Summer Reading List for Preachers

Reading Time: 3 mins

Good reading is an ingredient for good preaching. Here are a few books –most of them relatively new- which you might want to put on your summer reading list.

Summer generally provides an opportunity for pastors to slow down a bit providing some time for recreation. Given the less hectic schedule, it is also a good time for pastors to replenish and renew their own minds by reading. Good reading is an ingredient for good preaching. Here are a few books –most of them relatively new- which you might want to put on your summer reading list.

Just out is Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Lexham Press, 2019). Veteran pastor, seminary professor, and author, Senkbeil distills wisdom obtained from decades of faithful service and packages it in an easy to read format. This is not a typical textbook in pastoral theology. Rather, Senkbeil explores classical models of pastoral care (i.e. Gregory the Great, Augustine, Luther, Walther and others) to provide contemporary ministers with time-tested paths that get to the heart (literally) diagnosing and treating conditions of the human soul bent and twisted in enmity from the Triune God. Senkbeil is autobiographical but not self-assorted as he recounts stories from this own life and varied ministerial career. He is something of a Lutheran Eugene Peterson whom he acknowledges along with Thomas Oden as a guide. This is a book that can be read leisurely even devotionally. Senkbeil is a literary craftsman and he demonstrates it once again in this fine book. The section on askesis echoes the work of Oswald Bayer on this topic. The Care of Souls has much to offer that will help pastors clarify their own work, recognizing that pastoral theology is not simply a skill set but a habitus that embraces the man’s life.

Arguably, Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was the most famous Lutheran preacher of the last century. His sermons from the pulpit of St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg were magnetic, draw hearers that ranged from dock workers to university professors. Thielicke’s own life was shaped by close encounters with death and a life-long engagement with a Christian response to nihilism. His sermons were substantial, intellectually engaging, and directed to those who were suspicious of the Christian faith. Jeffery L. Hamm’s Turning the Tables on Apologetics: Helmut Thielicke’s Refomation of Christian Conversation (Pickwick, 2018) demonstrates Thielicke’s unique approach to apologetics with an eye on his sermons. Fabian Grassl’s In the Face of Death: Thielicke- Theologian, Preacher, and Boundary Rider (Pickwick, 2019) provides an excellent biography of Thielicke’s life while probing the impact that the death of his grandfather, a life-threatening illness as a university student, and frequent encounters with death during World War II would have on Thielicke’s work. Some of Thielicke’s post poignant preaching was done in the shadow of death. Grassl has a good grasp of the eschatological edge to Thielicke’s preaching.

We can always depend on Bror Erickson for good things from Bo Giertz. The latest treasure is a collection of sermons from Advent through Pentecost, A Year of Grace: Selected Sermons of Advent Through Pentecost (Vol. I) by Bo Giertz, trans. Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2019). Giertz was a powerful preacher. His sermons are orthodox, evangelical, textual, and profoundly pastoral. I suggest to my students that they read good sermons not merely to salvage an illustration here or there much less to attempt to pass off another’s hard work as their own, but to be refreshed by good preaching. Good sermons beget good sermons. You will not go wrong by reading and pondering these sermons by the sainted bishop of Gothenburg, the beloved author of The Hammer of God.

Kenneth Korby once referred to Martin Franzmann as “the sweet singer of the Missouri Synod.” The Art of Exegesis: An Analysis of the Life and Work of Martin Franzmann by Matthew E. Borrasso (Pickwick, 2019) locates Franzmann in his historical context and probes the sources that influenced his tremendous contributions as a New Testament scholar, hymnist, and preacher. This book is a helpful introduction to his work on all three of these fronts. Franzmann knew and practiced exegesis as an “art” which gives birth to preaching.

How do you preach Christian freedom? The work of Australian scholar, Brett Muhlhan, Being Shaped by Freedom: An Examination of Luther’s Development of Christian Liberty, 1520-1525 (Pickwick, 2012) is a good guide to how Luther came to articulate our freedom in Christ. While Muhlhan does not treat the Reformer’s preaching explicitly, there is much in his work that will benefit preachers who see the task of the sermon as releasing sinners from their sins.

Erasmus has taken up residence in too many pulpits. Steven Paulson sets out to excommunicate Erasmus from the pulpit in Luther’s Outlaw God, Vol. I: Hiddenness, Evil, and Predestination (Fortress, 2018). Paulson opens up Luther’s argument against Erasmus demonstrating that God’s power for salvation is not in the Law but in the Gospel, an immutable word of promise spoken for the sake of Christ to broken sinners. Without this promise, God is left “unpreached” and sinners are left under the Law in condemnation and death.