“All things necessary for our faith and life are either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture…” – The Westminster Confession

Logic as the science of necessary inference is ignored by communicators at great peril. Logic is an integral part of reality. Aristotle after all did not invent the law of contradiction. A true paradox is not actually a formal contradiction. Even in non-western thought where logic is more aesthetic and artistic, a modicum of non-contradiction is necessary if there is to be significant interchange.

Both deductive and inductive reasoning are quite essential for full human expression. Deduction is “reasoning from the general to the particular or from the universal to the particular or individual.” Induction is “reasoning from from particulars to the general, or from the individual to the universal” (Webster). From the days of Francis Bacon and through the Enlightenment there has been a great emphasis on the examination of things themselves. This is the burden of the scientific method. Using only deduction ignores experience. Using only induction leads to massive data without discerning patterns and relationships. Good science utilizes both deduction and induction. I will argue that good preaching also uses both.

The ascendence of induction

With the pervasiveness of Enlightenment rationalism and modern science, it is little wonder that induction has become the preference of our culture. Induction is important in the apologetic task of the Christian. Careful inductive observation of reality cannot yield absolute certainty, only degrees of probability. Still a high degree of probability can be most persuasive. In seeking to give a reason for my belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ, I cannot “prove” that Jesus rose from the grave bodily, but I can present empirical data from the gospels, church history and Christian theology which make a credible case, indeed a convincing case. In such communication I must settle for high probability.

Still an important step in arguing for the plenary inspiration of the Scripture is what is called a primary induction. I do not argue a priori from the holy nature of God to the perfection of the Bible. After all, God made the earth and it was “good” but look at it now. Still I must in a primary induction examine the Bible’s self-testimony as to what kind of a book it is and then consider whether I believe Christ and the apostles are reliable teachers of doctrine (Warfield). Such a primary induction is not to argue in a circle but is the only way to break into any system of ideas.

Induction is anthropocentric. Hence we must view with uneasiness those who urge that the preaching of Jesus was altogether inductive (Ralph Lewis) or that our preaching today should be primarily inductive (Fred Craddock). Such fits the modern mood but can it do justice to the Bible?

The assault on deduction

The reason modern thinkers have a problem with deduction is that the major premise in a syllogism is a universal and that universal may be false. Obviously uneasy with “the constraints of universals,” many modern thinkers believe “we cannot wait for the assurance of pending universals” (Walter Brueggemann). In deduction the conclusion is a necessary consequence of the premises and necessity is odious to autonomous man. Descartes started the assault in holding that systematic doubt can only properly reason from self-evident premises. Many leading thinkers have mounted the attack (Toulmin, Hamblin, Habermas) and too many preachers now feel uneasy with deduction. The conclusion in deduction contains no information not present in the premises and this creates a kind of disquietude among those whose relativism has nullified the very idea of truth.

But what about the believer’s theistic a priori? Isn’t Biblical preaching an argument from the revealed universals of Scripture? Isn’t this all a part of the supernatural scandal of Biblical faith? Isn’t any sermon which assumes Biblical authority esssentially deductive as soon as the inspired text is read? Isn’t God the guarantee of the truth of the premises? How can convinced theists look askance at deductive patterns? We will use induction particularly in our introductions as we begin where the people are. “Taste of the Lord and see that he is good” is basically inductive. Our truth systems need to be both vertically consistent and horizontally fitting the facts (E.J. Carnell). Thus effective preaching is a wise blend of both deduction and induction. The preaching of Biblical narratives is inductive and this explains why narrative preaching cannot yield doctrinal principles but only illustrate them. Without the universals there really cannot be strong application. Authoritative application is deductive.

An advisory on pulpit communication today

Voices among us continue to urge the preferability of induction even though some homileticians of the left express a caution (William H. Shepherd, Jr.’s “A Second Look at Inductive Preaching” in Christian Century, September 19, 1990). If we suppose that inductive patterns guarantee rapport with the contemporary mood, we need to face the fact that induction is also most uncongenial to the postmodern. Deduction may be most unacceptably suspect, but induction does not escape radical doubt because the study of history does not yield “facts” but only interpretations of which no one is superior to another. History is actually fiction. Historical context is not in fact external to the work considered.

For the postmodern, “no discourse imaginative or archival, gives access to unchanging truths or expresses human nature” (Aram Vesser). We can know nothing of “universal predicaments” because “there are no unchanging truths” (Keith Windschuttle in The Killing of History). Not even “large generalizations” or anything like “scientific law,” the product of serious induction, can be admitted. All such is simply “deducing conclusions from within their own pre-existing theoretical framework.” So primary focus on “inductive experience” is not the answer either.

The Christian communicator operates within the miracle factor of the ongoing and faithful ministry of the Holy Spirit who is ever “in, with and under the Word of God.” Using appropriate and inescapable deduction and employing inductive elements to strategic advantage, the Christian communicator speaks “as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11), “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13). We have significant univocal contact with postmoderns in our common exasperation with scientism but we do not share their disdain for linear reasoning and for meta-narrative. In fact, we have a pretty good meta-narrative at bottom line – the story of Jesus and his love. When the great Alexander Maclaren (whose motto was LOGIC ON FIRE) invited Gypsy Smith to preach a series to his congregation in Manchester, the little Gypsy felt deep inferiority to the “great one.” Yet he preached Jesus and five hundred came to the Savior. Ad gloriam dei.


David L. Larsen is Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Associate Director of the Professional Doctoral Programs, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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About The Author


David L. Larsen (B.A., Stanford University; M.Div., Fuller Theological Seminary; D.D., Trinity College) is Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He pastored churches for thirty-two years and has taught at Trinity since 1981. He is the author of several books, including The Company of the Preachers, The Company of the Creative, The Anatomy of Preaching, and Biblical Spirituality.

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