Charles E. Weniger on Preaching

Charles E. Weniger on Preaching (Part 1)

ALMOST from the dawn of the Christian church, clergymen have held am bivalent feelings toward the employment of techniques of delivery in reading and preaching from the Word of God. In antagonism to the sophistic concept that "nothing," beautifully stated, is rhetorical accomplishment, theologians have frequently tended to neglect delivery for content. . .

-Pastor, Walla Walla College Church, College Place, Washington, at the time this article was written

ALMOST from the dawn of the Christian church, clergymen have held am bivalent feelings toward the employment of techniques of delivery in reading and preaching from the Word of God. In antagonism to the sophistic concept that "nothing," beautifully stated, is rhetorical accomplishment, theologians have frequently tended to neglect delivery for content. Occasionally great figures like Augustine arose, applying sound Ciceronian doctrine to preaching, 1 but they were far outnumbered by content-centered and delivery-neglected devotees. Thus, the very profession employing a maximum of delivery tends not only to neglect but even to oppose sound training in this area.

This paper presents a modern approach to this age-old enigma in a study of the techniques used by Charles Weniger in teaching oral interpretation to ministers. How did he go about it? What specific techniques did he use? What elements made him uniquely successful in this area?

Importance of the Study

The historical antagonism between theology and delivery still seems to exist. One evidence of this is the meager speech requirement and offering of the average seminary- While the general public tends to think of the minister as a professionally trained speaker, in actuality he often has no more speech training than the average college graduate.

Any technique and philosophy that helps transcend this antagonism and offers practical help to incipient and practicing ministers is worthy of consideration.

Background and Unique Advantages

Professor Weniger received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pacific Union College. He subsequently earned the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the University of Southern California. An honorary Doctor of Letters degree was conferred upon him in August, 1964, by Andrews University.

Immediately upon receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree he joined the faculty of the speech department of Pacific Union College. He later also served as academic dean of this institution. At Columbia Union College in Washington, D.C., he served as chairman of the department of speech. He was for a time dean of the Seminary and chairman of the department of applied theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. Next, he served as dean and vice-president at Andrews University. 2

Because of his professional reputation and towering stature Professor Weniger was able to make a deep imprint upon his denomination. He made practical application of his basic speech theory in college, seminary, and university class room, in ministerial workshops that he conducted all around the world, and by contributions to The Ministry.


A careful study of his articles appearing in The Ministry, plus reflection upon personal experience in classroom, work shop, and office has led me to conclude that the essence of Weniger's technique is motivation and extreme practicality.

He seemed very much aware that the values of his material and the great need of the ministry for those values were not enough in themselves to guarantee acceptance. Therefore, he provided motivation. This motivation was not from his perspective but rather from the perspective of his auditors. An ordained minister himself, he identified with the ministry. This identification is illustrated by the exhortation, "Brethren, let's polish the tools of our profession." 3

Again, a person senses the motivation and identification as he urges:

Perhaps there is more them a modicum of truth in Mark Twain's comment: "The average clergyman could not fire into his congregation with a shotgun and hit a worse reader than himself, unless the weapon scattered shamefully. I am not meaning to be flippant or irreverent, I am only meaning to be truthful. The average clergyman, in all countries and of all denominations, is a very bad reader." How do you read? Are you accurate, intellectually awake, emotionally fired, keenly sensitive that you are communicating the Word of God to hungry minds and hearts? Or are you reading to yourself, oblivious to the people before you? The challenge to more acceptable reading looms high before the men who bear the vessels of the Lord's house. 4

There is powerful motivational appeal in the use of authority to point out the needs and values. These authorities are drawn from those nearest the heart of a Seventh-day Adventist minister. They are the Bible, Jesus, great Bible characters, honored pioneers of the denomination, great saints of God down through the ages, and outstanding figures of history.

A very effective method of enabling a minister to recognize the value of analysis and efficacious oral interpretation is embodied in this quotation:

When Paul counseled Timothy to "give attention to reading" (1 Tim. 4:13), he did not mean the kind of reading matter that the young preacher should pay attention to, as many have misinterpreted the text. Rather, he meant the selection of the Scripture reading and its oral interpretation as a part of public worship. The word translated "reading" means primarily to read aloud.

Paul knew how much depended upon the oral communication of the Scripture in the public service of the church, and he wanted his young preacher-in-training to pay attention to his method of reading the Word of God as a part of that worship.

Perhaps he was thinking of the care with which Nehemiah and his co-workers communicated the Word to the Hebrews at the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the reign of Artaxerxes. It is written: "So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading " (Neh. 8:8). 5

Note how this quotation sets revered Biblical characters against the philosophy that attention to technique is unworthy of the ministry.

The technique oi analysis is powerfully defended by the usage of Jesus Himself as noted in this observation concerning the Sermon on the Mount:

Note His realization of the phenomena attending sunrise, of the sharp outline of hillside towns as the shadows dispersed, of the peasant's one-room dwelling with its single lampstand, as He spoke the simple words recorded in just three verses of Mat thew's record [Matt. 5:14-16]. The Master's expression not only portrayed the denotation of the words employed but also pictured the wealth of connotation, of suggestion, behind the simple words used. Rich and abundant was the galaxy of images that filled His mind, and out of this abundance His mouth spoke. 6

To support the assertion that "your voice is probably your greatest single professional asset," one of the most honored denominational pioneers is cited.

"The power of speech is a talent that should be diligently cultivated. Of all the gifts we have received from God, none is capable of being a greater blessing than this. With the voice we convince and persuade; with it we offer prayer and praise to God, and with it we tell others of the Redeemer's love. How important, then, that it be so trained as to be most effective for good." Christ's Object Lessons, p. 335. 7


Associated with motivation is a realistic practicality. This practicality was evidence by his classroom criticism. After a Weniger analysis the student was conscious of his great need, of the long way he had yet to go; but he also sensed that he had made progress and had been given the tools for growth. Even clergy men antagonistic to speech training were disarmed by the obvious beneficial application of speech theory.

Dr. Weniger verbalized this practical approach in a comment contained in a review of the book Helping the Bible Speak. "The ministry in general would profit by a down-to-earth study of the principles of effective oral reading;, with special attention to the reading of the Bible." 8

This practicality is evidence in simple, effectual, direct counsel such as:

"Thus saith the Lord." What a ring of divine authority the phrase gives to the text. But don't spoil the reading by saying "saith" in two syllables. Pronounce it like the name of Adam's son, Seth! Say "seth," not "say-eth." As said is pronounced "sed," so saith is pronounced "seth." The mispronunciation of "saith" is perhaps the most frequent fault in pulpit pronunciation. 9

In kindly but very direct fashion, Weniger wrote:

The sooner a preacher comes to the point where he intelligently analyzes his own speech, the better preacher he becomes provided, of course, that he sets about to strengthen his assets and to eliminate his liabilities. Self-diagnosis is one of his best teachers. 10

Then, a self-rating scale is presented with the suggestion, "It would be a helpful procedure to ask a kind but honest friend to rate the effectiveness of your speech in a similar fashion." 11

Even in philosophising, this practicality is apparent as illustrated by these words, "A sermon is not a plain, but a mountain slope, reaching to a climax. Have a high purpose, eliminate every idea that doesn't help to fulfill that purpose; work toward the climax, and when you reach the climax, stop!" 12


Basic in Weniger's concept of interpretation is the factor of imagery. "Preach from a picture" was a constant classroom admonition. In one of his frequent comments upon Winan's concept of full realization of content at moment of utterance, he wrote:

The first law requires the speaker to visualize every idea presented, at the moment of delivery. Rolling hills told about must be seen with the mind's eye, a cool breeze mentioned must be imaginatively felt, the emotion of love must be re called, the meaning of faith must be realized. 13

Professor Weniger illustrated imagery in the very language that he used in concluding an article on poetry in the Old Testament:

Thus in the language of poetry Jacob blessed his sons and through them the twelve tribes of Israel. No one was omitted. And then the grandson of Abraham, the father of the faithful, gave his brief charge for his burial, and "gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people." 14

In the classroom and at workshops Dr. Weniger not only advocated the use of imagery but graphically demonstrated it. I recall an introduction to a unit on imagery in which the professor skillfully described a luscious, ripe peach. So vividly and clearly was the delicious juicy fruit pictured that the saliva flowed freely in the mouths of the auditors. After this striking demonstration of the transfer of an image from mind to mind, the teacher launched into a discussion of imagery with the admonition, "Go thou and do likewise."

Weniger continually urged his hearers to expand their horizons, to enrich their experiences, to add depth and meaning to their lives. Attendance at a Catholic high mass, a Jewish Yom Kippur service, a worship hour at a large Negro church, and a full military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery were all recommended as enriching experiences during one quarter of his teaching career.

An eloquent appeal to the expanding of life experiences is found in these words:

Too many of us go through life looking at every thing through gray glasses. Violets and roses and lilies and pinks are just flowers to us. Mellow apples, steaming potato soup, vanilla ice cream, and luscious peaches are merely food. Satin and velvet, silk and linen are only cloth. Bird songs, train whistles, childhood's laughter, and the notes of the symphony are but sounds. Learn to observe, to appreciate, to discriminate. Having eyes, see; having ears, hear. Waken your senses to enjoy earth's ten thousand times ten thousand delights, and realize the growth in personality that attends such awakening and the expression of it. 15

(To be continued)




1. Lester Thonssen and R. Craig Baird, Speech Criticism (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1948), p. 110.

2. "Noted Educator Dies," Pacific Union Recorder, Dec. 7, 1964, p. 1.

3. Charles E. Weniger, "Needless and Faulty Repetition," The Ministry, Oct., 1949, p. 19.

4. ______, The Preacher and His Preparation (Washington: The Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., n.d.), p. 25.

5. ______, "A Note on the Oral Reading of the Scriptures," The Ministry, Jan., 1964, p. 28.

6. ______, "The Personality of Your Radio Voice," ---ibid., July, 1949, p. 10.

7. ______, "Twelve Must Books for the Public Speaker," --ibid., Feb., 1955, p. 12.

8. ______, --ibid., July, 1957, p. 36.

9. ______, "Potpourri for Preachers," --ibid., July, 1964, p. 15.

10. Ibid., June, 1943, p. 37.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.. July, 1964, p. 15.

13. ______, "The Ministerial Tone," --ibid., July, 1937, p. 15.

14. ______, "The Personality of Your Radio Voice," -ibid., July, 1960, p. 11.

15. Ibid.. June, 1949, p. 26.

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-Pastor, Walla Walla College Church, College Place, Washington, at the time this article was written

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