Lewis Allen is pastor of a church plant in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England. He has previous pastoral experience in London. This book is written by a preacher for preachers. Throughout the volume Allen exemplifies an awareness of pastoral challenges—spiritual, existential, and relational—that evidences years of personal experience.
The book sets out to provide a theological orientation for the preacher’s ministry. The familiar and historic tool of catechesis is employed to engage both the heart and the mind. Working from the foundation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Allen appropriates the catechism for application to the preacher. Instead of 107 questions, there are 43; each being tweaked and tailored to the specific ministry of pulpit proclamation. Though catechisms have had a number of functions through the ages, especially pneumonic, these questions and answers are aimed at character formation as much as anything else. Reading the short chapters—typically 4–5 pages—the questions and answers serve as a springboard into deeper, more probing reflection on every day (or every week) issues.
Each chapter begins with a heading, followed by a question and its answer, followed by a related passage of Scripture. The exposition that follows situates each question in the pastor’s experience, typically relating the truth to a problem, thereby establishing a tension that requires resolution. Theological truth then serves as the remedy to the issue, as doctrine is applied to the pastoral crisis.
The probing questions asked of the reader are among the most helpful features of the book. They address the preacher head on, engaging issues of motivation, secret and public sins, discouragements, failure, and frailty. More than anything, they keep asking the preacher where his assurance lies. The central theme of the book is that God ought to be the focus of our preaching ministries; we serve him and we proclaim him, to the exclusion of all self-glory and at the expense of self-comfort. Allen reminds readers, “You are not preaching for your kingdom” (p. 200). He works to break the pastor of sinful tendencies like covetousness: “Unbelief tells us that God has withheld the good and sent the bad, and our hearts rebel in covetous desires.… If we don’t have what we want, that is for our good” (p. 159).
Sprinkled throughout the volume are rich quotations from key theologians and pastors of old, most notably the Reformers and the Puritans. Allen demonstrates a great breadth of reading, especially across the 17th century pastoral literature, supplying primary source readings for the benefit of a modern audience. Situated in the development of his theological arguments, these quotations alone are worth the price of the volume, as they serve as a great encouragement to pastoral piety from brothers who served before us.
The volume will read as familiar to many. The themes treated are akin to John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professional: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2013) and Jared C. Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ to Your Life and Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013). Nevertheless, while Allen’s insights aren’t novel, they are necessary. The uniqueness of this volume is that it is structured to align with the framework of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This provides a more deliberate theological agenda to the volume, addressing central theological truths (e.g., God, Sin, Christ, etc.), moral challenges from the Decalogue, and the goodness and relevance of the sacraments to the preaching ministry.
At some points readers may find the application of the catechism to preaching slightly contrived, particularly in the section on the Decalogue. Consider chapter 22 (“Love’s Choice”):
Q: What does the first commandment teach us?
A: You shall preach as a love expression to the Lord your God), but never in a way that proves theologically irresponsible or practically unwarranted. (p. 119)
While the initial links seem more tenuous, in fact the exposition in the chapter that follows provides ample justification.
If there is a weakness to the volume, it is that the application feels similar after a while. Is your preaching ministry about you or about God? But this repetition, like an expositional sermon series, is because there is a central theme to the book. The author wants God to be the focus of the preacher’s ministry, and he works hard to keep the theme fresh. The repetition of application is perhaps necessary, as the problem being addressed is so real and prevalent. The aforementioned inclusion of Puritan insights, as well as the author’s own practical advice, break the monotony.
In many pastoral contexts, preachers can feel alone in their work. They lack people who will push them, identify sinful blind-spots, and encourage them when they’re disheartened. This volume will serve as a great aid to preachers in these contexts (and in contexts where preachers aren’t alone!), calling them back to vital theological truth that will anchor them in the chaos of their experience. I commend this book as a good example of rich reformed theology applied to the preacher’s ministry. It will serve theological college students preparing for ministry with a good foundation, but more so it will refresh seasoned pastors by reorienting them to the theological focus of their work. It should be read slowly (a chapter a day), reflectively, and prayerfully.