Preaching and the Laplace Transform
When studying preaching, we learned about some of the general formulas that sermons follow. The classic three-point sermon, the church equivalent of an eighth-grade five-paragraph essay, is easily recognized. Eugene Lowry treated the narrative sermon, building up to a single climax that the preacher resolves, in The Homiletical Plot. There are just about as many forms of sermons as there are integers.
One method that grabbed my attention was Paul Scott Wilson’s method, The Four Pages of the Sermon. His method depends on two particular assertions. First, that the world of the Scriptures is intimately connected to the world we inhabit today. Secondly, that the Scriptural story presents problems and their resolution.
So, the “four pages” of his sermons would flow like this, with an example:
- Identify a problem in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:10-17–the Christian Church faces division)
- Identify a problem in our world (Too many to number–factions and discrimination plague us today)
- Present God’s solution in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:18-25–Christ’s strength and wisdom makes all people one)
- Present God’s solution in our world (Question our own wisdom; find prayerful unity)
After adding some material to introduce and conclude the sermon, you have about five pages that should last a respectable 10-12 minutes.
Keeping one eye on our problems, we find an analogous problem in the Scriptures. Seeing a solution on the pages of Scripture, we track our eye back to a Godly solution for our problem.
The Laplace transform is a species of the same genus. Given an certain type ordinary differential equation, solving it directly is very difficult. So, you take the hard problem (f(t)) you have. Using the Laplace transform, you turn it into a polynomial that’s easy to solve (F(s)). With the solution to the easy problem, you do another Laplace transform and turn that into the solution to the hard problem.
Like the four pages of a sermon, it looks like this:
- Identify the hard problem: ordinary differential equation f(t)
- Transform the hard problem into an easy problem: polynomial F(s)
- Solve the easy problem
- Turn the solution of the easy problem into a solution to the hard problem
It’s not a direct analogy, but it’s the same technique. To paraphrase the mathematical proverb, “A trivial problem is one that has already been solved.” Finding problems and solutions in the narrative of Scripture gives way to solutions to problems in our lives. The connection of the Scripture stories to our life stories could be called by a number of names: incarnation, inspiration or mediation. Whichever term we go with, moving between this earthly realm and the heavenly realm is for the Christian as trivial as a Laplace transform for the mathematician.