Many mutual fund companies offer a variety of funds from which investors may choose. Often one of them is a fund called a Contrarian Fund, or a fund whose strategy could run contrary to the conventional wisdom on Wall Street. When a stock is in disfavor they buy it. The threat of a tobacco tax will cause them to buy tobacco stocks. The possibility of electric cars will cause them to buy petroleum stocks. Talk of disarmament will cause weapons stock to go down, and they will buy those stocks. My own view of current homiletic theory could be described in a similar way.
The conventional homiletical wisdom today is that the genre of the passage should dictate the form of the sermon. We have long known that the text should dictate the content of the sermon. In expository preaching classes we learned that the text should dictate the outline for the sermon. Current theory carries us a step further; now we’re told that a narrative text should be handled in a narrative sermon, that a parable should be preached parabolically, and that didactic texts should be preached didactically. There may be good reasons for doing this, but my own view is contrary to this.
Perhaps it is purely instinct on my part but I think there are several reasons for doing just the opposite. It may be more interesting to view the passage from a very different vantage point.
We all know the parable of the Forgiving Father, better known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. So do most of our listeners. To hear that story again, no matter how engagingly told, may be boring. “I’ve been hearing that in Sunday School since I was a child!” may be the thought in the minds of some — or many of your listeners. To take the story apart and draw concepts and precepts from it may be much more interesting to them. Only a very highly-skilled story-teller can re-tell a well-known parable and hold our interest.
Usually the text is read before the sermon. Then it is paraphrased during the sermon with a word of explanation here and a bit of application there. To a person totally unfamiliar with the parable that may be most helpful, but the long-time churchgoer may find it utterly boring. Unless the preacher is very gifted — unless his explanations are fresh and vivid, and his applications colorful and creative — some (possibly many) will decide not to listen.
Suppose we say that the parable offers three views of life, or paints portraits of three quite different people — even people who shared the same genes and lived in the same house, but who turned out to be three very different kinds of persons.
Or we might seize on the repetition of the adverb when which appears three times in the Authorized Version of the parable. Each occurrence of the word marks a turning point in the story, a turning point in the road travelled, a turning point in life. His outward journey is highlighted by the when of degradation, the low point in his life by the when of realization, his return by the when of reconciliation. To those listeners familiar with the story this may be more interesting — and more instructive.
Our view of anything is almost always incomplete. So, to view a truth from more than one angle can be enlightening. Remember the story of the blind men describing the elephant; we do not want to be like them!
Certainly this mixing of genres is common enough in other fields. We often get our philosophy from comic strips like Peanuts and B.C. We find writers expressing their political views in the humorists’ columns and in the comics as much as on the editorial page. We express our political views in jokes as often as we do in speeches. We get our history more from historical novels than from reading history. We express our love in song and poem as readily, or more readily, than we do in simple declarations.
Why is this the case? Is it not because the mixing of genres is either more interesting or more instructive?
How would such an approach work in the field of preaching? Can we not preach the didactic as dramatic? Surely we can see the drama hidden in the beatitudes: in those hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and in the irony of the meek inheriting the earth. And can we then reverse the process and preach the dramatic as didactic? What about that greatest of all dramas, the Book of Job? His friends did not recognize Job, nor God’s forgiveness, nor God’s justice, nor God’s love.
On the other hand, the command — “Love your neighbor as yourself” — could be preached in the form of a parable. A person moves into a new community and finds neighbors both agreeable and disagreeable. He finds neighbors with whom he has a lot in common and neighbors with whom he has nothing in common, except that both descended from Adam. He finds himself (or she finds herself) ignoring one neighbor and cherishing the other. Then there comes a time of need or danger. How can one work out God’s good neighbor policy in such varied situations?
Isaiah 55:1 is the great invitation to the thirsty to come and drink, and to the hungry to come and eat. It easily becomes a parable of a hungry person who first, finds food that is not filling, then food that is too expensive to buy, and finally good food that is free.
1 Corinthians 10:21 is a firm and dogmatic statement: you cannot eat at the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Could it not be preached in the form of a parable? One submits to temptation and enjoys sinning at first; but, slowly, good and holy impulses enter the mind. For a time he or she continues to sin, though no longer enjoying it. He or she ultimately is repulsed by the world’s table and finds lasting pleasure only at the Lord’s table.
Would it not be useful to take one’s text from a psalm and treat it as a sermon? Psalm 150 comes to mind. The praise of God should be heard on every instrument, by everyone, in every place. Conversely, if the text is a sermon, could a sermon on that sermon be cast in the form of a psalm? Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 sounds a lot like Psalm 136.
Could proverb be preached as parable? Surely Proverbs 24:30-34 would be well served by such treatment. An imaginative use of this text is certainly possible. And if we follow the hermeneutical principle that a parable has only one point, then any parable could be preached as proverb. And could the direct command of Galatians 5:1 be preached in the form of a parable?
The wonderful narrative of the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings yields naturally to the analysis of the four blessings described: the disguised blessing (poverty), the shared blessing the delayed blessing, and the continual blessing.
Is it possible that by putting two genres side by side — by holding up the truth in the form of the text and in a different form in the sermon — we may enable people to see with two eyes and hear with too ears? Perhaps then, having eyes they will see, having ears they will hear, and having hearts they will understand.

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