Preaching as Poetry


Good communication consists of two elements, logic and poetics. Logic and poetics are the two rails on which communication moves. In preaching, the Spirit is the engine pulling the train and what the spirit is pulling the communication on, are logic and poetry. Logic and poetics are the what and how of communication.  Aristotle defined Poetics as the study of linguistic techniques in poetry and literature.

It’s a study of communication within the framework of poetic knowledge; non-analytical, intuitive, immediate understanding from the inside out.

Poetics is not Poetry – it’s not verse. Poetics is the art of beautiful transformative metaphor, awe inspiring analogy, allegory, symbolism, etc.  This has a lot to do with how every person thinks -interacts with the world using their intellect.

Thisis like that– is the way we interpret new data. This is how we communicate clearly because its how our brains and creation were made to work. This loaf is the body of Christ. The whole OT temple and sacrificial system is a type or shadow or metaphor for Christ. With this ring I thee wed. what is the ring a symbol of? What is it a metaphor, for?

The reason for this is that human thinking, human understanding is based on metaphor.

Genesis 1:1–2 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Romans 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The universe is a metaphor, a grand statement; this is what God is like. Everything that is, is a spoken word.

In all the diversity of the created order is unity and that unity is Jesus. Calvin wrote that “we cannot gaze upon this beautiful masterpiece of the world, in all its length and breadth, without being completely dazzled, as it were, by an endless flood of light.”

The “eternal-absolute-original,” is seen as true and beautiful not because he coheres with what we know but because all the truth and beauty we know coheres in him. It is measured by him, and it is seen flowing from Him.

The poet is a “seer,” the one who sees the interconnectedness between apparently disparate things. Interpreting and communicating the messages of the Bible – a collection of many genres, styles, vocabularies within an agrarian culture spanning thousands of years – communicating that bibles truth in a fresh, compelling, beautiful way is the task of poets, not theologians.

A striking metaphor does not tie two isolated things together but rather reveals a similarity that exists within them as they are spoken by God. The poet then sees and declares the similarity; David is a lesser Jesus, Jesus is the light of the world, the manna is a type of Jesus. The metaphor has to relate the way God intended it too.

A metaphor is that which is fully identified with something distinct from itself. Not only does a metaphor communicate truth, it is the only thing that can. We must understand the importance of metaphor to human thinking. It’s crucial to all human communication and thought.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that there are three basic ways of using language.

Ordinary: “it is very cold outside.”

Scientific: “It is currently 17 degrees at the airport.”

Poetic “Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was acold; the hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, and silent was the flock in woolly fold; numb were the beadsman’s fingers.” (Keats, the eve of St. Agnes)

Most would argue that b: scientific is the most accurate. Moderns love to quantify, they love abstraction and direct correlation. The poetic paradigm uses qualification, concrete images and imprecision. To say, “God is an omnipotent immutable spirit,” is quantifiable, abstract and accurate. To say, “God is a rock and fortress,” is less precise but it is a concrete image that better communicates truth. God is not a rock. Yet from something less “true” we learn more truth. This is the power of metaphor.

Instead of trying to state what something is in its essence (it takes too long and isn’t clear) – say what it is like and not like

For example, what is a chair? Something with four legs that you sit on? Like a horse? Something with legs, made of wood, that you sit on? Oh, like a stool. Keep going. Define what a chair is in its essence.

Now, try to define it by saying what it is like, and not like. See?

Jesus never defines himself the way the council of Chalcedon did:  “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence.”

Can you imagine such a God?

No, Jesus says “I am the gate, I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, I am the vine…” Can you imagine such a God? All concrete images. All communicate something about Him relationally that grips the imagination.

So, communicating to your congregation is not about mere truth. But truth that grips the imagination. Metaphor is working from the known to the unknown.

Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7. Read it. Stephen runs through the history of Israel; Abraham, patriarchs, Jacob, Moses, Solomon and the temple. Stephen runs through a list of examples of Israel’s rejection of God’s prophets and thus God Himself. Then Stephen concludes with a comparison – a tying together the history the jews knew and the Jesus they don’t. He works from the known to the unknown, to bring insight.

Simplicity is concrete images. Direct comparison of knowns to unknowns to bring insight. Simple but affective word choice.

You hear the phrase, “She was utterly dead in her sin, her stoney heart raked against her thirsty bones.” You can imagine such a person. Now to express the salvation of such a person, how would that sound?

Metaphor. Symbolism, Analogy, allegory. Example. These are the tools of the trade for effective communicators.

2 Samuel 12:1–15 And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, [6] and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”

Nathan’s story is a grand metaphor. The end is a direct comparison that brings insight. This is preaching.



Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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