Book Review: Letters to My Students: Volume 1, Jason Allen
Jason K. Allen, Letters to My Students: Volume 1, On Preaching. B&H Publishing, 2019. 173 pages.
In the 19th Century hundreds of aspiring young ministers attended Charles Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College. Other institutions offered a more formal theological education, but none of those schools had Spurgeon, The Prince of Preachers. As much as students wanted to learn from Spurgeon himself, there was only one day a week when students had that opportunity. Every Friday, Spurgeon would come to the college and speak to the students. Many of these lectures are still available in Lectures to My Students.
It is in that same spirit that Jason Allen offers Letters to My Students: Volume 1, On Preaching. In this book, you will sense, like Spurgeon’s lectures, a depth of theological, practical, and devotional wisdom. Allen offers important advice on preaching that the formal classroom might not ever have taught you.
PREPARING TO PREACH
Letters to My Students is comprised of 20 short chapters which fall under three major headings: “Preparing the Preacher”; “Preparing Your Sermon”; and “Growing in Your Preaching.”
The first section, “Preparing the Preacher”, focuses on the foundational elements of preaching. These chapters cover everything from “Certainty in Your Calling” to “Getting Started: Eight Tips for Beginning Preachers.” Allen also provides two compelling chapters on expository preaching. The chapter entitled “Develop a Theology of Preaching” is particularly noteworthy. He emphasizes that our understanding of the preaching task must not be sociologically constructed, but theologically driven. He writes: “I refer to this process as developing a theology of preaching, as opposed to a philosophy of preaching, because a rationale for preaching must be inherently theological” (10).
The second section, “Preparing Your Sermon”, is more practical. These six chapters describe the nuts and bolts of how to put together an expository sermon. Allen addresses how to become familiar with the text, how to interpret the text, how to assemble the sermon, how to amplify your main point, and how to connect your sermon to Christ. Chapter 13, “Some Thoughts on Words” is filled with exactly the kind of practical insight preachers need to know but often aren’t taught in the classroom.
The final section of the book, “Growing in Your Preaching” provides counsel on issues almost every preacher encounters, from questions like “should I address cultural issues” to “should I give a public invitation.”
A PRACTICAL, SOUL-STIRRING PREACHING MANUAL
Allen has remarkably balanced breadth and brevity. The number of subjects addressed in this short book is surprising but satisfying. I don’t know another book this size which accomplishes quite so much. Additionally, Allen balances practical instruction and spiritual devotion throughout. I expected this book to be practical. It was specifically written in that vein. Yet I was surprised by the amount of times I felt my own heart stirred devotionally. I found myself stopping to meditate, examine myself, evaluate my own heart, and rejoice in God’s goodness. In that way, this book does what every good sermon should do: engage the mind, stir the affections, and challenge the will.
Every preacher can profit from Allen’s book but it will prove to be most helpful among preachers in training. In fact, if you have a young preacher in your congregation who needs to develop a more robust theology of preaching, needs more instruction in expositional preaching, and needs more practical help in delivering sermons this book would be a great place to start.