Why all the fuss about inductive preaching? Is it preaching? Is it Christian)? Is it biblical?
While inductive preaching is not a new methodology, the rising interest in it seems to have been initiated, at least in recent times, by the publication in 1971 of Fred Craddock’s definitive work on the subject, As One Without Authority. This was not the first book to address the subject nor was it the last. Earlier, inductive approaches were discussed by a variety of others (though the term was not always used) including Luccock (1944, 134-147), Sangster (1951, 84-87), Jones (1956,103-108), Davis (1958, 172-177), and Brown (1968, 87-132).
At the same time Craddock wrote his book, J. Daniel Baumann was writing An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching (1972). He includes a discussion of both deductive and inductive structures including five methods for preaching inductively (Baumann, 1972, 79-81). Other books discussing inductive preaching and published since Craddock’s include Robinson’s Biblical Preaching (1980, 125-127), the Lewis’ Inductive Preaching (1983), Freeman’s Variety in Biblical Preaching (1987, 171-174), Brokhoff’s As One With Authority (1989, 158-164), the Lewis’ Learning to Preach Like Jesus (1989), and this writer’s Homiletical Handbook (1992, 97-103).
Still, it must be said that Craddock’s book, more than any other, has been the chief catalyst for ongoing debate in our day. This is evidenced in much of the recent literature on the subject. A thorough presentation and critique of Craddock’s philosophy and approach is found in Richard Eslinger, A New Hearing (1987, 95-132), a chapter well worth reading.
Some (many?) evangelicals remain wary of the inductive approach. Some fear it will lead to unauthoritative preaching, sermons that are primarily topical rather than expository, or sermons that conclude with a lack of definiteness of meaning and a lack of specific application. These are important concerns that must be addressed.
Definition of Terms
Two terms need to be defined: induction and exposition. Both are at the heart of the present discussion.
The term induction can be used of preaching in at least three ways. First, the term is used to describe sermonic elements such as narrative, analogies, examples, figures of speech, questions, drama and dialogue. Second, the term is used to refer to a particular kind of formal reasoning, an argumentation from specific instances to a general truth. Third, the term is used to speak of the structural plan of a sermon, one in which the proposition (the sermon’s central idea) is announced formally only at the end of the sermon.
In regard to the latter usage of the term, this type of sermon would be one in which a broad theme is set early, issues and questions are raised, but the precise proposition is not revealed until the transition into the sermon’s conclusion. Its outline might look something like this:
Introduction (questions, illustrations, Rhetorical questions, teasers, statistics, examples, etc.)
Theme (usually in the form of a question)
Main Point I
Sub-points, examples
Main Point II
Sub-points, examples
Main Point III
Sub-points, examples
(Read the text)
Closing affirmations and application
It is possible that either or both of the first two usages may be present in a sermon without the sermon being an inductively structured sermon. For example, various inductive elements may be present in a deductively arranged sermon. This indicates that inductive elements alone do not constitute preaching that is thoroughly inductive.
It should be noted also that inductive reasoning is not fully indispensable to inductive structure. A syllogistic sermon employs a deductive reasoning argument from the general to the specific yet is arranged inductively with the proposition, the logical conclusion of the major and minor premises, announced at the end of the sermon. (Baumann, 1972, 80; Hamilton, 1992, 98)
For the purpose of this article, the concept of inductive preaching presented will include all three of the above: inductive sermon elements, some form of inductive reasoning, and a homiletical arrangement in which the proposition of the sermon is not fully announced until the end of the sermon body.
A second term needing to be defined is exposition. While the concept of expository preaching is widely discussed, different meanings are attached to it. Some view it as a running verse-by-verse commentary. Some see it as essentially the same as textual preaching, except that a longer text is used. Others prefer that all main points and subpoints be based on specific parts of the text and that the entire text be covered in the sermon’s content. Still others advocate treating the entire text as a thematic entity with the main points and some or most of the subpoints based on the text but without the necessity of covering the entire text in detail.
It is this latter approach that best describes my approach to exposition. It is reflective of the approach of the New Testament scholar and preacher James S. Stewart who pleads that sermons must permit the text to make its own statement: “The point is that it is imperative to allow the Scripture to speak its own message. Build your sermons on a solid foundation of accurate exegesis. Be honest with the Word of God.” (Stewart, 1946,156)
Recent books on preaching include the following definitions of exposition: “Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, arrived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.” (Robinson, 1980, 20)
“Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of Gods Word with due regard for the historical, contextual, grammatical, and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.” (Olford and Olford, 1998, 69)
Using these definitions to clarify the essential nature of expository preaching, it is safe to say that while most preaching of this type has been deductive in nature, it can also be done inductively. Nothing in these definitions precludes inductive sermon arrangements for expository preaching. The key issue is not deduction or induction, but rather, which method can most effectively communicate Gods truth in a particular sermon.
Sermons that are topical in nature also may be arranged using an inductive approach, and this approach may be biblically valid if various texts are carefully selected and allowed to speak their truth authoritatively. It should be remembered that good topical preaching can be quite time consuming for each text utilized must be carefully exegeted in order to avoid improper proof-texting.
Issues Related to Inductive and Deductive Preaching
There are several issues which relate to the ongoing debate regarding the use of deductive and inductive preaching models. These include matters such as audience involvement, authority, effectiveness and difficulty.
Audience Involvement
Preaching is irrelevant if there is no audience. The most carefully prepared and articulately delivered sermon is pointless if no one hears.
Today’s preacher may rightly assume that some are listening. Some in our audiences have a heart for God and sufficient self-discipline to cause them to listen to almost any kind of sermon. But do as many listen as we think? Furthermore, not everyone in our churches listens equally as well as others. The reasons for this are doubtless numerous, but the fact remains that preachers need to do their best to help all folks listen.
One issue related to the audience is that people listen and process information differently. Much has been written in recent years about left-brain and right-brain people. While the final word on this has yet to be written, and we ought to jump on this bandwagon cautiously, it appears that the left hemisphere of the brain is analytical and verbal while the right hemisphere is instinctive and visual.
The left side tends to break ideas apart in order to understand them indepth. It processes abstractions. The right side sees things comprehensively and concretely. While everyone uses both sides of the brain, most people tend to use one side more than the other. Some are left-brain thinkers and some are right-brain thinkers. Left-brain thinkers tend to think deductively and analytically, while right-brain thinkers tend to think inductively and visually.
Assuming the basic truth of the previous paragraph, it makes good sense to utilize both deduction and induction in our preaching since our audiences will include both left-brain and right-brain people. If we preach deductively arranged sermons exclusively, we will miss the opportunity to minister effectively to a sizable portion of those present.
A second issue regarding our audience is that of cultural learning styles. There may have been a time when westerners treasured words and thoughts by means of linear reasoning. This is not a dominant trait of our culture today. David Larson, not a strong proponent of inductive preaching, rightly describes our culture as having a preference for the nonverbal.
“Words, propositions and carefully reasoned arguments are less appealing than images, and most preachers tend to be image-poor communicators whose specialty is propositional revelation and who preach best from the didactic sections of Scripture. Ours is an age attuned to feeling, while many of us preach in a context still reacting against excess in feeling.” (Larson, 1989, 40).
Craddock gives us the following rationale for preaching that is inductive: “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” (Craddock, 1971, 58).
And again Craddock states: “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 calfhood, 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” (Craddock, 1971, 60).
It seems to make sense that the preacher must meet the listeners where they are before attempting to lead them to a better place. Surely Jesus did this as is seen in His encounters with the Samaritan woman, the hungry multitudes and Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus.
A third concern regarding the audience is that of ownership. How do listeners best appropriate the truth for themselves? The key involves more than simply listening. It involves discovery and participation. Chapell refers to Jay Adams who argues that “it is only when a truth touches us experientially or when we sense the impact it could have upon us that we can comprehend it fully” (Chapell, 1994, 172). Likewise, those who write in the field of adult learning affirm that the most important things cannot be taught, but must be discovered and appropriated by oneself.
Ideally, inductive preaching should promote a strong sense of ownership in the listeners. “… Jesus-style inductive preaching moves toward and comes to the same conclusion deduction begins with. The inductive process allows the people to become involved, to explore and own the concepts in the course of the sermon. An inductive sermon becomes something more than decreed dogma. The congregation can claim it as conviction. It becomes personal. And real” (Lewis and Lewis, 1989, 31).
To this point, I have emphasized the issue of relevancy in regard to the audience. The larger issue of authority must also be discussed.
It is likely that for many the least palatable part of Craddock’s book, As One without Authority is the title. It may leave the reader with the impression that inductive preaching per se has no authority. But is this the case? If a sermon that is inductive declares the truth of the text that is under consideration — it allows the passage to make its own statement — then the sermon has inherent authority of the proper kind.
Timothy Warren speaks to this concern: “If people are listening for messages that carry elements of authority to guide their lives, where will they find such authority? What in the preaching event is authoritative? Is it the preacher himself? No. It is the Scripture that confers authority” (Warren, 1991, 465).
Warren continues by quoting Sidney Greidanus, a citation enlarged here. “Since the prophets proclaimed God’s word, their preaching was authoritative. This relationship suggests that the authority of the prophets did not reside, ultimately, in their person, their calling, or their office; rather, their authority was founded in the word of God they proclaimed. For with the prophets we noticed that their authority did not reside, ultimately, in their calling or office but in the words they spoke, whether they were from the Lord. So it is with preachers today: they have a word from the Lord, but only if they speak the Lords word. The only norm we have today for judging whether preachers speak the word of the Lord is the Bible” (Greidanus, 1988, 2,9).
As is emphasized here, real authority in preaching is dependent on its biblical content, not the personality or forcefulness of the preacher nor, I might add, the structural style of the sermon.
A third issue needing to be mentioned is that of effectiveness. Evangelicals have a tested tradition of deductive expository preaching. We can agree that lives have been changed as Gods Spirit has blessed this method of faithful proclamation. Can we expect the same of inductive exposition?
The issue here is not that of deduction or induction. The issue rather is that of exposition. If the truth of the Word of God is clearly presented, listeners will be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness as indicated in 2 Tim. 3:16. Homiletical methodology is not the point; the clear and accurate presentation of the Word to listeners is.
We need look no further than Jesus to see that inductive messages are effective. An examination of the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, will show that proposition-type ideas are sometimes stated at the end of sections. An example of this is seen in the account regarding worry, Matt. 6:25-34. The bottom line of the text is verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Perhaps Jesus’ most prolific use of induction is seen in His parables. About a third of all His teachings are parabolic in nature and many of these are directed toward unbelievers. These parables are generally narrative in style as well as inductively arranged. The result is that the unsuspecting listener finds himself inside the story processing its meaning. (See Craddock, 1978, 112-124, and Greidanus, 1968, 175-181)
The Gospel of John, taken as a whole, is inductively arranged. The thesis of the book is not disclosed until next to the last chapter: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
Even Paul, though he often argues and presents his materials deductively, sometimes resorts to an inductive approach. This is seen in his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) and in the messages related to his conversion which he uses in his defense Acts 21, 24, 26). His argument in Galitians has a very strong inductive flavor as does his approach in Philemon.
Why are we so hesitant to agree that inductive sermons can be as effective as deductive ones? The New Testament evidence doesn’t support this hesitancy. We can induce from the above examples that inductive preaching can be effective.
The issues of audience involvement, authority and effectiveness all relate to the worth of inductive preaching. The matter of difficulty, on the other hand, relates to proficiency. This is a practical issue which is quite important.
In a fine paper presented to the Evangelical Homiletics Society and titled Reclaiming the Deductive Sermon, Kenneth Bickel accurately describes the differences between inductive and deductive sermons and, in fact, presents a very good case for inductive preaching. He stops short of completely endorsing the method because of one important issue: difficulty. However, that which sounds sensible in theory is not always valid in practice. The reality is that inductive sermons are very hard to preach well. (Bickel, 1997, 2)
Bickel then explains in detail some of his concerns: “Sustaining unity, order, and progress in an inductive sermon takes a skillful communicator. Preachers must be able to help listeners sense a unity to the message without the central theme of the sermon being disclosed until late in the presentation. In addition, they must be capable of using transitional statements very effectively so that listeners can sense an order to the sequence of ideas that are delivered. They must also know how to communicate to listeners an awareness that: a) More needs to be said, b) All that is being said is leading to a climax and closure, and c) The stream of consciousness that is coming forth from the preacher has meaning and relevance for the central thrust of the sermon (as well as for their lives)” (Bickel, 1997, 3).
These concerns are legitimate. I concur that preparing and presenting inductive sermons is more difficult than following a deductive methodology. Still, I believe that a preacher or student with average ability can learn to preach good inductive sermons with a little guidance and practice.
Preparing Inductive Expositions
While preparing inductive sermons is admittedly more difficult than preparing deductive messages, primarily because we’ve been taught to preach deductively and have had deductive sermons modeled for us almost exclusively, inductive sermons are doable. Following are three suggestions as to how one might begin to develop inductive sermons while remaining expositional.
Use A Semi-inductive Approach
While inductive purists might chafe a bit at this suggestion, I believe this approach will help ease preachers into using an inductive approach in two ways. First, it will enable them to apply the process of inductive thinking to sermons that also have a more familiar deductive quality. Second, it will provide practice in delivering sermons without stating their propositions too early for inductive purposes. At least two particular approaches lend themselves to this.
The problem-solving method. There are many ways to develop a problem-solving sermon. In my Homiletical Handbook, for example, I present an approach with three main points:
I. We need to solve the problem of _____.
II. There are some solutions to _____ that have been suggested (these may be non-biblical or otherwise weak)
Prop. What is God’s solution to the problem of _____?
III. God’s solution to the problem of _____ is seen in (text).
The proposition, in the form of a question, is asked as part of the transition into the third point. (Some may question whether a proposition can be a question. Ordinarily, I question the practice but in this case I believe it is valid.) Since the proposition precedes the last main point, I refer to this as a semi-inductive method, (see Hamilton, 1992, 76-82)
Harold Freeman has a more detailed seven-move approach to a problem-solving sermon that also retains an inductive flow. (Freeman, 1987, 173)
1. You are here, (statement of the problem)
2. How did you get here? (the problem’s origin)
3. What’s it like to be here? (complexities of the problem)
4. Has anyone else ever been here? (contemporary and other examples)
5. What if you don’t get out of here? (consequences)
6. How could you get out of here? (alternate solutions)
7. What’s the best way out of here? (a biblical solution)
The syllogistic approach. As mentioned earlier, while this method is based on deductive reasoning, the argument itself is communicated inductively because the conclusion of the syllogism is not announced until toward the end of the sermon.
Mark 2:1-12
I. Forgiveness of sin comes from God only. (v. 7)
II. Jesus claimed to forgive sin. (vv. 10-12)
III. Therefore, Jesus claimed to be God.
The sermon’s proposition, point III in the example above, is the same as the syllogism’s conclusion, (see Hamilton, 1992, 90-95)
Recycle Deductive Sermons
A second way to experiment with inductive preaching is to try to rearrange previously used deductive sermons into an inductive format. This will allow the comfort of familiarity while taking a bit of a risk. Many years ago, I preached a sermon on Acts 2 with the following structure:
God’s Kind of Church
(Read text: Acts 2:42-47)
Introduction: The most unique church in history was this church in Acts 2.
(Other information about the early church and today’s church)
Context: (The setting of this text in Acts)
Proposition: Our church can move toward being God’s kind of church.
(How?) … by pursuing the characteristics of the church in Acts 2:42.
I. We must be a church of sound doctrine. (v. 42a)
II. We must be a church of meaningful fellowship. (v. 42b)
III. We must be a church of true confession. (v. 42c)
IV. We must be a church of devout prayer. (v. 42d)
Conclusion: These are the characteristics of God’s kind of church that we must pursue today.
More recently, I recycled the sermon using a more inductive approach.
(No mention was made of the text, Acts 2:42-47)
Introduction: There are lots of differences in churches today (examples).
Let me tell you about the most impressive church I’ve ever encountered.
Theme: As I reflect on my encounter with this church, there seemed to be several emphases that stood out.
I. An emphasis on sound teaching was evident.
II. An emphasis on community living was evident.
III. An emphasis on observing certain rituals was evident.
IV. An emphasis on corporate prayer was evident.
Transition: There were other practices carried on in this church, but these seemed to be most important.
Proposition: This church gives us the right model to follow as we seek to build our local churches.
Closing: If you want to investigate this church further, its address is Acts 21:41-47. (Read the text.)
It was fascinating to watch the audience (seminary students and faculty) as this sermon unfolded. Some began to catch on at about the third point. Others began to smile and nod knowingly a little later. Most importantly, the audience was with me throughout.
Experiment With Full Inductive Approaches
There are doubtless many structures that legitimately could be called inductive. Following are four.
The chain method. This method finds its main points in a single paragraph or two of Scripture, or perhaps in the larger context of a chapter or two. These might be examples that support the main truth of the text or they could be statements that prove the sermon’s proposition. Each point is a link on a chain providing a partial answer to the thematic question raised in the introduction. Together, they affirm the proposition statement.
Heb. 11:1-12
Thematic question: Why is faith so important anyway?
I. In faith, Abel worshiped properly. (v.4)
II. In faith, Enoch walked with God. (v.5)
III. In faith, Noah practiced blind obedience. (v. 7)
IV. In faith, Sarah miraculously conceived a nation. (vv. 11-12)
V. In faith, Abraham gained an eternal inheritance. (vv. 8-10)
Prop: Faith is the necessary means of pleasing God. (v. 6)
The rebuttal method. The main points in this approach are a series of questions which will be answered negatively in the respective sub-points. These collective responses inductively prove the truth of the proposition statement.
Rom. 8:26-39
Thematic question: Does God care about lifes circumstances?
I. Are we alone in facing our situations? (vv. 29-30)
II. Are any experiences unimportant to God? (vv. 26-27)
III. Does God withhold that which is for our good? (vv. 31-32)
IV. Do we live outside the scope of His purpose? (v. 28)
V. Can any circumstance overpower God’s love? (vv. 35-39)
Prop: God indeed cares about all of the circumstances in our lives.
The affirmation approach. This is somewhat the opposite of the previous method. Its main points present a series of questions which evoke positive responses which in turn lead to the statement of the proposition.
1 Cor. 6:9-20
Thematic question: Does God care about sexual behavior?
I. Does God have a prior claim on us, including our bodies? (vv. 19b-20a)
II. Does the Holy Spirit reside within our bodies? (v. 19a)
III. Does sexual immorality inflict harm to the Spirit’s dwelling place? (v. 18b)
Prop: Our sexual behavior is extremely important to God. (v. 20b)
The narrative/inductive approach. This type of sermon tells a biblical story, or series of stories, and then concludes with a clearly stated propositional truth. Following is a brief summary of the main movements of a sermon recently published in a collection of communion sermons. The sermon consists of five narratives, each dealing with a particular perspective on Jesus as the Lamb of God.
Behold, The Lamb! (John 1:29)
It is a time long ago and a place far away. Barely daybreak: 4 leave home for unknown mountain destination. (Story of Abraham preparing to offer Isaac in Genesis 22)
Behold, The Substitute Lamb!
Time passes and things change. God is faithful to His covenant. New nation; numerical strength; political weakness; slavery! (Story of Moses and the exodus)
Behold, The Passover Lamb!
Time continues to pass. Canaan is claimed. The temple is built. Not coincidentally, this temple is built on Mount Moriah. (Account of OT sacrificial system)
Behold, The Sacrificial Lamb!
Another scene unfolds before us. It is a future unknown time. (Rev. 4 & 5) Apart from the Father, one other is the focal point (28 times). He is worshiped; He’s often in the center of the throne. (Account of the Lion and the Lamb)
Behold, The Triumphant Lamb!
One last setting. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He has been baptized; suffered 40 days of fasting; tempted. (Story of John introducing Jesus) “Behold, The Lamb of God Who Takes Away The Sin of The World.”
Conclusion: This title and this communion table remind us of the accomplishments of the Lamb. Do you see Him? Do you see the Lamb? John invites you: “Look….” From Genesis to Revelation, you’re urged to see Him. There He is! … in the shadow of a cross, wearing a crown!
Proposition: Jesus, the Lamb of God, is worthy of our complete worship and devotion.
Each of the examples presented above fall into the general category of expository preaching. Exposition can be done inductively.
It is not my intention to sell inductive preaching as the only method to use. Most of my preaching is still deductive, although I find myself using inductive methods more often than in the past. My desire is to see inductive exposition utilized responsibly as a part of our overall homiletical methodology as we maintain a strong biblical authority in our preaching.
Reference List
Baumann, J. Daniel. 1972. An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Bickel, Kenneth E. 1997. “Re-Claiming the Deductive Sermon.” A paper presented to the Evangelical Homiletics Society, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Brokhoff, John R. 1989. As One with Authority. Wilmore, KY: Bristol Books.
Brown, H.C. 1968. A Quest for Reformation in Preaching. Nashville: Broadman Press.
Chapell, Bryan. 1994. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Craddock, Fred B. 1971. As One Without Authority. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Craddock, 1978. Overhearing the Gospel Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Davis, Henry Grady. 1958. Design for Preaching. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press.
Freeman, Harold. 1987. Variety in Biblical Preaching. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Eslinger, Richard L. 1987. A New Hearing. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Greidanus, Sidney. 1988. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Hamilton, Donald L. 1992. Homiletical Handbook. Nashville: Broadman Press.
Hamilton, Donald L. 1998. “Behold the Lamb!” in Come to the Banquet: Meditations for the Lord’s Table. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Jones, Ilion T. 1956. Principles and Practice of Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Larson, David L. 1989. The Anatomy of Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Lewis, Ralph L. with Gregg Lewis. 1983. Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Lewis, Ralph L. with Gregg Lewis. 1989. Learning to Preach Like Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Luccock, Halford E. 1944. In the Minister’s Workshop. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury.
Olford, Stephen F. with David L. Olford. 1998. Anointed Expository Preaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Robinson, Haddon W. 1980. Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Sangster, W.E. 1951. The Craft of the Sermon. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
Stewart, James S. 1946. Heralds of God. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Warren, Timothy S. 1991. “A Paradigm for Preaching,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol 148, no 592, Oct-Dec, 1991 (The Theological Journal Library [CD-ROM], Garland, TX: Galaxie Software, 1999), record 119,596.

Share This On: