Chapter 3: Inductive Movement in Preaching
For a number of reasons, a word of explanation and perhaps defense of this portion of the book needs to be offered. In the first place, this Consideration of method may appear to some as discontinuous with Part One simply because traditional seminary structures have implied “practice” stands apart from the main core of academic work. Has not everyone held the private opinion that “Practical Theology” was either not practical or it was not theology? Secondly, there is a commonly held notion that the rescue of the pulpit cannot come at the “level” of method. This implies, of course, that method is without depth, deals only with symptoms, and in general is to be classified as a skill achieved by training, not an understanding gained through education. Why embarrass the university community with courses on preaching when there is a good Toastmasters Club downtown? And finally, a sensitivity about method as such that amounts to an aesthetic reaction against this entire area of discussion is strongly represented in our culture. To ask, “How is it to be done?” seems so proletarian. so mundane, almost vulgar. Those who ask such questions would put shoes on larks, and chop the forest into firewood.
Response to these attitudes draws upon experiences which make sympathetic understanding possible. However, at the risk of being repetitious, it needs to be emphasized that the separation of method of preaching from theology of preaching is a violation, leaving not one but two orphans. Not only content of preaching but method of preaching is fundamentally a theological consideration. For example, the point of contact of the sermon with the hearers is an issue long and fruitfully debated by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner and occupying a foremost place in historical theology. Does one address himself to men dark of mind and heart or is the sermon designed to awaken man’s memory of his true destiny? The answer affects how one communicates, verbally or non-verbally. Or again, why are there often in the pulpit such affected tones and gestures? It is not a problem of hand and mouth alone; it is theological and theologically to be resolved. When the preacher comes really to believe in the incarnation, that God comes to us in the ordinary, that God’s word comes in the usual patterns of the vernacular, he will trust that God can use the local idiom. Until then he will offer up “red letter” editions of himself, a mystery to his frustrated speech teachers. Nothing has so clearly documented the inextricable relation of method and content as has the recent work on the parables by Ernst Fuchs, Amos Wilder, and Robert Funk. Rather than being distilled for their content, the parable communicates as parable, it is the method that effects the experience. The method is the message. So is it with all preaching: how one preaches is to a large extent what one preaches. Looking ahead to what is yet to be discussed, it is not just the destination but the trip that is important.
The theological issues involved in method are innumerable. How one communicates is a theological commentary on the minister’s view of the ministry, the church, the Word of God, sin, salvation, faith, works, love, and hope. And it is probably a clearer and more honest expression of his theology than is the content of his sermons.
As to the aesthetic reaction against the task of considering method, this is a pain with which the minister has to live, a pain he shares with every writer, painter, musician, or other artistic spirit. In fact, that minister who feels every sermon is in a sense a crucifixion between the sky of intention and the earth of performance is a man to be heard with profit. But this pain is not to immobilize the minister. Every artist knows that palette and brush may compromise a vision, and yet to refuse to paint is to confuse purity and sterility. But it is also a delightful discovery that, once at work, the motions, the activity of doing the job often stimulates the mind to greater vision and clearer insight than can ever be known by those who passively protect their untried ideals.
So it is that articulation is as important for the speaker as for hearers. By expressing his thought he becomes more thoughtful; by searching for words to give eyes to his listeners, he himself comes to see more clearly. Some preachers have theological terms for defining this experience, but all who share it know that speaking is such a bosom companion to thought and feeling that the separation of method from content is not only artificial but unfruitful.
One further introductory word: this essay proposes a method of preaching. While the guidelines suggested may inform a variety of sermon shapes, this in no way implies that the method discussed here is the method. In fact, forms of preaching should be as varied as the forms of rhetoric in the New Testament, or as the purposes of preaching or as the situation of those who listen. He who trumpets “Reveille” every Sunday should not be surprised that the congregation ceases to believe a new day dawns; he who sounds “Taps” every week should realize the listeners do not really believe the curtain of life has fallen.
Anyone who would preach effectively will have as his primary methodological concern the matter of movement. Does the sermon move and in what direction? Movement is of fundamental importance not simply because the speaker wants to “get somewhere” in his presentation but because the movement itself is to be an experience of the community in sharing the Word.
There are basically two directions in which thought moves: deductive and inductive. Simply stated, deductive movement is from the general truth to the particular application or experience while induction is the reverse. Homiletically, deduction means stating the thesis, breaking it down into points or sub-theses, explaining and illustrating these points, and applying them to the particular situations of the hearers. Everyone recognizes this as the movement of sermons in the main stream of traditional preaching. This movement is not native to American soil but is as old as Aristotle and to this day prevails in Europe from where it has been mediated to American seminaries and pulpits.
The assumptions which underlie the deductive movement of thought begin to appear when one looks at the form of outline upon which it hangs.
Notice that the main point is given first and then broken down into particulars. In other words, the conclusion precedes the development, a most unnatural mode of communication, unless, of course, one presupposes passive listeners who accept the right or authority of the speaker to state conclusions which he then applies to their faith and life. And this is precisely the authoritarian foundation of traditional preaching, whether that authority be lodged in the church, the Scriptures, the ordination of the clergy, or in the exclusive ability of the clergy, by virtue of their training, to handle aright the eternal truths. this relationship between speaker and hearer prevailed as long as Christendom as such prevailed, and therefore this was the movement appropriate to it. To have placed more responsibility on the listener, to have left alternatives open to him, to have permitted his response to be the conclusion, would have been to create panic, insecurity, and thus totally frustrate the flock. And, it might be added, there are quarters within the church where this would be true today. But the patterns of thought traffic have radically changed and continue to do so. Recent discussions of preaching among Roman Catholics make this abundantly clear. As early as 1949, Viktor Schurr took a position against Karl Barth saying that Barth’s view of preaching was too authoritative and did not invite the hearer to participate in the sermon. Since the Second Vatican Council, Schurr’s position has gained wider hearing. Wilhelm Weber has lamented the embarrassment and downgrading involved in the older method of deductive preaching to a world invited to a dialogue. And more recently, Bruno Dreher has called for “homiletical induction” which begins with an interpretation of human existence today and then moves to the text. 2
Look again at the skeleton structure above. There is no democracy here, no dialogue, no listening by the speaker, no contributing by the hearer. If the congregation is on the team, it is as javelin catcher. One may even detect a downward movement, a condescension of thought, in the pattern. Of course, this may or may not appear in the delivery, depending on the minister. Some sensitive and understanding preachers modify the implied authority in a variety of ways: voice quality, humor, or by an overall shepherding spirit that marks all their relationships. But even here, a critical eye may detect a soft authoritarianism in the minister’s words to those most obviously dependent upon him. Sometimes a term of affection may be a way of reducing another to a child, or a non-person status. One may recall with what devastating warmth Negro men were once called “boy” or “uncle”.
Another glance at the deductive outline reveals a very serious obstacle to movement in the sermon: how does one get from 2b to main point II? That is a gulf that can be smoothly negotiated only by the most clever. Looked at geographically, a three-point sermon on this pattern would take the congregation on three trips down hill, but who gets them to the top each time? The limp phrase, “Now in the second place” hardly has the leverage. He who has had the nerve to cast a critical eye on his old sermons has probably discovered that some sermons were three sermonettes barely glued together. There may have been movement within each point, and there may have been some general kinship among the points, but there was not one movement from beginning to end. The points were as three pegs in a board, equal in height and distance from each other.
It should be pointed out that some who preach have continued by bent of training and habit to outline their sermons as shown above, but in delivery have departed from it. The reaction against the pattern has been almost instinctive, as though such a structure violated the experience of communicating and the sense of community to be achieved. Some have even felt guilty about the departure, feeling they had ceased preaching and had begun to “talk with” their people. Lacking a clearly formed alternative, shabby habits, undisciplined and random remarks have been the result of this groping after a method more natural and appropriate to the speaker-hearer relationship that prevails today. Such casual and rambling comments that have replaced the traditional sermon can hardly be embraced as quality preaching, but the instincts prompting the maneuver are correct.
Perhaps the alternative sought is induction. In induction, thought moves from the particulars of experience that have a familiar ring in the listener’s ear to a general truth or conclusion. 3 Locke Bowman Jr., in explaining different teaching methods sketches the difference between deduction and induction in this fashion: 4
(Chart on Page 57:)
(At triangle with the base at the bottom and the apex at the top. The top represents the “General truth”, the bottom “Particular applications.” This represents “Deduction.”)
(A triangle with the base at the top and the apex at the bottom. The top, or base line, represents “Particulars of experience.” The bottom, the apex, represents “General truth or conclusion.” This represents “Induction.”)
As Bowman points out and as the reader has probably already observed, much thinking and speaking consists of these two triangles stacked to form an hour-glass: one moves inductively to a conclusion and then deductively in the applications of that conclusion. However, induction alone is here being stressed for two reasons: first, in most sermons, if there is any deduction it is in the minister’s study where he arrives at a conclusion, and that conclusion is his beginning point on Sunday morning. Why not on Sunday morning re-trace the inductive trip he took earlier and see if his hearers come to that same conclusion? It hardly seems cricket for the minister to have a week’s headstart (assuming he studied all week) , which puts him psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally so far out front that usually even his introduction is already pregnant with conclusions. It is possible for him to re-create imaginatively the movement of his own thought whereby he came to that conclusion. A second reason for stressing inductive movement in preaching is that if this is done well, one need not often make the applications of the conclusion to the lives of his hearers. If they have made the trip, then it is their conclusion and it is their conclusion and the implication for their own situations are not only clear but personally inescapable. Christian responsibilities are not therefore predicated upon the exhortations of a particular minister (who can be replaced!) but upon the intrinsic force of the hearer’s own reflection. For this reason, the inductively moving sermon is more descriptive than hortatory, more marked by the affirmative than the imperative, with the realization, of course, that the strongest of all imperatives is a clear affirmative that has been embraced. Our society hardly knows any clearer contradiction of good sense than that of a speaker, assuming a conclusion that is his by hard work or inheritance but nonetheless his alone, and on the basis of that conclusion, filling the air with “must”, “ought”, and “should”, thinking thereby to produce sincerity, kindness, love, repentance, faith, and finally enthusiasm for the next gathering for more of the same. His hearers, a group including usually his family and good friends, are torn by frustration, embarrassment, apathy, hostility, and pity. Exhausted by his own fruitless efforts, the preacher alternates between writing “Ichabod” over their heads and “Golgotha” over his own.
The inductive process is fundamental to the American way of life. There are now at least two generations who have been educated in this way from kindergarten through college. Experience figures prominently in the process, not just at the point of receiving lessons and truths to be implemented, but in the process of arriving at those truths. Because the particulars of life provide the place of beginning, there is the necessity of a ground of shared experience. Anyone who preaches deductively from an authoritative stance probably finds that shared experiences in the course of service as pastor, counselor, teacher, and friend tend to erode the image of authority. Such preachers want protecting distance, not overexposure. However, these common experiences, provided they are meaningful in nature and are reflected upon with insight and judgment, are for the inductive method essential to the preaching experience.
Fundamental to the inductive movement, therefore, are identification with the listener, and the creative use of analogy. There are no strict rules to guide the preacher in the choice of analogy from the viewpoint of logic; he will be guided by the nature of the experience he wishes to provide in the sermon as well as by the destination he has in view. Analogies not only make an idea vivid but “through analogies we integrate our experiences into our learning. Casually we solve innumerable problems in our daily living simply by comparing them to similar situations we have already experienced.” 5 The sermon enlarges and informs this experience by providing analogies drawn from the lives of others, those about us and those who belong to history. Of course, from a strictly logical viewpoint, no amount of analogy, however appropriately selected and arranged, constitutes conclusive proof in argument. This is, in the opinion of some, a fatal flaw in the inductively woven fabric, and to this matter attention will shortly be given.
It cannot be overemphasized that the immediate and concrete experiences of the people are significant ingredients in the formation and movement of the sermon and not simply the point at which final applications and exhortations are joined. Recall again the parable which lay at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. Here the whole of life is concentrated into one concrete situation. Jesus does not make a call for faith in general but in relation to a specific life situation. The subject matter is not the nature of God but the hearer’s situation in the light of God. The mundane concreteness of the parable is to be taken seriously as such as such and not as though it were the shadow of the real, an illustration of some “spiritual” realm. Everydayness constitutes the locus of man’s destiny.6 If one is not Christian here, then where? If not now, when?
A hesitation, almost a fear of concreteness runs through the history of the church to the present day. We never cease being surprised that upon the death of a saint, visiting mourners discover at his home brooms, detergents, ironing board, worn sweater, trash can, toilet tissue, a can of tuna, and utility bills. Perhaps a fear of “thingification” has produced this unwillingness to admit concrete and specific things to the credit side of the sermonic ledger. If things appear, they are often robbed of their identity by being made illustrations of some transcendent good (The apple is round, forming a circle, the symbol of eternity, and all that.) We need to listen to the psychiatrists speak of the “therapy of the bare fact”. For a person mentally ill and confused, there is healing by just coming into the presence of real objects, ordinary identifiable things.7
The plain fact of the matter is that we are seeking to communicate with people whose experiences are concrete. Everyone lives inductively, not deductively. No farmer deals with the problem of calfdom, only with the calf. The woman in the kitchen is not occupied with the culinary arts in general but with a particular roast or cake. The wood craftsman is hardly able to discuss intelligently the topic of “chairness”, but he is a master with a chair. We will speak of the sun rising and setting long after everyone knows better. The minister says “all men are mortal” and meets drowsy agreement; he announces that “Mr. Brown’s son is dying” and the church becomes the church.
Perhaps by this time the question has been raised as to the theological presupposition back of this conviction that the experiences and viewpoints of the listeners constitute a part of the experience of the Word of God in the sermon. If so, it should be said first that if the preacher is addressing the church in his sermon, he should recognize them as the people of God and realize that his message is theirs also. He speaks not only to them but for them, and seeks to activate their meanings in relation to what he is saying. And yet, increasingly the problem of unbelief is within as well as without the church and to this the minister offers not just reprimand but an honest expression of that very unbelief: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” It is always best to be honest with one’s own and another’s situation. Pretending faith or lamenting the lack of it may impress an occasional unobserving visitor, but it is pure straw to the flock.
In the second place, it is theologically basic to the inductive method that even in missionary preaching, the listener not be viewed as totally alien to God and devoid of Godwardness. This is not to forget that man is a sinner, contradicting and resisting the Word of God nor to approach every man as though he had a religious faculty to be developed.. But neither are we to forget “the light enlightening every man”, “the law written on the heart”, or the imago dei, however distorted it may be. Bultmann’s explanation of Paul’s anthropology in Romans 5 and 7 captures the both/and nature of men: he has a “memory” of his true destiny but his ability to achieve it is perverted. Because of man’s perverted self-understanding he does come into conflict with the Word of God, but a point of conflict is also a point of contact. Even a perverted relationship is a relationship; were there no relationship there would be no conflict. 8 The inductive method operates on this assumption, that man does ask the question of his own being and of his relation to Ultimate Reality. To ask a question is to imply understanding, but to ask is also to imply lack of understanding. As Gerhard Ebeling has put it, “Only a man who is already concerned with the matter in question can be claimed for it.” 9 Such is the condition of the listener: he can hear and he is to be heard.
In establishing the point that the congregation is, in inductive preaching, more than just the destination of the sermon, two matters essential to inductive movement have been stressed. First, particular concrete experiences are ingredient to the sermon, not just the introduction to solicit interest as some older theories held but throughout the sermon. On the basis of these concrete thoughts and events, by analogy and by the listener’s identification with what he hears, conclusions are reached, new perspectives are gained, decisions made. This experienced and “experienceable” material is not to be regarded simply as illustrative any more than a man’s life is to be lightly handled as an illustration of something. This is the stuff of the sermon and its reality lies in its specificity. This is biblically sound procedure. Read again the Old Testament and note its almost embarrassing specificity. So it is in the New. Paul never wrote: “To whom it may concern: Here are some views on the slavery issue.” He did write: “Dear Philemon: Let us talk about Onesimus.” The incarnation itself is the inductive method. From experiences with the man Jesus of Nazareth, conclusions about God were reached, usually after painful revision. It is regrettable that sermons about Christ have too often reversed this procedure, as though Jesus had said, “He who has seen the Father has seen me” rather than, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
The second matter thus far stressed as fundamental to induction is movement of material that respects the hearer as not only capable of but deserving the right to participate in that movement and arrive at a conclusion that is his own, not just the speaker’s. The conclusion does not come first any more than a trip starts at its destination or a story prematurely reveals its own climax, or a joke begins with the punch line. Perhaps it will not be taken as irreverent to say that the movement of a sermon is as the movement of a good story or a good joke. It may also be compared to the movement of conversation about a table. We have names for those who announce upon drawing up a chair exactly where the conversation is going and with what conclusions, just as we do for those who insult us by explaining the joke and telling it again.
It is no small advantage to this type of movement that it creates and sustains interest, and it does so by incorporating anticipation. Life that is healthy and interesting moves from expectation to fulfillment repeatedly. Of course, sermons that offer expectation without fulfillment can be as cruel as sermons that offer fulfillment without expectation are boring. Both poles are essential to life and when in healthy tension, there is joy. In fact, the greatest single source of pleasure is anticipation of fulfillment. The period between the father’s announcement of a family trip and the trip itself may be the children’s greatest happiness. All of us know there is something about the chase that is a joy apart from the catch. It is this dimension that makes Christmas. Rouse a person on a given morning and say, “It’s Christmas!” and even if it is, to him it is not. He has not anticipated it. The saddest day of Christmas, therefore, is Christmas day. Another analogy: have a meal catered, depriving the nostrils and digestive juices of the anticipation whetted by the odor from the kitchen, and the stomach will resent it. And it will let its resentment be known. Again: watch an old man peel an apple for his grandson. Forget the sanitation problems and watch the deliberate care in beginning, the slow curl of unbroken peel, the methodical removing of the core. The boy’s eyes enlarge, his saliva flows, he urges more speed, he is at the point of pouncing upon grandfather and seizing the apple. Then it is given to him, and it is the best apple in the world. Place beside that small drama a sermon that gives its conclusion, breaks it into points and applications and one senses the immensity of the preacher’s crime against the normal currents of life. The Bible always has its “already” and “not yet”. The announcement by the early Christians that the expectation of a Messiah was fulfilled went on to explain that the fulfillment was the basis for a new expectation. He has come; he will come. The absence of this expectation from a tired existentialism that absolutizes the Now made it inevitable that a theology of hope would arise to correct it. This correction is not only justified biblically; it is necessary existentially. If today’s thinking about life and about the church is time-, not space-oriented, then by all means let the sermon reflect this orientation by moving, open and expectant.
This leads us to a third and final comment about the inductive method and the role of the listener: the listener completes the sermon. This has been implied already but needs elaboration because it is on this point that much of the criticism of the inductive method is focused. Now it is customary to say that the congregation completes the sermon, but usually what this means is that the preacher has told the people what has to be done and then they are to implement it. What is here suggested, however, is that the participation of the hearer is essential not just in the post-benediction implementation, but in the completion of the thought, movement and decision-making within the sermon itself. The process calls for an incompleteness, a lack of exhaustiveness in the sermon. It requires of the preacher that he resist the temptation to tyranny of ideas rather than democratic sharing. He restrains himself, refusing to do both the speaking and listening, to give both stimulus and response, or in a more homely analogy, he does not throw the ball and catch it himself. This is most difficult to do, for any preacher full of his subject wants to possess and control only the subject but all who hear it lest it fall to the ground. He wants a guarantee that the word will not be lost between himself and his congregation. It requires a humility and a trust most of us lack to risk not having this control, to be willing to participate in sharing a matter that is bigger than speaker or hearer and which they can only explore together in wonder, humility, and gratitude. The subject that can be exhaustively handled in a sermon should never be the subject of a sermon. And yet how many sermons one hears in which the impression is given that the preacher had walked all the way around God and had taken pictures.
But the temptation to imperialism of thought and feeling can be resisted. The good artist is able to do so. A work of art does not exist totally of itself but is completed by the viewer. Nothing is more disgusting than some religious art that is so exhaustively complete, so overwhelmingly obvious, that the viewer has no room to respond. It is this room to respond that also marks a good drama. Edward Albee the playwright said in a television interview that anyone who bought a ticket to see one of his plays had to assume some of the responsibility for that play.
Let us return again to the parable. C. H. Dodd has defined a parable as
a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought. 10
The parable as such would be contradicted and destroyed by being explained and applied. The effectiveness of much of Jesus’ preaching depended not simply on the revelatory power of his parables but also upon the perceptive power of those who attended to them. “Let him who has ears hear.”
This same expectation of man’s reaching out, of man’s responding as the completion of communication characterizes the entire biblical story of God’s relation to man. 11 One could almost characterize God as reticent to be obvious, to be direct and hence to overwhelm, even when men called for some clear and indisputable evidence from heaven. Whether or not an event were divine revelation depended not alone upon the objective factors in the event but upon what one brought to that event. It was no different in the ministry of Jesus. The same occasion that moved some to confess faith in him as God’s messenger elicited from others mutterings about the untutored Nazarene. In every situation some were sure God spoke to him; others said, “It thundered.”
Those who walk away from the Word of God do so because they “will not”, but they excuse themselves saying “I can not.” The preacher is moved by this “I can not” and so begins to remove all obstacles in order to usher in faith: art, drama, and parable are fully explained, applications are complete, and exhortations are exhaustive. The poor listener, denied any room to say No is thereby denied the room to say Yes.
Thus far the attempt has been made to say that inductive movement in preaching corresponds to the way people ordinarily experience reality and to the way life’s problem-solving activity goes on naturally and casually. It has been urged that this method respects rather than insults the hearer and that it leaves him the freedom and hence the obligation to respond. In addition, unfolding or unrolling the sermon in this fashion sustains interest by means of that anticipation built into all good narration. But granted a degree of merit in each of these considerations, several objections arise which are of some weight and are deserving of attention.
First, there is the immediate and obvious objection that the method here advocated opens the door to semi-preparedness on the part of the preacher. He can offer up ideas in embryo or appear before his people with a few hastily gathered commas and question marks and smile reflectively over his inductive efforts. To the charge that this method pronounces a blessing over such lethargy there is really no solid refutation, at least no more than there is to the charge that deductive preaching provided the homiletical support for authoritarian and arrogant clericalism. If the inductive method is an umbrella under which the irresponsible and undisciplined can hide, then it must make room for itself among a beach of umbrellas, for there are in the Christian ministry many hiding places. And how are these loafers to be flushed from their secure indolence without denying to the ministry that freedom essential to a strong pulpit and creative servanthood? Perhaps it is best to admit the strength of this objection but still choose the danger over its worse alternative. After all, there is no serious endeavor that is not soon made a game in the market place.
A second objection has more teeth: is there not something fundamentally unethical about the inductive method? Those who voice this charge look upon the traditional procedure of stating the thesis and dividing it into points as straightforward, “coming right out with it”, while induction is sneaking up on the congregation and slipping in your biblical material when they are not looking. Now it has to be granted, of course, that there is no end to pulpit tricks and sneak attacks: the manufactured tear, public beating of the breast, slaying dragons on loan from the taxidermist, and thousands more. If the minister resorts to these, then he will find in the inductive method some new devices for hidden persuaders, some new tactics for “getting them in the palm of his hand”. But intrinsically, induction is no more unethical than a parable is unethical. It may shock a congregation long accustomed to packaged conclusions to find a decision on their hands, but it is never sneaky to leave a man room to choose. On the contrary, properly conceived, the inductive movement implements the doctrine of the priesthood of believers. Instead of paying lip service to this doctrine once a year on Reformation Sunday, why not incarnate it every Sunday in a method of preaching that makes it possible for the congregation to experience the awful freedom of that tenet? If, however, the preacher is only apparently leaving room for choice and conclusion but in reality has left open only one door, then that process is to be defined by another term: deception.
In light of what was said earlier about achieving higher levels of interest for the hearers, it may be felt by some that herein lies a degree of treason, a compromise of truth in order to be interesting. This Criticism assumes that being true and being interesting are mutually exclusive; if a statement is interesting it must not be true, arid vice versa. This is insupportable. If the air is filled with bland abstractions about “righteousness” and “blessedness ‘ and “redemption” because the truth must out, the sermon is certainly not interesting and stands a fair chance of not being true. What is true does not always hurt or bore one to death, nor is it always true that what a person wants and what a person needs are different commodities. One should not feel guilty or compromise with the world if a parishioner expresses genuine interest in a sermon. The most penetrating analysis of the human condition with the clearest call to repentance can be Interesting. Why? Because most of the people are not interested in ornamentation nor entertainment. They know where to go for that. They are interested in the removal of ornamentation and affectation, in order to be intersected where they live. The old patter about those who dress up on Sunday to sit in church and play the hypocrite is out of date. The reverse is more true. It is the world which six days a week demands pretension and hypocrisy that has become a burden to man. These people come on Sunday hopeful of that which is becoming increasingly interesting these days: the truth, shared in a context where the push to impress and be impressed is absent. The fact that they chose to come to the sanctuary rather than elsewhere is clue enough for the preacher that these whose steady diet is cake still have an appetite for bread.
Before concluding these remarks on the ethics of the inductive method, let it be urged again that the preacher make not only the content but the method of his sermons a matter of conscience and conviction. In a desire to permit his listeners that freedom of choice which is essential for the birth and exercise of faith, he may become guilty of equivocation It may be with the minister as with the student who, unable to remember whether a word is spelled with ie or ei, forms both letters the same, places the dot between them, and leaves the instructor the freedom of choice! On the one hand, there are inhuman forms of confusion; on the other are the diseased forms of clarity and certainty. Between them lies the path of responsible preaching.
A third objection to the inductive movement of the sermon is theological and complex in its implications. It raises the question whether this method does not make the Word of God dependent on the listener. Oversimply stated, is not the Word of God the Word of God extra nos, whether we hear it or not? Since the inductive method places so much responsibility upon the ear of the hearer, does not this imply that the Word is the Word only when it is heard?
This issue should not be dismissed casually as no more than the old debate over whether a tree falling in the forest makes a noise if there is no ear to hear it. Important matters are involved, matters that lead one through the discussion by Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann A major criticism of existentialism has been its loss of God’s proseity, God’s being and nature quite apart from and independent of our appropriation or understanding replaced by theology that speaks only of God- for- us or man -before-God. The conviction underlying existentialist theology is that there is no direct path from the human mind to God; the path is through existence. This, of course, arouses the fear that truth will be debased to arbitrary taste, and an overriding subjectivism will dismiss every item that is not viscerally authenticated. Are the long treasured notions of correct teaching and orthodox tradition to go by the board so that there can be as many “truths” heard as there are listeners in the room?
These questions are vital and should give the minister pause. The matters can in no way be settled in the brief span of these pages. A few comments may help, however, toward fruitful pursuit of a solution.
In the first place, the charge that every listener hears a different sermon is simply an unnerving fact with which we all have to live. The only way to insure purity of the message is to make it so dull there will be no hearers awake to appropriate and distort. Actually, of course, there is no pure message any more than there is a pure noise; formal and informal interpretation goes on all the time. The issue is how that interpretation is to be evaluated, positively or negatively. Is the appropriation of the Gospel foreign to and in addition to its nature or is the appropriation of it ingredient to its nature?
Certainly the Gospel does not originate with the listener any more than music begins with those who attend to it. Of course, Christ is significant extra nos, but that significance is in his disclosure of himself to us. One’s appropriation is not a distortion of the event but a part of its structure. 12 It is not a matter of saying truth is subjective but it is a matter of asking whether there is truth inseparable from its appropriation. Whatever may be a man’s theology of the Word as Truth complete and valid and final apart from all human grasp of it, the fact is, he cannot employ such theology as a working principle for preaching. If he does, he will either identify his sermons with that Truth and the messianism implicit in that identification will show itself in many alienating forms, or he will be reduced to silence out of fear of distorting or reducing the package of Truth before him. The fundamental error in this whole approach is the artificiality of the objective-subjective way of thinking. If the biblical text or the Word of God is objective and man the hearer is subjective, then obviously man is secondary, for the Word is the Word even if spoken into an empty room or into the wind. 13 But that is a contradiction of what a word is. Whether one views word as call (Buber) , event (Heidegger) , or engagement (Sartre) , at least two persons are essential to the transaction, and neither is secondary. As Manfred Mezger has pointed out, an opera may be right and valid without an audience, but a service of the Word is a call, and a call is meaningless without a hearer. It is, therefore, pointless to speak of the Gospel as Truth in and of itself; the Gospel is Truth for us. 14
The Gospel, then, is not a self-contained entity out there or back there which is narrated in its purity for ten minutes, with a final ten minutes devoted to milking lessons from it for us today. Those who hear are not just an audience; they are participants in the story. The pure Gospel has fingerprints all over it. Recall how Paul understood the cross in the light of his suffering and understood his suffering in the light of the cross. Or again, God is addressed as Father because our experience has given the word meaning, but at the same time our experience of father is informed by the understanding of God as Father. It would be ridiculous to ask which part is the Gospel and which part is application. Likewise it would be meaningless to ask if the Word is to be located at the mouth or at the ear; Word belongs to communication and communication is listening-speaking-listening. It is in the sharing that the Word has its existence, and to catch it in flight in order to ascertain which part is of the speaker and which of the hearer is impossible nonsense. Let the words be spoken and let them go, trusting God who gave not only the Word but the gift of hearing and speaking.
For revelation is antiphonal
Nor comes without response. 15
And if it be objected that this understanding of preaching not only shifts to the listener a portion of responsibility for the effectiveness of preaching but robs it of its thunder and authority, then it should be asked again what constitutes an authoritative word. Is it any word blessed with a proper text? Is it the word voted unanimously at the annual assembly, or the word of one properly ordained? Or is it the word of some prophet without credentials who rails against the institutions and feeds the iconoclast in all of us? Many canons need to be applied, but in the final analysis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was correct when he wrote:
Someone can only speak to me with authority if a word from the deepest knowledge of my humanity encounters me here and now in all my reality. Any other word is impotent. The word of the church to the world must therefore encounter the world in all its present reality from the deepest knowledge of the world, if it is to be authoritative. The church must be able to say the Word of God, the word of authority, here and now, in the most concrete way possible, from knowledge of the situation. 16
A fourth and final objection assumes the form of a practical question prompted by concern for the mission of the church: Does the inductive method of preaching effect change? Questions of strategy have to be asked by the church serious about her task in spite of the lurking dangers of utilitarianism.
This question about the inductive movement of the sermon draws its strength from two characteristics of the method: one, the inconclusive nature of inductive logic and two, the apparent permissiveness in the hearer’s being left to arrive at his own conclusions.
That induction is inconclusive from a logical point of view is clear. Doubt accompanies all induction. Its use of particular observations, analogy, and identification provide escape hatches that make uneasy those who try to negotiate life logically. Many who are more comfortable with deduction’s tightly-woven syllogisms often forget that their major premise was arrived at inductively or was taken for truth by virtue of the authority of its source. If the time comes, and it has, when men are either uninterested in those major premises of universal and general truth (i.e., “all men are unrighteous”) or they question the authority of their source (i.e., church or scripture) , then those whose mission it is to convince others must go into the marketplace prepared to reason inductively. In a pluralistic society that is increasingly secular in outlook, men no longer hang upon every word of a sermon that moves from “All men are unrighteous”, through “You are a man” to a triumphant “Therefore you are unrighteous”. Even within the church membership, one often meets questioners who want to know how the “first point” was reached, and more often one meets those who paid no attention to it.
The old sermons that roared along the second mile of universal and eternal truths without a single stop might document an interesting and in many ways great period in the life of the church. But the fact of the matter is our generation is walking the first mile of primary data, the seen and the heard, and out of this raw material sermons are built. And this raw material often cannot be forged into major and minor premises. But so what? Only in mental institutions do we find those who live syllogistically. There one finds those poor creatures who have not “lost their minds”; they have lost everything but their minds. Some have impeccable logic; it is life that is confused and confusing for them.
If it is objected, then, that induction does not drive the hearers to the wall with its incontrovertible logic, then the objection underscores a strength not a weakness of the method. If a situation is created in which the speaker and listeners are sparring, there are no winners, only losers, as hostility fills the room. The preaching experience should have as its aim the reflection upon one’s own life in a new way, a way that is provided by the Gospel. If the sermon evokes this reflection, all the while bringing it into the presence of God, judgment and promise become actual doors open to the listener. The man who attends to such a sermon concludes for himself that his present condition is not inevitable nor irrecoverable. Nothing has been decided for him, but now with an alternative, he must decide. Now conditions are such as to make faith, which by its nature involves choice, a possibility.
All that those who sow the seed should ask for is this possibility. Who desires a world for a parish which is so devoid of freedom that only success is possible? It is a child’s world where there can be light without shadow, success without failure, Yes without No. Jesus preached and many walked away. That tense moment dramatized the frightening nature of freedom, but it also laid bare the nature of the decision of the Twelve. The because of and the in spite of were both present. Jesus invited a rich ruler to become his disciple. The man struggled with the alternatives before him and said No. It is a tragic scene, but it happens sometimes in a world where God has made it possible for men to say Yes to him.
This leads us directly into the second half of the question raised about the effectiveness of inductive preaching: the issue of its permissiveness. Admittedly, the word “permission” sounds so casual, so unconcerned, that it seems to have no place in a discussion of our urgent business.
The truth of the matter, however, is exactly the contrary; permitting a decision and demanding a decision are two sides of the same coin. Permit persons to decide and they are compelled to decide. Parents know this. It is extremely difficult for parents to back off to such distance as will permit the son or daughter to make a decision. This love act is not only permission but it is a demand, a burden placed upon the young. Love also wants to protect them from the weight of this responsible freedom.
The plain fact is no one likes decisions. It is easier to relinquish one portion of one’s life to the government, one to the school system, and another to the church. In the wake of this happy maneuver come many pleasantries: not making a wrong decision, not being responsible, and last but by no means least, criticizing all those stupid people trying to run the government, the schools, and the churches. Who has not, in the agony of deciding about an invitation to another post, wished a hundred times that the offer had not come.
But beyond our own discomfort before decisions is the pain of putting others in the position of having to decide. The preacher shares this hesitation and avoids it in a number of ways. Perhaps the method most common is to preach sermons that have the response built into the material. The Yes response is built into sermons that echo popular prejudices and value systems or that tepidly announce that “Jesus was one of the great figures of history”. On the other hand, and as a relief from the Yes sermons, a No response can be woven into the material. Such messages assume in advance the congregation will reject them and therefore the people are soundly condemned for doing so. This type of preaching has been called prophetic, and it is, if one has in mind the prophet Jonah. Jonah, assuming all would say No to his sermon, started the countdown. Bitterly disappointed, he refused to celebrate life because he had announced a funeral.
Certainly a decision is permitted; of course there is risk involved. This is no harmless undertaking by any means. But to risk everything is the only way to gain everything.
1. But this is changing. Werner Jetter, Prof. of Preaching at Tübingen, has written (Wem predigen wir? Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1964, p. 46) to the effect that the preacher must treat his hearer as a mature man of the world and learn to hear his own words with their ears. Manfred Mezger, Verkundigung heute (Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1966) , writes in the same vein.
2. Bruno Dreher, Biblische Predigien. (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1968) pp. 97ff.
3. Dwight E. Stevenson, In the Biblical Preacher’s Workshop. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967. pp. 200-201) distinguishes deductive and inductive by whether the text comes first or last. By induction I mean the entire movement of the sermon including use of the text which may be approached early in the sermon.
4. Op. cit., pp. 33ff.
5. Elton Abernathy, The Advocate. (New York: David McKay Co., 1964) p. 64.
6. Funk, op. cit., pp. 69-70, 156.
7. W. F. Lynch, Images of Hope. (New York: The New American Library, 1965) p. 169.
8. R. Bultmann, ‘Points of Contact and Conflict” Essays: Philosophical and Theological. trans. James Grieg. (New York: MacMillan Co., 1955) pp. 133-150. An excellent discussion of this problem is to be found in James E. Sellers, The Outsider and the Word of God. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961)
9. Word and Faith, p. 320.
10. The Parables of the Kingdom (London: Fontana Books, and New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1961) , p. 5.
11. Erik Routley, Into A Far Country. (London: Independent Press, 1962). pp. 20ff.
12. Carl Michalson, “Theology as Ontology and as History. New Frontiers in Theology. eds. Robinson and Cobb. (New York: Harpers, 1963) Vol. I, pp. 143-151.
13. Gustaf Wingren, Die Predigt, 2nd ed. (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1959) pp. 31-32.
14. Op. cit., p. 38.
15. Nathaniel Micklem, The Labyrinth Revisited. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1960) p. 31.
16. No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes 1928-36, ed. from The Collected Works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Vol. I, by Edwin H. Robertson, trans. Edwin H. Robertson and John Bowden (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) , pp. 161-162.