Edward Grimenstein’s A Lutheran Primer for Preaching is exactly what it claims to be: an introduction to one of the tasks, if not the most important task, which pastors do. Grimenstein has two goals in mind as he writes: first, to establish the theology behind the act of preaching; and secondly, to discuss some of the necessities that should be considered in sermon writing” (10).
It’s apparent very early on that the author intends this book to be a reaction against moralistic preaching which discounts the authority of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit’s power in the proclaimed Word. Grimenstein seems to have in mind an audience which has experienced regular exposure to such gospel-starved preaching. That may not be the background of many who read this review. Nevertheless, Grimenstein’s presentation of the Lutheran theology behind the act of preaching is valuable even for experienced confessional Lutheran pastors. We should never take for granted the theology behind our approach to the homiletical task.
Grimenstein stresses that true Lutheran preaching presents God as the “Doer” who “can perform for his people what He alone can do: save mankind from this fallen world” (15). Therefore, good preaching focuses on Jesus Christ and the work of forgiveness and salvation which he accomplishes through his Word. Jesus must never become an inactive or passive part of the sermon. “The Scriptures and preaching should not only point toward Jesus as a manner of content, but they should also be seen as the present, living, active voice of God Himself who is doing salvation amongst people in this world today, tomorrow and every day until the return of Christ Himself” (36).
Such preaching will rightly divide law and gospel and not mingle the two. The author offers an excellent chapter which summarizes the nature, purpose, and difference between law and gospel. Every Lutheran preacher should regularly review summaries like this because it is so easy to lose the sin-grace, law-gospel focus of our sermons. The author’s warning is well received when he says, “(P)reachers fall into Satan’s trap when words stressing morality become a type of security blanket for the preacher and the hearers, as if acquiring a greater moral life somehow appeases God. This is a form of preaching that causes listeners to look inward to themselves for fear, love and trust, rather than looking to God. It is, by nature and definition, truly sinful and satanic.” (24)
In the second half of the book, Grimenstein presents a plan for sermon preparation. He begins by reminding his readers that the preacher’s role is to speak the Word of God authoritatively on the basis of what the Bible says (66). Furthermore, they are to assure their hearers that what Christ has done he has done for them.
Grimenstein emphasizes a method of sermon study and preparation which works toward developing a single theme. He believes one of the downfalls of modern preaching is preaching with multiple themes in mind or preaching without any point in mind. He contends that listeners will stop listening when they hear preaching without a point (72).
He recommends following these steps, which he outlines on a useful sermon preparation worksheet.
- Identify the text. Grimenstein strongly recommends selecting a text from a lectionary as a way of ensuring a strong, balanced diet of God’s Word from his whole counsel.
- Identify God as the Actor in the text. In texts where God is mentioned both explicitly and implicitly, “God is still the main actor. He is the major character and initiator of change in the narrative” (76). By identifying God as the Actor, preachers avoid preaching moralistic sermons.
- Identify Jesus as our Redeemer. The author constantly desires to remind us that “all Scripture ultimately leads to the cross” (76).
- The Holy Spirit brings belief. Grimenstein encourages us to note instances in the text where we are encouraged to believe in the works of God. Ask the question, “How does the text indicate that salvation impacts you?”
After identifying these features of the text, Grimenstein recommends crafting a theme sentence. This theme sentence should not be equated with what we typically associate as the theme or title of our sermon. Rather, this theme sentence is a declarative sentence identifying God’s redeeming actions. “The theme sentence should be in the preacher’s hand as he engages the biblical text and especially as he writes and edits his sermon” (80).
Grimenstein also recommends employing a second sermon preparation worksheet which helps preachers divide law and gospel in the text and ensures that listeners will believe that the law and gospel are “for you.” Grimenstein refers to the method behind this worksheet at the “Five Pages.” “Each of the ‘Five Pages’…is a movement within the sermon” (88). The “Five Pages” are broken down as follows: Page 1: Law in the text; Page 2: Law in our lives; Page 3: The Gospel in Christ; Page 4: Gospel in the text; Page 5: Gospel in our world.
This balance of “pages” in the sermon helps to ensure that the gospel dominates in our preaching, both in the quality of speech and in the quantity of speech. After the preacher has assembled the Five Pages, he is ready to assemble it into an actual sermon. Grimenstein believes that the work of filling out these two worksheets should occupy far more of the preacher’s time than the actual writing of the sermon.
Grimenstein is to be commended for offering a solid presentation of the theory behind and the practice of writing a sermon that is biblically based and centered in redemptive and Christological truth. However, this reviewer wishes Grimenstein would have had more to say about preaching which emphasizes sanctification. One could get the impression from this volume that there is little place in the Lutheran pulpit to preach sanctification. No doubt, justification is the chief article in the Scriptures and, therefore, must be present in every sermon. Nevertheless, good Lutheran preachers will also emphasize sanctification when the biblical text presents sanctification as the dominant theme. This, too, is an important and necessary emphasis in our preaching. Furthermore, proper sanctification preaching, just like our preaching on justification, will place Jesus front and center as the “Doer” in the sermon. Christ, after all, is the only one who can produce and motivate true Christian living.
Lutheran pastors will find value in this volume. It’s a welcomed reminder that Christ and his gospel must dominate our sermons. If a preacher feels that he has lost an intentional plan in his sermon writing process, Grimenstein’s book will serve an especially useful purpose.
Edward Grimenstein currently serves the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as Associate Executive Director for the Office of International Mission. He has been a guest instructor in homiletics at Concordia Seminary and is a former associate professor of rhetoric at Houghton College. He speaks and writes frequently on homiletics. He has earned a Th.D. in Homiletics from the University of Toronto.