03/21/06 - preaching

In today's excerpt - Martin Luther King, already highly practiced in oratory even at a young age, studies the art of preaching at Crozer Seminary in suburban Philadelphia:

"At Crozer, practice preaching courses brought King some of his best grades and highest approval.  During the three seminary years, he took no fewer than nine courses related to the art of pulpit oratory ...

"His homiletics professor, Robert Keighton, brought to the classroom a preoccupation with style and the classical form of argument, which suited King perfectly. ... Keighton, like St. Augustine, emphasized that a large part of religion was public persuasion, as can occur when speakers of the highest gifts address the most difficult questions.  King came to accept the shorthand description of oratory as 'the three P's':  proving, painting, and persuasion, aimed to win over successively the mind, imagination, and heart.

"... Keighton taught that a preacher should first prepare an outline based on one of the proven sermon structures.  There was the Ladder Sermon, the Jewel Sermon, the Skyrocket Sermon, the Twin Sermon, the Surprise Package Sermon, and many others.  The Ladder Sermon climbed through arguments of increasing power toward the conclusion the preacher hoped to make convincing.  The Jewel Sermon held up a single idea from many different angles, as a jeweler might examine a precious stone.  The Skyrocket Sermon usually began with a gripping human interest story leading to a cosmic spiritual lesson, followed by a shower of derivative lessons falling back to earth among the congregation ..."


Taylor Branch


Parting the Waters: America in the King Years


Simon & Schuster Paperbacks


Copyright 1988 by Taylor Branch


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