Chapter 93

The Tension Between Clarity and Suspense

How to choose between inductive and deductive logic.

Distinguishing between inductive and deductive preaching can be difficult. Inductive preaching essentially asks a question and arrives at the answer toward the latter part of the sermon. Deductive is the opposite of that. In deductive preaching you give the declarative statement up front and then support it. So the styles differ by whether the listener hears the point you're going to make up front, or they hear the question and then arrive at the answer through a progression.

We make serious choices between induction and deduction in four places of a sermon.

1. The overall sermon pattern

The first choice is whether the overall sermon pattern is going to be deductive or inductive. Will the listener get my central truth up front or will they learn it later in the message?

The advantage of a deductive structure is that the big idea is up front. It's clear. It's early so the listener grabs onto it. The disadvantage is you give away all the cookies at the start. The listener can say, "Got it. I'm out of here. I can catch the football game in the first quarter instead of waiting till the fourth quarter." So the advantage is clarity. The disadvantage is it gives away the suspense or climax.

The inductive structure advantage is just the flip side. The advantage is the listener's interest is sustained because you have not yet arrived at that central theme. They're going through a journey with you. They're learning with you. The climax is yet to come. The tension is still there. The disadvantage is that unless you're really clear, by the time you get to it, they won't have followed you.

So with deduction we have to ask "How do I use it in a way so there's still some reason for the listener to keep listening?" When I use induction, we ask, "How do I really know that I'm being clear orally?"

Now, let's come back to deduction. When would I use deduction? When would I give away all the cookies at the start and still know that I could keep the listener with me? The answer is when my deductive statement automatically raises questions in the mind of the listener. Somehow it's provocative.

Let me give you an example. "Today we're going to talk about the fifth commandment, Honor your father and your mother. Some of you say, 'Oh, good. I hope the kids are listening.' That commandment wasn't given to kids. It was given to adults standing at the base of Mount Sinai. We think of it in terms of kids because of what Paul says in Ephesians 6 'Children obey your parents,' but originally God was talking to a nation of adults. Honor takes the form of obedience when we're children. But what did God have in mind at the other end of life when adults were looking at parents who were entering the last decades of life?"

Now, here comes my deductive statement. "Today we're going to see that to honor our parents in their latter years is to support them financially. When God said 'Honor your father and your mother, more than anything else he meant be ready to assist them economically in their retirement years. See that they lack for nothing in the way of housing, medicine, clothing, or anything necessary for a comfortable life."

Now there's my deductive statement, and nobody's saying, "Got it. I'm out of here." They're saying "Wait a minute. Where did you get that from? I've been reading the Bible for years. Honor … you preachers find money everywhere. How much money are you talking about? I can barely support my own family. I've got kids going to college. How old do my parents have to be? What about my siblings? Should they help out?" They've got all kinds of questions they hope I'm going to address in the message.

So the first way to use deduction is when your central truth in the introduction raises questions in the minds of the listeners. The listener has a reason to keep listening. Other than that we probably will want to go inductive since most biblical materials are written inductively.

So once you have developed your main idea, it would be helpful to stop and ask, "What are the questions that I'm going to raise by this? Does it really raise questions or not?" The answer to that will determine whether you're going to go deductive or inductive.

Often the passage of Scripture has a natural flow to it. I'm surprised at how many times a narrative passage places the central truth at the end. But I still may start with it. For instance, I might be preaching on the life of Jacob and say, "Today we're going to see from the Scriptures that even though you have messed up God's plan for your life God still has a way of making it possible." And I know the listener is saying, "Oh Lord, I hope that's true. Convince me of it."

Even though there is enough listener interest to hold the truth until the end, I want them to know at the start what comfort the Lord is going to give them in this message.

2. The preview

In the preview paragraph of the introduction, you tell the listener, "Here's where I'm going to go with this sermon." In the preview you often make statements or raise the questions you're going to answer. So right away you're dealing with induction or deduction.

Any sentence is an idea. If I say, "This podium was made by a master craftsman," that's an idea. There is something I'm talking about: the podium; and there's something I'm saying about it: it was made by a master craftsman. It has a subject and a complement. When we make a deductive statement, we are giving the subject and the complement up front. When we raise a question, we are raising only the subject. So when we come to the preview sentences we have to decide if we're going to be deductive or inductive.

Let's say I start my introduction by saying, "Early in geometry we learn that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Well, that may be true in geometry but not with God's dealings in our life. Today we're going to see that the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag. God will lead us in his own route to get us safely to his intended destination for us. Now, where do I find that in Scripture? We're going to turn to a time in Israel's history when God led them deliberately on a zigzag path."

Now, that's a deductive statement. I've given you what I'm going to talk about. But I've got some questions to answer about that. The listener is thinking, Is that true? Would God lead me on a zigzag path? I've been on my zag so long I don't know whether point B is God's destiny or I psyched myself into it. The movement of the text will follow that inductive development. I take them to Exodus 13 where it shows that God led Israel on a zigzag path. It tells them why he did that and how he kept them encouraged when they didn't seem to be moving in a straight line.

I want the listener to say, "Oh, I've got to keep listening to that. You're going to prove to me that God does do it." That's deductive. "Then you're going to explain why. I need you to answer me that, and help me to know how I stay encouraged." That's inductive. So I've used a combination of deduction and induction in the preview elements to mark off the big chunks of the message while keeping the listener in a state of tension over unanswered questions.

3. Within each main point

The third area where induction or deduction shows up is in the main points, or what we might call the Roman numerals. There are certain ways to decide whether I should handle each Roman numeral inductively or deductively.

When you're in a major point, look at your sub-points. If the sub-points are a list, then go inductive. You can say, "All right. Finally we come to Roman numeral three. What are the rewards of obedience?" Then answer that question in your sub-points. "The first reward of obedience is joy. The second reward of obedience is long life. The third reward of obedience is children who know the Lord."

It wouldn't make sense to say, "In Roman numeral three we're going to see that the rewards of obedience are joy, long life and children who follow the Lord." Why give it all away like that? Look at the sub-points. If they're a list, go inductive.

With some lists, though, there's no priority. Item five could be item one, while item two could be item three. That's right. In fact, most biblical passages are not lists at all. They are a chain of thought or a progression. If I said "Roman numeral three: What is the reward for obedience? We notice in verse 14 that Israel is prosperous. But in their prosperity Israel turns to the fertility gods of the land. Because of this, God lets an oppressor come in and take over Israel. The Midianites come and eat Israel's food, reducing them to poverty." Though I'm going through my progression, by now you've forgotten what my question was. "What was this Roman numeral about?" You haven't heard anything about obedience.

Whenever you have a sequence in the sub-points, you cannot go inductive. The listener will lose you because there is no connection in the first three or four sub-points to the inductive question you ask.

I need to be deductive when I've got a sequence. "In Roman numeral three we finally come to the reward of obedience. And we will see in verses 17-24 that the reward for obedience is a restoration of the years that were lost. Let's follow Israel's history to see that when they returned to God, He restored what they had lost." And now I go into my sequence, but you know where it's headed. I have reached to the last sub-point and put it into the major Roman numeral. I have made a deductive statement of everything that I'm going to cover.

So in the Roman numerals, if the sub-points are a list, go inductive. But if the answer to your question is way down on the bottom of a list of eight sub-points, you've got to go deductive.

4. When reading a Scripture passage

The choice between induction or deduction also shows up in our reading of a text. We ought to read the Scripture deductively. Always tell the listener before you read the text what they will find in the verses. Too often preachers say, "Let's see what Paul says next in verses 17 to 24," and then we start reading. And the listeners glaze out on us real fast. We know what we're looking for there but they don't.

So instead you would say something like, "In verses 17 to 24, Paul tells us the third time that we are vulnerable to temptation. Just when we have done something for Christ, Satan has his best chance to get at us. Paul says right after he had preached with great response he found Satan lifting him up to pride. Read with me to see how we are vulnerable after a spiritual victory." Now as the listeners read verses 17 to 24 they know what they're looking for. They listen intelligently. They say, "Yes, there it is. I see it."

In all the choices we make at every level of the sermon between induction and deduction, there is a tension between clarity and interest level. There are times you choose a style because you've got to be clear. The issue isn't whether or not you have everybody on the edge of their seat. At other times you're just trying to keep people interested. You've got to balance this tension at every point.