Book Review: Letters To My Students: On Preaching

Jason Allen’s, Letters To My Students, is a personal work that is the first volume of many similar to the format of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s, Lectures To My Students. Spurgeon is named the prince of preachers for more reasons than his preaching alone. The enormity of his reach is unmatched by any other preacher. During his life, his sermons sold more than fifty-six million copies and he baptized more than fifteen thousand people. But Spurgeon’s most influential (in my opinion) act of ministry was on Friday mornings when he would meet with pastors and ministry leaders to mentor them and teach them about the church. These talks were compiled into what is now known as Lectures To My Students.

Jason Allen, the fifth president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been on both ends of the pastoral spectrum – mentee and mentor. He was mentored by one of the leading preachers in evangelical Christianity, Dr. Steven J. Lawson (One Passion Ministries). In fact, Lawson gave Allen his first full-time ministerial position in Mobile, Alabama. Allen explains the great influence Lawson had on him by simply teaching him the ins and outs of pastoral ministry and also showing (by modeling) the importance of expository preaching. Teaching others expository preaching, then, is the result of this relationship that Allen aims to pass on to the next generation. And he does so, in his first volume through three different phases of his book.

Preparing To Be A Preacher

One of my deep desires is to communicate more deeply the need for preachers to prepare themselves to preach before ever entering the study to constructing their sermons. For the preacher, their own soul care must be their continuing priority before preparing a sermon. You really cannot preach faithfully without first allowing the gospel truths contained within Scripture to affect you as a preacher.

Allen proffers that the first step of “preparing yourself” to be a preacher is solidifying your calling to the ministry altogether. Of course, Allen bases his exhortation from his book, Discerning Your Call to Ministry. Allen posits that the character you exuberate in your life cannot be divorced from your call to ministry. In other words, this means that your call to ministry is not an instantaneous mark of pastoral desire, but a lifetime of character and service to the Lord Jesus Christ.

“My friend, remember, any man can choose the ministry, and too many unqualified men have.”

Jason K. Allen. Letters to My Students: On Preaching (Nashville: B&H, 2019), 9.

Preachers not only need a solidified calling, but a solid theology of preaching, a cultivated ability, and a resolved authority. This means preachers understand the depravity of man, the blessed kindness of God in the gospel, and the necessity for the right preaching of the Bible. Allen argues that it is only when the preacher settles in his mind his own calling that allows him to preach expository sermons with authority and conviction, the Spirit then convicts congregations through the preached Word from God’s man.

As one should expect, Allen provides a framework for the full diet of biblical exposition. He notes that “Refreshingly, verse-by-verse exposition began to unlock the Bible.” Yet, Allen does not leave you in the dark in making these types of claims, so he writes a chapter giving solid advice about how to develop sermons that are Christ-centered and gospel-focused.

Preparing Your Sermon

What Allen aims to communicate and encourage his reader to do in order to prepare faithful sermons is to be what I would like to call text-driven. This means that “[e]very sermon must explain the text, and every sermon should apply the text (p. 84).” What Allen encourages his readers to is a type of preparation that familiarizes preachers with the passage of Scripture they will preach so their interpretation and application will be text-driven and Christ-centered.

“The Bible clearly points to a Messiah; thus, your preaching should also point to Him.”

Allen, Letters, 89.

The preparation of the sermon shouldn’t be obligatory, but should be the sole priority of the pastor’s week. Why? Because it is the proclamation of the Word of God that is the central element in Christian worship. If our churches are anything and everything Christian, there will be preaching and it will be about Christ and Him crucified. Allen aims to remind his readers that there is a biblical warrant and mandate to declare Christ from our pulpits (p. 94).

Lastly, in preparing your sermon, you must think about what you will say. Allen proposes to his readers to avoid certain words during their sermon preparation and delivery. Words like thing, opinion, sorry, and others tend to expose pastoral laziness or a lack of preparation altogether. We must do the work, regardless of how long it takes and avoid irreverent babble.

The final section of the book deals with your personal growth as a preacher. Ultimately, preachers mature as their grow older and as they preach more often. As you grow in your preaching and pastoral cognizance, you will encounter cultural issues and other things that could demand your attention for a week. Using pastoral wisdom will be required, according to Allen, on when to address issues and when not to.

Growing As A Preacher

Another aspect of Allen’s personal growth was not only in the giving of invitations after every sermon, but the construction of the sermon insofar as the sermon itself becomes an invitation. There can be sermons without invitations and there can be invitations without sermons. However, the faithful preacher will have an inviting sermon with a gospel call to follow, for this is the biblical way to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus.

The final three chapters deal with the pastor’s maturity. As Allen progressed in his preaching preparation and delivery, he learned some timeless truths which he penned in the book to pass down to other preachers. He learned that you should have “more Bible and less study” and to “repreach passages, not sermons.” These types of adages help pastors to continue growing even into the more mature years.

Conclusion

I believe every pastor – young or old – and every aspiring preacher, would do well to read Allen’s first volume in Letters. It is short, concise, and very practical. It is pregnant with personal touches and illustrations from Allen’s own life to enhance the personal touch within his own writing. Most importantly, however, is the fact that Allen encourages and exhorts those reading to turn to Christ for their identity and for their content in their sermons. We preach nothing without Christ, and we preach nothing but Christ. He is the goal of our sermon and the pursuit of our lives.

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