Philosophy of the Lecture Outline

Having been a public speaker for over forty years, I have realized that offering an audience a lecture outline can fortify and increase the knowledge the speaker wants to communicate. Outlines help the listener follow the speaker, as well as giving the listener the opportunity to follow up on the topic presented. Consider the parts of a lecture outline—or at least how I make them. 

1. The speaker should be identified by his or her full name, title, and institutional affiliation. This helps give a strong ethos to the presentation, if the speaker is so qualified. You can also include contact information. For my outlines, I write:

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. DouglasGroothuis.com

2.Putting the date and occasion of the lecture grounds it in history and place, which may end up being important.

Vertitas Forum, Anchorage, Alaska, April 10, 2021.

3. The title of the lecture should be accurate, interesting, but not too cute, since unnecessary wit can detract from one’s gravitas. The title may include a subtitle.

Critical Theory: A Biblical and Logical Critique

4. An opening quote can set the tone for the lecture. It may be a Bible verse or a quote from a noteworthy figure, such as Blaise Pascal. 

5. Sections and subsections structure the lecture and assist the listener in following the speaker. Be consistent in the form you use. I use the following:

  1. God and Suffering
    1. The biblical view
      1. Creation (Genesis 1-2)
      2. Fall (Genesis 3)
      3. Redemption (Romans 4-8)
    2. Philosophical issues
      1. God’s perfect goodness
      2. God’s unlimited power
      3. The existence of evil
      4. Are (1), (2), and (3) logically compatible?

6. Leave space between each major section so that the listener can add notes if desired.

7. The outline may include more quotations from the Bible or other sources, but they should not be too long. It is good to give the reference to the quotation, so the listener can look this up.

8. Ending the lecture outline with a bibliography encourages the listener to follow up on the topic with further reading and discovery. I emphasize books and journals, but sometimes include DVDs and web pages. I don’t usually give a full bibliography reference—as would be required in academic writing, but enough to properly identify the source.

For Further Study

  1. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (InterVarsity Press, 1968).
  2. Apologetics web page for Reasonable Faith, the ministry of William Lane Craig: reasonablefaith.org. 
  3. Videos on Intelligent Design by Illustra Video. Illustra.org.

Lecture outlines are not required for every public lecture or sermon, but the more demanding the material, the more a clear and compelling outline is needed. Some argue that lecture outlines should be avoided, since listeners may get distracted by the outline and not listen to the speaker. True enough, but if the speaker and listener follow the outline and the lecture is compelling, this is unlikely to occur. 

I view lecture outlines as part of God’s mission to bring truth and reconciliation to the world (Matthew 6:33). As such, we should value them highly and work on them diligently.