Housing the Sacred by Glen Wiberg

reviewed by Ryan Eikenbary-Barber

One of the great joys of attending the Covenant Midwinter conference is the anticipation I feel in the registration line as I wonder which books have been graciously given to the pastors this year. This February, I was thrilled to discover we were receiving a theology book I had been intending to buy, a Biblical commentary and a treatise on how to read the Bible by a couple of North Park professors, and a book on leadership by one of our Covenant church planters. But the book that caught my attention and provoked me to plop down in a chair to start reading in the lobby was Glen Wiberg’s book about preaching.

Like any good sermon, Housing the Sacred is not overlong. It’s just 97 pages. The preacher says what he needs to say and then sits down. And those of us who appreciate good preaching want to stand up and cheer! Here is a book on preaching that avoids the academic temptation to dissect the sermon like some unfortunate frog. If preaching is a craft, Glen Wiberg successfully mentors his apprentices with a simple illustration and six sermons that are concrete examples of his own artistry in the pulpit.

It often seems that an illustration gets people to sit up straight and open their ears to the message. Glen Wiberg’s book is built around one such compelling metaphor. While listening to his friend Wayne Roosa lecture on art history, Glen was suddenly inspired by the subtitle of the speech: “Housing the Sacred: Speech and Vision as Divine Media.” Glen acknowledges that this is precisely what he has been attempting in all his years in ministry, “seeking a place, a space created by language both in the sermon and liturgy for the sacred” (p. 1). In his book, Glen Wiberg latches on to the architectural metaphor for constructing a sermon.

Like a master carpenter passing on his years of experience, Glen takes us through the process of creating space for the scared. Each chapter in the book teaches us essential skills in constructing sermons. Chapter One levels the ground by “Creating Space for the Holy.” Chapter Two, “Preparing the House,” draws the blueprints for preaching. He moves from how to enter into the text in Chapter Three: “From the Front Porch” to the graceful exit from the pulpit, Chapter Six “Leaving by the Back Door.” Glen does not offer artless sermon-building tricks or shortcuts to a tolerable sermon. Rather, he patiently takes the time to show us how he builds with care.

In each chapter, Glen offers us a practical example of his handiwork, a well crafted sermon that illustrates what he has just taught. Just to have a few of Glen Wiberg’s sermons collected for repeated exposure is worth the price of the book. The margins of my copy are filled with sermon notes like: “Great story.” “What an ending.” “Use this!” “Stunning sermon. I want to preach like Glen!” Not that I would ever steal a sermon from Glen, but once you’ve seen good craft work, you get inspired to get back to the work site with fresh enthusiasm.

Glen Wiberg ends Chapter Five with a quote from the preacher Gardner Taylor, “You do not want to be known as a great preacher, but you do want to strive for people to feel—when you have tried to preach—what a great Gospel it is” (p. 64). For those of us who admire Glen’s preaching this quote is a good reminder that the reason for his careful work in the pulpit is his devotion to the Gospel. Whether the Sunday sermon is bungled, or a great success, it still is a great Gospel! When Glen Wiberg writes and preaches, we pay extra-special attention because we have experienced again and again that he handles the Word with care and that housing the sacred really is the focus of his artistry.