic approach to preaching that develops sermons using temporal sequencing to develop a sermonic experience, the latter could take any form, but uses a biblical story as its text. In fact, a biblical narrative contains features of plot already, so the resulting sermon might vary from the “Lowry Loop” more than non-narrative texts. However, it is important to note that Lowry is not suggesting the forcing of any text into his 5-stage loop.

Whether or not you have read much from New Homiletic writers, Lowry is well worth reading. It is relatively short (131pp) yet has many strengths. He presents a good case for thinking of sermons as horizontal rather than vertical, an event in time rather than space, progressing rather than static, organically developed rather than constructed. The opening stage of upsetting the equilibrium should be required reading for every preacher. The notion of complications and plumbing the depths of the real issues in life is very thought provoking, whether or not you agree with Lowry’s theology (which he does not push on the reader). The notion of a sudden shift is surely a powerful concept and I appreciated the positive approach to concluding the sermon.

There are three weaknesses worth noting. Even with all the explanation and helpful diagrams, the reader is still left wondering what this actually looks like in a sermon. The danger of example sermons in an appendix is that they will turn off some readers and narrow the potential readership. However, the problem of no sample sermon is that the reader is left pondering exactly how Lowry might “plumb the depths” or perform the sudden shift.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the book for those of us committed to expository preaching relates to explaining the biblical text. Lowry states that he would typically spend more time on stage 2 (analyzing the discrepancy) than the other stages put together. Does this pursuit of deeper issues in the listener leave enough time to actually explain the text itself?

The final concern relates to the “Gospel” that permeates the model. Lowry continually refers to “experiencing the gospel” (stage 4), but which gospel? At times it feels like nothing more than the good news that God has turned things upside down in Jesus. This book will appeal to a broad spectrum of Christendom, and deliberately so, but some of us may feel the need to translate some of its teaching into our paradigm.

On one hand the book is highly refreshing and challenging – it certainly contains much for us to learn. On the other hand it highlights the dividing line between New Homiletic and those of us who would hold back from being counted in that camp. If it is possible to reduce the notion of a sermon to its minimum required features, then perhaps two broad camps can become more clear. The expository preaching camp might be satisfied with Sunukjian’s trio of bare essentials: A Bible text explained + the Big Idea + Relevance = a sermon. The reader of Lowry is left with a different trio: A “Gospel” image derived a Bible text + Plot + Relevance = a sermon.

This book would benefit all of us as preachers. Some aspects of it may not fully satisfy all of us. But it gives us all plenty to think about!

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6 thoughts on “Review: The Homiletical Plot, by Eugene Lowry

  1. Peter,

    I love your book reviews. I have read Lowry, but am going to re-skim it and apply the principles to 1 Chron. 10.

    I appreciate your blog. You have tapped in to a great need. I’m still turning preachers on to your blog.

    Alan

  2. Peter, I have read Lowry’s sermon on Matthew 18:21-35, the Parable of the two debtors. I found it fascinating and wish I could prepare a sermon like that. I too have found his explanations and outline hard to understand, but I have difficulty with all five. I think it would be a dream come to true to spend a semester with Lowry, Craddock, Long, or Robinson to learn from them directly. Preacher dreams!

    Have you read Campbell’s book Preaching Jesus where he discusses the theological differences involved in what he terms the new homiletic? If so, what did you think about his book and thesis?

    • Bob:

      Where can I find a copy of Lowry’s sermon on Mt. 18:21-35? I’ve enjoyed reading and trying to apply his “Lowry Loop,” but would love to see how Lowry himself does it.

      Charles

  3. I have an assignment to be submitted in the next two weeks ;the question is what is the old testament concept of the follwing ;salvation and homiletics. I hope you will give answers to it .

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