1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
Some of my former students encouraged me to pull together sermons that I had preached over the years as well as essays published in various journals. So a project like this had been on my mind. Steve’s invitation to write a book for 1517 provided the immediate impetus for preparing the book.
2. In the preface, you describe your last twenty years of service as a professor of practical theology. How did your experience in this role impact your approach to preaching?
I never had any intentions of teaching at the seminary. I was happily serving as the campus pastor at University Lutheran Chapel at the University of Minnesota when Dr. Dean Wenthe contacted me about coming on the faculty at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. I was moved to accept the call to teach in the area of practical theology with a desire to help future pastors have the joy that I had in my 17 years as pastor, namely preaching Christ crucified into the ears of broken and needy sinners and watch them grow in faith.
Preaching should never be an abstraction. The preacher stands in front of the biblical text and in front of a specific congregation. It has often been said that theology is for proclamation. My desire is to teach and write Lutheran theology so it leads to solid, consoling, and realistic proclamation in the pulpit and in all the venues where the pastor serves the Lord’s people.
3. In the preface, you also say, “The pastor is not a soloist. He stands within the company of preachers.” Can you further explain what you mean by this?
The Book of Hebrews tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Good pastors are not innovators, cooking up something new. We’ve been shaped by those who have gone before us in the faith. We stand on their shoulders even as they stand on the solid ground of Holy Scriptures. Pastors also are part of a “band of brothers” bound together even now by a common confession of the faith. No individual pastor is self-sufficient. Brothers in office are needed to encourage, challenge, guide, correct, and comfort in an office that sometimes can be marked by loneliness.
Good pastors are not innovators, cooking up something new. We’ve been shaped by those who have gone before us in the faith.
4. In the foreword, Dr. Jacob Corzine says the following about you: “Pless knows his own church but constantly engages beyond it...John Pless is a biblically faithful confessional Lutheran, but he is not walled off from the rest of Christendom.” In your own words, why is it important that we as Christians engage with those outside of our particular denomination?
I think confessional Lutherans have a great treasure to share with the whole church. Think of our emphasis on Christ alone, God’s promises active in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the theology of the cross, faith as God’s gift for Christ’s sake, and, of course, the distinction between God’s law and his gospel. H.C. Schwan, an early president of the Missouri Synod once said that while it is true that we are not to cast pearls before swine it is also true that we don’t keep those pearls in our pocket. In our day when the Biblical gospel is so often ignored, distorted, or denied, we have a calling to share it with all who will listen.
5. In the chapter, “Your Pastor Is Not Your Therapist,” you say, “It is not that preachers preach about law and gospel, but rather that they preach law and gospel,” (293). What is the difference between these two things?
Preachers are called to actually speak God’s law to convict and to kill the old Adam so that the word of the Gospel, the proclamation not simply that Christ died an atoning death for sin but that this death is FOR YOU. Good preaching must always “hand over the goods” to use the language of my friend Jim Nestingen.
6. You also say, “Absolution delivers an eschatological reality. It is not a quick fix for psychological disorders or difficulties” (297). Why is it important that we understand absolution in this way?
Our age has turned pretty much everything into psychology or sociology. Sins are reduced to dysfunctional behaviors that can be corrected by therapy or at least managed with the help of a good life coach. The Scriptures recognize sin as a God-sized problem. The Absolution is not an unknown Deity giving you a pass on your problematic and destructive habits. Absolution is the word that actually gives you a future with God on account of Jesus’ death and empty tomb. God doesn’t affirm sinners. He puts them to Jesus’ death and through that death he brings them to the resurrection and life eternal. Christ’s Word actually does what it says.
7. Is there any advice or thoughts you want to share with potential readers?
I enjoyed writing this book. It brought to mind so many of the Lord’s blessings in my own life and ministry over these last years. I hope that it will be a useful tool box for seminarians and pastors to be sure but also for faithful lay people who might read it devotionally.