"Preaching has to clean away our illusions that we are self-sufficient. It should make us realize that we need Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Preaching should save us."
Gracia Grindal believes that the best lesson she can teach students is the importance of "faithfully witnessing to and praising Jesus Christ." In her rhetoric and hymnology classes, she helps future pastors learn to do this through excellent preaching and the use of music that touches the marrow of a congregation's being.
"We should sing heart songs," says Grindal, whose hymns and hymn translations are sung by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Disciples of Christ and other churches. "The Lutheran tradition encompasses all styles of hymnody. Any hymn that declares both our complete helplessness and the gracious gift of God is Lutheran."
The Lutheran tradition should also include good preaching. "Preaching has to clean away our illusions that we are self-sufficient. It should make us realize that we need Jesus' blood and righteousness. The goal of preaching is to preach Christ and him crucified," Grindal says.
She points out that although Martin Luther did not generally approve of Aristotle's thought, he did appreciate the philosopher's Rhetoric. The rhetorician uses the values of the audience to shape the message. "In order to communicate, you must find a common place and a common value. Through language, you can create a common place," she says. She likens her role to that of a coach. "You can teach people the rules of the game," she says. "But without practice, they'll never learn to play."
A graduate of Augsburg College, Grindal received an M.A. from Luther Seminary and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Arkansas. Before joining the seminary faculty, she was a member of the English department at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa.
Her interest in the connection of theology, hymnody and culture led her to create two special series at the seminary: "Singing the Faith" services on Reformation Sunday, which are based on themes from Luther's Catechism; and "Songfest," during which Luther Seminary partners and celebrates with various Lutheran college choirs in the region.