Pastoral Theology, Volume 2: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors
Albert N. Martin, Pastoral Theology, Volume 2: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors. Montville, NJ: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2018. $32.50, clothbound.
Forty years ago, I was a student pastor preaching weekly in four rural Tennessee churches. Lacking both a seminary education and field supervision, I was on my own and needed help. Books on preaching were a gift from God as they brought me through my first year in the pulpit. Since then, I have read at least two or three every year – a practice I commend to my seminary students. This practice of reading contributed to my maturity as a preacher. Without books, my ministry and preaching would be impoverished.
Time spent talking about preaching with fellow ministers proved just as valuable. These informal conversations explored areas not mentioned in standard preaching texts: sanctuary architecture, climate control, comfortable seating, squirming children and their distracted parents, nurseries, devotional habits, the ups and downs of preaching – the list goes on. These exchanges left lasting impressions.
Albert N. Martin’s The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors (the second of three volumes in pastoral theology) contains the instruction one expects in a homiletics textbook, as well as an array of those practical matters we preachers have on our minds.
I have heard the author preach, both in person and recordings, but have never met him. Given the occasion, I would have asked him scores of questions. Who wouldn’t desire counsel from a man with forty-six years of experience in the same pulpit – as well as a guest preacher in many others? To my delight, he seemed to anticipate many of those questions.
In evaluating Martin’s book, the title is a good place to start: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors. God’s minister is called to “labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). Preaching and teaching are the minister’s principal work (xi), and the author affirms what every godly minister knows to be true: preaching is hard work.
Materials in volume two are arranged in three units, numbered 3-5 (there are eight units, consecutively numbered in the three-volume work).
Unit Three presents seven axioms on preaching. Every sermon involves the proclamation, explanation, and application of scriptural truth (axiom 1). It is this kind preaching that the preacher’s congregation most needs (axiom 2). If this need is to be met, then sermons must have a clear structure (axiom 3) and contain specific references to the listener’s interior life and behaviors (axiom 4). Apt illustrations must be employed (axioms 5). Accessible language and appropriate sermon length are necessary if sermons are to edify (axioms 6-7).
Unit Four considers sacred rhetoric, which involves the application of principles obtained from the study of general revelation to preaching. These include unity of discourse, diction, volume, and the tools of persuasion. General revelation aids the preacher, but is always subordinate to special revelation.
After describing three types of sermons – topical-expository, textual-expository, and consecutive-expository – the author turns to sermon construction: reviewing the crafting of the sermon introduction, the body of each of the three types of sermons, and the sermon’s conclusion. Whichever type of sermon the preacher chooses, the preacher is obligated to explain and apply the text(s) upon which the sermon is built. A sermon not grounded in a text is not a sermon in any meaningful sense.
Unit Five, “The Act of Preaching,” covers important matters related to the delivery of the sermon: the preacher’s relationship to God, to himself, and to his hearers. Attention is given to the pastor’s voice and physical activity in the pulpit. Opinions are offered on practical matters such as the physical condition, dress, and manners of the preachers, as well as how the physical environment in which a congregation gathers affects its reception of God’s preached word.
Throughout the book, Martin brings readers to the touchstone of Scripture. Homiletics – the study of the preparation and delivery of sermons – “is a branch of theology, not a branch of the science of rhetoric” (3). While preachers may learn much about speaking from general revelation, it is the Scriptures that ultimately shape our understanding of preaching.
The author remains true to his own commitments about preaching as the proclamation, explanation, and application of biblical truth. He takes readers to numerous texts pertaining to the character and work of the preacher, the nature of preaching, and the challenges preachers face. He carefully explains and applies these texts to the preacher. It is refreshing to read a book on preaching that itself models the rigorous exegetical and applicatory disciplines encouraged by its author.
Some of the book’s material is repetitive. Two examples: first, the same lengthy block quotation appears in two chapters (56, 184-85); secondly, whether the preacher is preaching a topical-expository, textual-expository, or consecutive-expository sermon, he must faithfully expound and apply his text, an obligation Martin dutifully repeats at various places in the nine chapters that deal with these three types of sermons. Repetitive material could have been condensed; but long before these chapters were a book, they were lectures to students, and good lecturers revisit critical points. These repetitions strengthen and reinforce important points.
It’s a long book – 626 pages, excluding indices. But are we in such a hurry that we can’t stop and give ourselves to a sustained consideration of the pastor’s preeminent work?
I am always looking for ideas to share with my students. Here are several:
Piety. The pastor is a disciple before he is a preacher. For applications to be effective, the congregation must sense that the preacher has first applied the truth to his own heart. A preacher is on dangerous ground if he appeals to the consciences of his hearers without first appealing to his own (101-2). Among the disciplines the effective minister practices is a pleading before the Lord for the aid of the Holy Spirit (317-318, 343-344, 362-363).
One of the strengths of the Puritan tradition – the tradition where the author firmly stands – is its emphasis on the affections. The earnest minister tends to his own heart, cultivating his own love for God and man and for that holiness of life to which God summons his people. Without a heart for the things of God, the preacher’s words will sound hollow, his attempts at persuasion will be without integrity, and his conscience will constantly accuse him that he has abandoned the love he had at first (Revelation 2:4).
All of life is lived in the presence of God. The preacher must not forget that when he enters the pulpit, he preaches in the sight of God and will appear before God in judgment to give an account of his preaching ministry (472-75).
Preparation. The preacher must be clear. The congregation should never be confused by disorderly structure or impenetrable language. Martin asks, “What is the cause of convoluted sermons? I answer, careless and indolent preachers” (65). “Wrestle with your subject in the study,” advises James S. Stewart, “that there may be clarity in the pulpit (58).” Similarly, C.H. Spurgeon asserts that “when a man does not make me understand what he means, it is because he does not himself know what he means (59).”
Feedback. Sermon feedback is indispensable. Without constructive criticism, pastors remain blind to matters of content and form that mar their preaching and keep their sermons from being as edifying as they should be (80). One test to determine whether a sermon outline is clear is to check with children after the service. Can they identify its main points (63)?
Cultivating a heart disposition that humbly receives the criticism of competent and spiritually minded critics is necessary for the preacher who wants to grow in maturity and skills (354-355, 382-383).
Limitations. “Our great task is to get the truth into men’s heads, while trusting God to get it into their hearts.” The benefits of a sermon might not become evident in a person’s life until long after the sermon was delivered (62).
Frustration and sinful anger ensue when a pastor arrogates to himself the impossible role of transforming hearts. Preachers must be plodders, patiently waiting on the fruit of God’s word sown in the hearts of the congregation.
Exclusion. One of the advantages of attending a seminary like RTS is that the student obtains solid exegetical skills that enable him to read the biblical text carefully. His studies of any biblical text will yield an abundance of treasures – more, in fact, than can be used in one sermon; the constraints of time and the capacity of the congregation prohibit this. Therefore, the preacher must learn the “discipline of exclusion,” prioritizing the fruits of his studies and prayerfully determining what can be included and what must be excluded in each sermon (55).
Books. Throughout, Martin quotes extensively from numerous texts on preaching. Lengthy block quotations appear frequently and give readers a better sense of an author’s intent than would shorter ones. They serve as an introduction to the author’s work until a student or busy pastor has time to read it for himself. Among the many authors Martin cites and quotes are J.W. Alexander, John Broadus, Robert Lewis Dabney, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.C. Ryle, William Shedd, and C.H. Spurgeon.
In the extended quotationsb I found many gems, like this one on simplicity in preaching from Bishop Ussher: “It is not difficult to make easy things appear hard; but to render hard things easy, is the hardest part of a good orator and preacher” (152).
Classic texts on preaching in the Reformed tradition should be prized by seminary students and, if not read in seminary, studied later. The regular and careful reading of substantial preaching texts forces ministers to think about the quality of their own pulpit labors.
Environment. In his chapter, “The Preacher and His Relationship to the Physical Context of His Preaching,” Martin gives attention to issues like pulpit placement, ventilation, temperature control, sound quality, and the comfort of pews and chairs for both adults and children. These are not trivial matters. Each, if ignored, can interfere with the congregation’s attention to the sermon.
Humility. The author writes that one of his “pulpit sins” has been, more than once, “crossing the line into coarseness in my preaching,” a public sin for which he publicly repented (157). We learn from the example of other preachers, both from their successes and their sins.
Someone once told me that teaching homiletics is a “physician heal thyself” enterprise. That’s true in the mechanics of preaching – we often point out faults that we ourselves struggle to overcome – as well as pulpit sins that detract from our sermons and, consequently, the glory of God. Young preachers need examples of men who own their errors and sins, and by God’s grace, turn from them.
I enthusiastically recommend this book. That doesn’t mean there weren’t places where I found myself in disagreement with the author. During one sermon at a college, he directly addressed a young lady in the back row who was not paying attention to his sermon but brushing her hair (601-2). The student’s behavior was indefensible, but when a speaker singles out an individual, he’s taken the congregation away from his message, confused people who are unaware of the misbehavior, and perhaps even generated sympathy or embarrassment for the person who has acted badly. In these situations, I am of the opinion that the speaker should just continue with his message and leave correction of the errant behavior to the host.
The concerns I have are few and minor. Reformed preachers will find this book unapologetically committed to preaching that is faithful to the Scriptures, sound in doctrine, and evangelical in content and tone. Helpful, informative, and encouraging, it will enrich those who “labor in preaching and teaching.”
Charles Malcolm Wingard
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson