1.17.2022 – so you may master

so you may master
the intricacies of the
English language

In his famous sermon, Paul’s Letter to American Christians Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 4 November 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech. But even if you “speak with the tongues of man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

In a famous documentary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect Philip Johnson says that he doesn’t know how Wright designed his buildings.

Mr. Johnson then says, “If I knew how it did it, I would do it.”

Listening and reading the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I say to myself, how did he do that?

Listening and reading the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I say to myself, how did he do that?

If I knew, I would do it.

I ask myself, what must it have been like to be a regular at the Ebenezer Baptist Church when Dr. King was in the pulpit.

I grew up Dutch in West Michigan.

I also grew up Baptist.

That meant church twice on Sunday, Wednesday Meeting, Tuesday Bible Club and Monday Awana.

I heard a lot of preaching growing up.

I often felt that Sheriff Andy Taylor’s assessment of the preaching in Mayberry when he says that he, ” … holds with Rev. Tucker. But he can be as dry as dust,” could apply to my years growing up Baptist.

The church I grew was strongly associated with both the Grand Rapids Baptist College and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary.

Both places still exist but now that the word ‘Baptist’ is a determent to marketing, they are known as Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

My Church did not so much have ‘Preaching’ as it had ‘Teaching’.

If ever in need of what was known as ‘Pulpit Supply’, the Church leaders would turn to the Seminary for someone to preach on Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend or in the event that the Church was without a Preacher.

Once when searching for a new Pastor, Dr. Leon Wood of the Seminary spoke for two years using his course and latest book on the Prophet Daniel as the basis for his Sunday sermons.

Dr. Wood’s style was to teach, word by word, through each verse, and explain in detail, the meaning, history and use of the word.

My Dad used to remark on how many verses of the Book of Daniel that Dr. Wood might cover in a Sunday Sermon.

The average was about 2.

I was 10 and when I was told about the upcoming Sunday Sermons, I was excited because the Book of Daniel had those great stories of Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

I was so excited, my Mom got me his book for my birthday.

I loved the gift.

I loved that I GOT a gift.

I loved that my Mom remembered.

But what was really cool about that gift was how it came about.

Every summer, my Dad would take a week off and we would take a State of Michigan vacation.

This meant Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mackinaw or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

This vacation also usually happened around my Birthday on July 17th.

That meant my birthday was celebrated on the road.

For me, this was (as Jim Harrison writes in his book “The Big Seven”) the kind of injustice that weighs heavily on children who collect injustices for later possible use.

That year we were in Eagle Harbor Michigan up in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper peninsula, on my birthday and we trooped into a restaurant for lunch and with about 10 or 12 of us, we took three tables of 4.

Understand that by car, Eagle Harbor Michigan was a far away from Grand Rapids as Washington, DC,

Check a map, it is a LONG way there to get there.

I sat with Mom and Dad and probably little Stevie who would have been about 6.

Not sure why, but it seems like I always got to sit with Mom and Dad.

And most likely I was moping about it being my birthday and no cake or celebration as I was not going to let such an opportunity to whine get by when my Mom reached into her purse and pulled out a wrapped present.

She had packed it away and kept it hidden from me the entire trip.

Few gifts through out my life have been more a surprise.

And it was Dr. Wood’s book on Daniel.

I did read it – or at least tried to read it but I was just 10 years old and I still have it my shelf all these years later.

But I digress.

Dr. Wood, as I remember it, spent three weeks of Sunday Services dissecting the word, word history and meanings of the word ‘pulse’.

(For those who weren’t there, pulse is the veggie diet that Daniel asked for in place of the royal food’s that had been offered up before the Babylonia gods)

Where was the lion’s den?

Where was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

Daniel’s 70 weeks?

And the missing week?

Minutes seemed like hours.

And hours seemed like days.

Years later, moving to the south, my wife and I (she grew up the same church) decided that anyone who attend our church when we did should be award a M.Div degree from the Seminary AND if anyone, and I mean ANYONE, had tried to preach any of those sermons in the south, biblical stoning would have made come back.

And I have to wonder why.

To be sure, Dr. King had a gift.

But was there anything else?

Dr. King after attending Morehouse in Atlanta, went off to post graduate work at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania to work on a Bachelor’s of Divinity degree in 1948.

Dr. King took some 35 courses.

Of those 35 course, 11, almost 1/3 of the course of study, were classes on HOW TO PREACH or other pulpit skills.

Dr. King took the following courses.

Preaching Ministry of the Church
Public Speaking (twice)
Public Speaking I
Preparation of the Sermon
Practice Preaching
Preaching Problems
Conduct of Church Services
The Minister’s Use of Radio
Church Music
Choir

Thinking about my experiences with sermons and preaching, I checked the current catalog list of required courses for a Master of Divinity or M.Div at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

There are 32 required classes.

BBL-501 Biblical Hermeneutics
BBL-510 Greek I
THE-501 Program Introduction
BBL-511 Greek II
THE-540 Systematic Theology I
MIN-500 Christian Spiritual
MIN-543 Christian Formation in the Church
MIN-545 Teaching & Learning
THE-640 Systematic Theology II
MIN-560 Global Impact
BBL-516 Hebrew I
BBL-672 NT I: Introduction to Exegesis. 3
THE-641 Systematic Theology III
BBL-517 Hebrew II
BBL-601 Experiencing the Ancient World of the Bible (Israel)
BBL-677 NT II: The Gospels
MIN-685 Ministry Residency I
MIN-510 Organizational Leadership General Elective
BBL-640 OT I: Intro to Hebrew Exegesis
BBL-678 NT III: Hebrews to Revelation. 3
Ministry Specialization Course
MIN-686 Ministry Residency II
BBL-641 OT II: Exegesis in the Pentateuch
Historical Theology Elective
Ministry Specialization Course
MIN-781 Ministry Residency III
MIN-711 Program Completion
MIN-782 Ministry Residency IV
BBL-642 OT III: Exegesis in the Prophets and Writings
THE-676 Apologetics and Moral Issues in Christian Ministry
Historical Theology Elective
Ministry Specialization Course

For specialization in Pulpit Ministry, Homelitics (the art of preaching or writing sermons) I & II are recommended Specialization courses.

Otherwise, nothing on how to speak or preach.

Boy Howdy!

That course list reads like a list of sermon titles I have sat through.

I held with the preaching, but it was dry as dust.

Now I am not saying that just the study of preaching and the classes that Dr. King took might have helped but I will say it wouldn’t hurt.

How much did it help Dr. King?

That is hard to say.

According to his transcript, Dr. King got a C’s in public speaking.

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