King Came Preaching : 
The Pulpit Power of Martin Luther King Jr
by Mervyn A. Warren (IVP (2001), 223pp.)

     I would not call this a "good" book.  A useful book, yes.  For me, a book, to be qualified as "good", has to offer more than raw data.  The author has to so interpret the data that it (the interpretation) offers to the reader a sense of "illumination" - that rush of excitement upon discovering a new dimension to truth.  I have not at any time felt that rush of excitement as I plodded through the text.
     Why read King Came Preaching then?  Because it is a useful book.  This is the first book I have come across on Martin Luther King as a preacher.  I had read a collection of King's secular speeches.  So impressed was I with King's rhetorical style that I could not resist it when I stumbled upon Mervyn Warren's book on King as a preacher.
     My impressions and response upon finishing the book can only be described as being mixed and hesitant.  I did not have an image of King upon a pedestal, as I first imagined I might have.  Most of the tributes seemed too much of a "hype".  The four sermon texts ("never before published") included in the appendices seemed unexceptional.  But the fault could well be mine.  Reading printed sermons is altogether different from hearing the preacher.  Those working within the milieu of black preaching may well concur with Warren that King's preaching did in fact define a qualitative shift, so that it could be demarcated "before King" and "after King"!
     Let me now respond to the King as he is presented by Mervyn Warren.
     The first thing I admire about Martin Luther King as a preacher is that sense of candour and humility.  In his sermon entitled, "Transformed Nonconformist," he practically lambastes his own profession (the preachers) as a self-serving class who think "that the size of our ministry must be measured by the size of our automobiles.  So often we turn into showmen, distorting the real meaning of the gospel, in an attempt to appeal to the whims and caprices of the crowd" (p.70).  It can be hard stifling an "amen" to that.
     In a lengthy chapter on "The Themes of King's Sermons", Warren goes on to offer more of King's perspectives on "the ministry" (p.129-132).  These pages are worth their weight in gold for the modern preacher ready for some serious soul-searching.  King thinks of most sermons as "little more than a nice little essay on current events."  To him, the pulpit "does not give us objective unbiased truth."  The most popular preachers do nothing more than offer soothing sermons on "How to be Happy."  And we fail miserably when it comes to addressing the real threats to faith and survival which, in King's day, were the issues of communism and racism.
     So much for King's tendency towards confrontation and controversy.  What then makes for good preaching?  In an interview with the author, King actually defines a good sermon as one that appeals to the intellect, the imagination, and the heart (pp.90,91).  One of the stronger strands of analysis that comes through Warren's assessment of King's homiletical power is the sense of King's "educatedness".  Warren identifies King's sources as ranging from the likes of Hegal and Niebuhr to Thoreau and Gandhi.
     But easily, the single most impressive aspect of King's preaching lies in his mastery of the English language.  Warren's chapter on King's rhetorical style entitled, "Language in a Kingly Style," with its list of eighteen rhetorical devices, while bordering on the pedantic (what in the world is an enantiosis, epiphonema or erotesis?!), does contain useful examples of excellent language use.  We list two samples as illustrations.

  1. Alliteration (p.145): "Even the white religious leaders who have a heartfelt desire to open the door and provide the bread (of social justice) are often more cautious than courageous and more prone to follow the expedient path than the ethical path."  [Notice how "cautious" balances "courageous"; and "ethical" is set off against "expedient"].
  1. Paramonasia (similar sounding words set against each other to increase the force of the meaning): "Morality cannot be legislated but behaviour can be regulated.  Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.

     The last two chapters of Mervyn's account provide interesting glimpses into King's mode of sermon preparation.  In his earlier days, King would spend at least 15 hours each week in his sermon preparation beginning as early as Tuesday to draft an outline, doing his research and planning on Wednesday, and writing up his sermon on Friday.  Later in his career, this would be reduced to thinking about the sermon on Monday, and doing an outline only on Saturday.  While he scripted his sermons (at least at the earlier stage of his career), he never used a manuscript for delivery.  And he adjusted his style to the perceived educational level of his audience.
     King considered himself first a preacher, rather than a political figure (p.165). And Warren sums up King’s contribution as one of "bringing the pulpit into the public square". Whatever the strength of King’s contribution (and he has his share of detractors), King’s oratorical style certainly fulfils the classical triumvirate of logos, ethos and pathos. His speeches and sermons give evidence of forethought, craftsmanship, and expression. Those who aspire to improve on their "pulpit power" would do well to engage with Martin Luther King, and Warren’s "King Came Preaching" certainly points to a first step in that direction.

(Reviewed by Rev Ng Seng Chuan)

     On Wednesday. Jan 29, 2003, our international students led in Chapel. it was good to hear the students ‘in their element’ expressing themselves freely in their own mother tongue as they sang in Korean, Swahili, Naga, Singhalese, Tamil, and of course, English! The message was on Mk. 4:35-41 as we were challenged to trust the Lord of the storm. It was heartwarming to see the international students developing a camaradie amongst themselves. We also thank all who paid special attention to them during the lunar new year and made sure that none of these students were left out in the new year celebrations.


We continue our presentation of our recent graduands. Praise God with us for Leong Kwok Hoong, Leow Atomic Chuan Tse, Liew Cheng San, Timothy Lim Teck Ngern, and for others to be presented next week.



Leong Kwok Hoong
Diploma in Electronics Engineering, S’pore Polytechnic
Dip CS, Biblical Graduate Sch. of Theology (cum laude)

Kwok Hoong is a Technical Officer at Singapore General Hospital and is a member of True Way Presbyterian Church. After graduation his aims are: ‘First, to take care of my 7-month old daughter; and then to re-read some course text-books which I previously skimmed!’ His life verse is Jn 12:24: ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

Leow Atomic Chuan Tse
B.Agr.Sc.(Hons.), La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia
Ph.D. (Toxicology), La Trobe University, Victoria, Aust.
Dip.Ed., La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia
Dip CS, Biblical GST (summa cum laude)

Atomic is the Head of the Biotechnology Specialist Unit of the School of Applied Science at Temasek Polytechnic. He is an evangelist at the Queenstown Baptist Church and is actively ivolved in prison ministry. After graduation he intends to study towards the M.Div at BGST. His life verse is Phil. 3:14: ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’

Liew Cheng San
B.Sc. (Marine Engineering), University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
Dip CS, Biblical Graduate School of Theology (summa cum laude)

Cheng San was the Human Resource Manager for BP Singapore. He is a member of the Local Church Executive Committee at the Telok Ayer Methodist Church and conducts his church choir. After graduation he hopes to give more time to serve at his church and participate in short-term mission trips. His mission in life is summed up in the words: ‘To know Christ and to make Him known.’

Timothy Lim Teck Ngern
B.B.A., National University of Singapore
Dip CS, Biblical Graduate School of Theology

Before coming to BGST Timothy worked as Project Manager at Trans World Radio, North East Asia Regional Office. He is a member of Living Sanctuary Brethren Church. After graduation he aims to study towards the M.Div at BGST. His mission statement is Is. 61:4: ‘And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.’

  1. Course commencing next week: "Clearing the Fog from the Pulpit to the Pew: Biblical Preaching" by Dr Alvin Low will be commencing on Feb 10. Register now!

  2. Convocation photos are now available for viewing at the library counter. The video is available for $5 each while JPEG images of all the photos are available for $5 each. You may place your orders at the library counter.

  3. Students who have taken Better Speech for Leadership & Ministry may purchase the audio tape : "Phonetics & Pronunciation tape by Rev Ng Seng Chuan" @ $2.00 each from the library counter. Please call to order your copy.

God's Richest Blessings to our Birthday Stars!

Mrs Susan Lim 4/2

Mr William Teo Lak Kwang 4/2

Ms Anna Toh 4/2

Dr Wong Lea Choung 4/2

Mr Siow Yew Mun 4/2

Ms Carol Koh 6/2

Mr Thomas Chong 7/2

Mr Goh Kwan Koon 8/2

Mrs Bona Zalino 9/2

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This page is updated on 30 Jan 2003 by Leong Kok Weng
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