Book Review: Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, by Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter
Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013. 211 pages. $15.00.
Encouragement for Today’s Pastors is meant for troubled and discouraged pastors. Hebrews 13:17 tells us to learn from the examples of faithful ministers, and Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter use the seventeenth-century Puritans as their exemplars.
They cover six different aspects of the Puritans’ theology and pastoral practice that we can learn from: piety, sovereignty, clarity, creativity and community, dignity, and eternity.
The book begins with the problem: pastors are leaving their churches because of the countless pressures on them. This includes self-imposed pressures, pressures from the congregation, and spiritual pressures. “Fifteen hundred pastors leave their churches each month due to conflict, burnout, or moral failure” (1).
Although the Puritans are not perfect, they provide good examples which pastors can imitate. As the authors say, “though this book is intended to strengthen the mind, it aims at ways in which the Puritans can strengthen the heart” (14).
Beeke is known as a go-to writer on the Puritans. In this book he summarizes and consolidates pastoral reflections on their ministries and lives, pulling out significant quotes to illustrate his points. The authors do not focus on one Puritan particularly, but employ many of them to tie different themes together.
The book is a good introduction to some of the emphases of the Puritans. If you’re not well acquainted with their writings and need some pastoral encouragement, then this is a helpful little book.
However, if one is familiar with the Puritans there is not much new here. The authors’ aims were not to provide groundbreaking research or new information. So if you have already read a good introduction to the Puritans, then it might be better to go ahead and read the primary sources themselves. On the other hand, the authors do concisely and logically synthesize points from the Puritans, who tend to be verbose. Readers will have to evaluate the value of the book based on their background and situation.
Each time I read about the Puritans I am newly impressed with their devotion to the Lord in prayer and in study. They also rightly talked about the joys of heaven and the terrors of hell. I was also reminded of the high calling which they place upon the pastorate. The authors do a good job of covering the major emphases of these ministers.
I would have enjoyed it if the authors complemented the strengths of the Puritans with some of their weaknesses. I realize this might not sound encouraging. However, many times encouragement comes from seeing people’s strengths and weaknesses.
In particular I would have liked to see a discussion of what communion with God is. From my limited reading it seems that the Puritans relegate communion with God to prayer and reading the Scriptures. This view seemed to be confirmed in the book. I wonder if the Puritans had reflections on communion with God through relaxation, family time, or sport? I bring this up because some pastors may need more breaks or sabbaticals. They need to get out of the study and out of the counseling session and go to a baseball game. Some pastors reading about Puritans rising at 3 a.m. for communion with God may be more discouraged than encouraged.
Positively, there was much to learn from in the section on communion with other saints. The Puritans set good examples of getting together with other like-minded pastors for encouragement and refreshment. In our wireless era, this can and should be imitated more rigorously.
Beeke and Slachter have provided a good overview of some of the pastoral emphases of Puritans pastors. A troubled or discouraged pastor can certainly be enlivened by attending to these “sweet droppers.”