Charles E. Weniger on Preaching

Charles E. Weniger on Preaching (Conclusion)

THE concept of identification and the principle of "assuming the position" held an important place in Weniger's approach to oral reading as applied to ministers. . .

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

Identification and Physiological Approach

THE concept of identification and the principle of "assuming the position" held an important place in Weniger's approach to oral reading as applied to ministers.

Those privileged to have studied under him the orations of Moses as re corded in Deuteronomy had the concept of identification indelibly ingrained. Not only did they visualize the scene, but they felt with Moses--they were Moses. Moses--strong, hard, resilient; indignant, righteously angry, sad; tragic, despairing, suffering--became so much a part of them that they never again flatly read those magnificent orations.

Dr. Weniger not only taught the efficacy of "assuming the position," but practiced it as well. Even when weighted down by pressures, anxieties, illness, he followed his own counsel. "When things go wrong try expanding your chest, taking a deep breath, and walking briskly with your head up. See how it renews your energy and courage." 1

Impressing upon ministers the importance of the physiological, he wrote:

The preacher began with wrinkled brow and stern countenance as if to announce the immediately impending day of doom. Under the dark cloud of the preacher's personality a pall fell over the congregation.

Jesus ever wore on His countenance "the light of a cheerful piety." It was "love in look and tone" that drew men to Him. Let's emulate the Master.

"I like people I like you I have something for you, something good," should show on your face as you begin to preach. 2

In a vivid illustration that pointed up the practical application of the concept to the ministry, he stated,

There he was--"holding on for dear life" to both sides of the desk as he read a quiet passage of the Bible and talked about God's goodness. Result: stifled manner and restriction of normal bodily expression.

Beware of holding onto the desk rigidly with one or both hands. It may be comfortable to let one hand rest lightly on the desk for a brief time, but there is something about habitually holding on to it that stifles free physical expression. The position is static. Be dynamic! Let go! 3


Dr. Weniger continually emphasized the necessity for careful analyses. He was well aware that there is no expression without impression, as well as the Fact that impression does not guarantee expression.

His practicability caused him to realize the importance of techniques and even of the use of rote drill. In workshops he frequently made use of choral reading. One of his favorite devices was a "delightful little poem" (his words) in which the various boats in the harbor speak.

However, he understood the basic necessity of thorough analysis as a means to comprehension.

If you would have your congregation get the thought of God's Word from the Scripture lesson, you must first be sure that you have the thought yourself. This takes earnest, diligent, prayerful study of the text. It requires the use of the dictionary, The SDA Bible Commentary, and other helps, and, if possible, study of the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Next you must be sure to communicate that thought, to share it with your auditors. This demands study of emphasis, pause, pitch level, and all other ingredients of meaningful oral interpretation. It requires actual practice orally preferably in the sanctuary of the text. Never read the Sacred Word in public without first studying its real meaning and practicing its oral reading in private. Be truthful. Be accurate. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). 4

The need and practicality of careful analysis and the employment of technique were further suggested in these words:

To illustrate the need of paying attention to the oral communication of the Word of God, let us take several brief examples of texts often faultily spoken or read in public.

"Drink ye all of it." Jesus was setting the example for the communion service. Did He mean that we should drink all the wine, or that all of us should partake? The K.J.V. translation is ambiguous. The Greek shows that the word "all" qualifies "ye," not "of it." The translators might have better rendered the text: "All of you, drink it." How can you convey the idea of the K.J.V. orally? Try speaking the words, "ye all" together, closely knit on a uniform pitch level, and then pause slightly before adding the phrase "of it." How clear and meaningful the invitation becomes: "Drink ye all--of it."

"And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." The sentence is found in Luke's account of the Nativity (Luke 2:16). I have heard the text read so as to convey the idea that the mother and father and infant were lying together in the manger. What a world of difference a pause may make! Try ignoring the comma after "Mary" (there is no comma in the original language), read the words "Mary and Joseph" as a unit, and then speak as one phrase the last part of the verse, without pausing after "babe." Make it sound like this: "and found Mary and Joseph [pause], and the babe lying in a manger." How clear! And how great is the emphasis thus given to the sublime fact of God incarnate cradled in a lowly stable! 5

As an example of analysis of poetry in the Bible, Professor Weniger depicted the deathbed blessing by the patriarch Jacob. He pointed out the arrangement, division, rhythm, spontaneity, imagery, and predictiveness of the passage. Then in a blend of analysis and imagery, he asked,

What was the occasion of this poem? It is a death bed scene. Jacob, resting on his couch, surrounded by his sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, speaks his final words of blessing and counsel. This is his swan-song. His sons and their descendants will cherish its message as long as the commonwealth of Israel shall endure. He begins with his first-born, Reuben, his son by Leah, and then proceeds on with Leah's other sons, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, and Issachar, before blessing Dan, child by his handmaid Bilhah. After a sentence of exclamation, as if the patriarch were pausing for reflection and rest in the ecstacy of the moment, Jacob resumes the blessing, beginning with Gad and Asher, sons by his handmaid Zilpah; he then blesses Naphtali, child by Bilhah, and closes the benediction with Joseph and Benjamin ("child of my right hand"), children of his beloved Rachel. 6

An urgent exhortation to thoroughly know and accurately read the material at hand is found in these words:

When we read Weymouth, let us read Weymouth. When we read Moffat, let us read Moffat. When we read any one of the revised versions, let us read that version. And, by all means, when we read the authorized version as it occurs in current printing, let us read it accurately and honestly, without changing a single word of the translation. The pulpit demands skillful workmen. 7

The prevalence of "ministerial tone" or "stained-glass resonance" was very offensive to Dr. Weniger. He felt that it hindered the full communication of the minister's message. He attacked it directly when he had opportunity. Basic in this attack was his concept of analysis. If the full intent were comprehended and the full meaning presented, the "ministerial tone" would not exist.

In speaking of those suffering from this affliction, he wrote:

Their sentences ever fall into similar cadence. Their varied thoughts are poured into identical molds, every sentence sounding like every other sentence, and ending in the same monotonous dropping or rising of the voice, as the habit may be. A foreigner in the audience might conclude that the speaker was merely repeating the same stolid thought over and over again.

Thoughts are not mere repetitions of themselves. Therefore the expression of thought should not be a succession of monotonies. 8

Speakers should guard against the "ministerial tone." For every thought and mood there are appropriate means of expression. Life is not always on the same dead level of pathos. Pulpit discussions touch joy and sorrow, satisfaction and yearning, triumphant ecstacy and deep contrition. And for every sincerely felt emotion, there is a specific vocal response. 9

In Summary

A review of Dr. Weniger's technique of teaching oral interpretation would suggest that he was eclectic. Like many excellent teachers in the area, he made frequent use of a wide variety of approaches.

However, his unique contribution "went beyond his careful preparation, his inspiring presentation, and his expert teaching. His unique contribution was an outgrowth of his position, his philosophy, and his outlook.

He occupied a special position in his denomination. As a college teacher, as a member of the theological faculty (applied theology), as a Seminary dean, as a university vice-president, he was able to exert powerful influence in behalf of sound speech training. An ordained minister himself, he was able to identify with the ministry. He was welcomed to pulpits and ministerial counsels around the world. An able -writer, he for thirty-six years promoted speech principles in the denominational ministerial journal. His contribution then, came because of what he was, who he was, and how he was.

Next, he made a unique contribution because of his philosophy of life. The teaching of speech was not a job to him; it was a vocation. It was his method of serving God and having a part in His great program. While not "preachy," his classes were as inspiring as a sermon. Even a dull, routine research course was spiritually, as well as mentally, invigorating under his guidance. The ministry sensed that he, with them, desired a furtherance of the cause of God. Realizing this, they accepted his suggestions without resentment.

It seems to me that Dr, Weniger was able primarily to make a unique contribution because of his application of motivation and his extreme practicality. In an unobtrusive way he not only defended but actually supported speech training and skill on theological grounds. It was geared not toward display or shallow conceit, but rather toward the furthering of the cause of God and advancing the work of the ministry. The cherished authorities of the ministry were presented in their defense of sound speech practices. Above all, he was practical. His presentation was not mere theory or book learning. It was a down-to-earth, understandable, utilitarian aid in the solution of some of the most pressing problems of the ministry.

As with Augustine of old, Charles E. Weniger was able to bridge the gap be tween rhetoric and preaching, and to successfully apply sound speech doctrine to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


1 Charles E. Weniger, The Preacher and His Preparation (Washington: The Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., n.d.), p. 19.

2 _____, "Potpourri for Preachers," The Ministry, July, 1964, p. 15.

3 ibid., September, 1964, p. 38.

4 _____, "A Note on the Oral Reading of the Scriptures," ibid., January, 1964, p. 29.

5 ibid., pp. 28, 29.

6 _____, "A Brief Study in Old Testament Poetry," ibid., July, 1960, pp. 10, 11.

7 _____, "Throughly or Thoroughly?" ibid., February, 1949, p. 10.

8 _____, "The 'Ministerial Tone,'" ibid., July, 1937, p. 15.

9. Ibid.


Book Review, Helping the Bible Speak, July, 1957, p. 36.

"How Effective Is Your Speech?" June, 1943, p. 37.

"Needless and Faulty Repetition," October, 1949, p. 19.

"Potpourri for Preachers," July, 1964, p. 15.

"Potpourri for Preachers," September, 1964, p. 38.

"Some Questions to Ask Yourself," July, 1943, pp. 5, 6.

"The 'Ministerial Tone,' " July, 1937, pp. 15, 16.

"The Personality of Your Radio Voice," June, 1949, pp. 25-27.

"The Personality of Your Radio Voice," July, 1949, pp. 9, 10.

"Throughly or Thoroughly?" February, 1949, p. 10.

"Twelve Book 'Musts' for the Public Speaker," February, 1955, pp. 12-14.

"What Seminaries Expect of Undergraduate Speech Departments," The Speech Teacher, March, 1957, pp. 18, 19.

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

September 1972

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