Column Entry, Learning to “Shuntle, Spiral, and Shock” in Order to Be Heard, by Robert Stephen Reid

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Column Title: Communicating Faith in the Cross-Walk of Life

Column Entry: Learning to “Shuntle, Spiral, and Shock” in Order to Be Heard

By Robert Stephen Reid, Professor Emeritus, University of Dubuque

Description: During most of Christendom people lived with some form of a theistic identity. But in our post-Christendom secular society most North American Christians are faced, sometimes explicitly but mostly implicitly, with a daily choice of whether to keep believing in God. Or, believing that, in Christ, God is still seeking to be reconciled with each generation of people in this world. If faith in God is to matter amidst the busy, bustling intersection of cross-purposes and cross-identities of contemporary secular life, my interest is to reflect on the diverse ways people communicate with others about this desire to pursue cross-centered lives of faith.

May 2024 |April 2024 | March 2024


Learning to “Shuntle, Spiral, and Shock” in Order to Be Heard

In my new edition of The Four Voices of Preaching: Communicating Faith in a Connected World (to be published by Integratio Press this summer), I faced a challenge to help crack the code of explaining—in just a few paragraphs—the genius of Fred Craddock’s approach to preaching that was at the forefront of preaching’s narrative turn away from sermon as expository argument. He originally called this preaching method “inductive preaching” as opposed to traditional expository deductive preaching. But it was really a model of narrative indirection, a way of taking his hearers or readers on a journey of personal insight meant to have them ask, “Whoa! What will I do with or make of that?” Using works from his talks and books I came up with three things that he said preachers should learn to do differently. They need to shuntle, spiral, and shock when preaching. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

In the face of the malaise experienced by American churchgoers in the 1960’s Fred Craddock tells a story of how he came to change what he was up to when preaching. As he tells it, a congregation member asked him to lunch one day. Once their food had been consumed, the lay leader got down to the reason for the visit. He and the pastor were both were members of the local Kiwanis club that met for lunch once a month. The man said, “Help me understand something, pastor. How come when you speak at our Kiwanis lunches people hang on every word you say? But in church, well your sermons are sometimes (ahem . . . ) kind of predictable?” Craddock paused, aware that his friend was trying to be kind with that last word. Then he responded, “Well who’s listening is what’s different. When I’m asked to speak about a community issue for Kiwanis, I don’t have the authority to speak like I do as a pastor. So, I have to find a different approach to have something to say that holds their attention.” At this point, his lunch partner asked, “Well, have you ever thought of doing it that way in church, too?”[1]

Craddock’s response to that question is what he proposed in his 1971 book As One Without Authority. He initially identified the approach he devised as an inductive rather than a deductive sermon presentation. The first edition of that book had a modest reception. The idea of inductive preaching was not all that new. In the second edition, he made some minor adjustments and chose to add a sample sermon to demonstrate what preaching in the way he proposed might look like. He wanted to show how it arrived at where it was headed in a different way. The sermon titled “Doxology” was based on Rom 11:33–36. The second edition of the book went through multiple editions. That sermon was something different than what readers understood to be inductive reasoning with a thesis claim announced at the end. Preachers wanted to understand how to create similar kinds of evocative scenes like he had, scenes that relate biblical context to concrete life stories that help listeners arrive at a gospel insight. They were asking how to turn doctrinal saying into biblical doing through a sermon.[2]

In his next book, Overhearing the Gospel, Craddock looked to Sören Kierkegaard for help to describe his indirect way of taking people on a hermeneutic journey of “coming-to-understanding.” Kierkegaard understood that the audience for his books was content with status quo cultural assumptions. So, Kierkegaard chose a strategy of indirection as an authorial style that was designed to have his readers eventually ask, “What will I do with/make of that?”[3] Kierkegaard regarded direct explanatory communication as the appropriate mode for transferring information in fields like history, science, and related disciplines. But in his desire to make the case that “the greater number of people in Christendom only imagine themselves to be Christian,” he recognized that confronting them with such an assertion could only be

. . . . achieved by the indirect method, which by loving and serving truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive [readers], and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which [readers] make . . . alone before God—that he has lived hitherto in an illusion.[4]

Craddock adapted Kierkegaard’s dialectical indirection as a way to organize sermons such that readers or listeners experience their own coming-to-understanding by “overhearing” how the speaker or writer tries to work matters out in a dialectical manner using tentative phrasings of the speaker’s thought. Craddock invites them to do this by learning how to shuntle, spiral, and shock. Shuntling is how he refers to his organizing strategy of dialectical indirection in which one repeatedly moves from the text and its historical time to a contemporary context relevant to the modern situation of hearers. He explains, “Consider a pastor in Kalispell who may be preaching about Jesus in Capernaum. A good sermon about Capernaum should end up with Kalispell written all over it. However, if it’s all Kalispell, it’s a nice talk. If it’s all Capernaum, it’s just a history lesson. But, if you shuntle between those, it’s a sermon.”[5]

His second strategy of dialectical indirection is spiraling. He explains that it is his practice to gather lots of things he might say “from related texts, theological reflection, news reports, observations, experience, congregational life, history, biography, general reading, and so on.” He writes these on index cards and begins by pinning the key gospel insight “distilled and drawn from study of the text” in the center of a corkboard. Other cards are placed on the board “in no particular order.” Cards that do not connect with the gospel insight to be revealed at the sermon’s close are eliminated. Next, he takes the remaining cards and begins the spiraling process of arranging them in the reverse order they will appear in the sermon, from end to start. “I usually arrange and re-arrange four or five times.”[6] He looked to literary theorist Stanley Fish for a way to understand the role each card plays in creating a part of the sermonic whole. Fish states that rational argument is conducted by developing a series of points offered in support of a thesis claim. But when developing the plot of a narrative, the succession of scenes in a story are like the steps on a ladder. Each scene, like each ladder step, serves no other purpose than to provide a means to get to the next step or scene.[7]

Craddock’s third strategy of shocking hearers belies this simple temporal one-thing-after-another idea of getting from here to there, because it acknowledges that novels and plays are actually organized by the narrative poetics of a plot. According to Aristotle, a plot has three movements: complication, climax, and dénouement. A sermon by Craddock reframes these moves colloquially. A sermon must first get the nod of gospel recognition, then the shock of gospel recognition, and finally a hearing of the gospel for what it is and says. The preacher must first get a pre-critical nod of gospel recognition that is then complicated dialogically by introducing phrases like “it seems . . . but still . . . ” or “of course . . . and yet . . . ” These dialectical observations complicate the reductive simplicity of the pre-critical understanding.[8] The preacher then has the listener experience the shock of recognition that what they have said they always believed actually calls for a gospel commitment quite different from what they always thought was expected.[9] To do that, the shock must turn the identification nod of recognition on its head in some way. “Otherwise,” he writes, “the listener simply sees it as evidence of the preacher’s cleverness.”[10] The audience’s shock of actual gospel recognition must then make way for a new hearing, a finally having heard insight of the actual gospel claim applied to Christian living.[11]

Craddock’s nod-shock-hearing sermon design is a homespun version of Paul Ricoeur’s Orienting-Disorienting-Reorienting (ODR) description of the Aristotelian poetics of plot development.[12] Walter Brueggemann notes, “The countermovement of reorientation comes, says Ricoeur, through a representation of reality that is genuinely new and has the mark of gift. The reorientation has both continuities with and discontinuities from what has been.”[13] As a pattern of preaching, a Ricoeurian ODR sermon design draws on the principles of narrative poetics, beginning with a pre-critical first naiveté that is then troubled by a recognition of its contradictory aporias to finally come to a new equilibrium, one that becomes for preacherly guide and listener alike a new, second naiveté. This sermon design ultimately reorients experience by way of a “grace-born gift” of insight.[14]

That’s why a reader of a Craddock sermon, or someone finding a sermon like this on the internet now, comes away from the message responding “Whoa! What will I do with that?” Much like the response we come away from a classic novel of the human condition that challenges our naiveté in how we have seen the world and invites us to see it anew. Much like the response Jesus listeners once had after hearing him talk about the reign and realm of God in parables.

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 



[1] Fred B. Craddock, “Unpublished lecture,” from an audiotape at the Whitworth Ministry Institute, Spokane, Washington, on July 23, 1992.

[2] Fred Craddock, As One Without Authority, rev. ed. (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2001), 131–36.

[3] Fred Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel: Preaching and Teaching the Faith to Persons Who Have Heard It All Before, 6th ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), 82.

[4] Sören Kierkegaard, My Point of View for My Work as an Author: A Report to History, trans. Walter Lowrie (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 25–26 (italics mine)..

[5] Craddock, “Unpublished lecture,” from the Whitworth audiotape

[6] Craddock on “Organizing Material,” in Best Advice for Preaching, ed. John S. McClure (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 69.

[7] Craddock, Overhearing, 130–32. Cf. Stanley E. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 374–82.

[8] Craddock, As One Without Authority, 123.

[9] Fred B. Craddock, Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), 47.

[10] Fred Craddock, Craddock on the Craft of Preaching (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2011), 132.

[11] Craddock, Preaching, 47. Preachers are called to perform their own exegetical process of coming-to-understanding of the gospel truth of the text preached and to do so in a way that lets listeners make a similar journey of discovering the actual doing intention of a biblical text. If listeners make this trip with the preacher who serves as a doula or sherpa, what they come away with is an insight that they have arrived at relevant to their own situation. Craddock, As One Without Authority, 48–49.

[12] See Paul Ricoeur, “Biblical Hermeneutics,” Semeia 4 (1975): 27–148.

[13] Walter Brueggemann, “The Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function,” in Soundings in the Theology of Psalms: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship, ed. Rolf A. Jacobson, 1–26 (Minneapolis: Fortress), 4.

[14] For Paul Ricoeur’s discussion of the process of arriving at a second naiveté see Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan (Boston: Beacon, 1957), 347–57. For the development of this as a pattern of preaching, see Ronald J. Allen, Interpreting the Gospels: An Introduction to Preaching (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 1998), 196–97.

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