The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors, Pastoral Theology, Volume 2, by Albert N. Martin. Montville, NJ: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2018. Pp. xiii + 651. $47.00 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978-1943608126.

 

Pastor Albert Martin’s second volume on the Man of God is his treatment of the minister’s preparation and delivery of sermons. Whereas volume one treated the minister’s calling and qualifications, this volume treats the minister’s primary work—preaching. We could call it Martin’s homiletics proper.

The strength of this volume is the same as the first: it not only gives the practical and principled wisdom of a Christian man who preached for 60 years, but it also includes the wisdom of a multitude of preachers, from ancient to modern.

The first three chapters treat deep and abiding principles regarding preaching, showing that Martin has the highest regard for this highest of callings. Here, Martin urges preachers to aim at Christ-centered and Spirit-filled sermons that glorify God, edify congregations, and convert unbelievers. (Later in the book, Martin has a short rebuke for preachers who suppose that the main emphasis of preaching is evangelistic—to convert unbelievers). Practical as Martin always is, even in these sections on principles, he does not fail to give good advice to preachers: “Ask God to give you the hide of a rhinoceros, and then ask your people about their views on the length of your sermons, the clarity of your illustrations, the accessibility of your vocabulary, and their overall sense of the pulpit ministries” (50).

Following the principles of preaching, Martin treats the classic subjects of homiletical manuals: form and structure, applications, illustrations, conclusions, length, the question of fully-written-out sermons or the use of outlines only, etc.

What may be of most interest to preachers is Martin’s discussion of the various types of sermons: topical, textual, and consecutive-expository. He argues the legitimacy of each kind, believes that all of them have been blessed by God over the years, and rightly concludes that whatever kind a preacher chooses, every sermon must be, in the end, exposition of the Scripture. The reader will have to judge whether he agrees with this reviewer, that Pastor Martin gives too much credence to topical preaching, at least the kind of topical preaching he describes—“The Bible and AIDS,” or “The Bible and the present economic distress,” or scores of sermons on one doctrinal topic. But if one agrees with Martin’s defense of topical preaching, he will have a great deal of difficulty criticizing with a clear conscience the historic practice of catechism preaching, specifically Heidelberg Catechism preaching, in which the preacher is given his topic by the church and asked to expound the Scripture while he teaches the congregation the church’s official creed. Finally, regarding topical sermons, Martin’s strong warning against textual sermons that fail to preach the text in its context (331ff.) is a warning that applies in a far greater way to topical sermons, which by their nature do not allow for careful exegesis of a single passage. “Preach the word” means “exegete Scripture.”

Some other weaknesses of the volume ought to be mentioned.

Martin’s organization of the topics in this volume is somewhat confusing. “Form and Structure” is immediately followed by the subject of application. Then come, in order, illustration, the need for simplicity, and sermon length. After this is a forty-page discussion of the preacher’s use of the manuscript in the pulpit, which comes up again in the last part of the book on delivery. “Sacred Rhetoric” is the subject of the opening chapter in “Unit Four;” and preaching Christ is the concluding chapter in this unit which treats the body of the sermon. Each of these would fit logically at the beginning of the book. A homiletics professor may have a hard time using the book as a text.

The next judgment of weakness, which of course is subjective, is pastor Martin’s expansiveness. A strength of many books is an economy of words: say what needs to be said. This reviewer felt that Martin tried to say everything that could be said. Thirty pages on sermon conclusions became dreary; seventeen pages on how long sermons ought to be and twelve pages on preaching attire, grooming, and physical fitness seemed overdone. Also, the frequent and extensive quotations of old preachers at times will make the reader determined to read their preaching manuals; often it became tedious. Martin is a follower of the Puritans, and the Puritans are not usually known for brevity.

A third weakness is the lack of confessional references. This may not be surprising for a book by a Baptist preacher, but it does surprise me because Martin is a Calvinistic Baptist; he would call himself a Reformed Baptist. Reformed Baptists have their creeds. For them, these creeds are authoritative. Yet the book is filled with quotes from the fathers, but has only half a dozen references to the Westminster Standards and only one reference to the main Baptist creed (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith). For Reformed preachers, the voice of the church ought to speak louder than the voice of individuals.

In spite of these criticisms, I still suggest that every preacher ought to read this second volume. And I can promise that everyone who reads will profit a great deal.

Let me mention a few of the more profitable items that will make a preacher want to pick up this volume.

Martin gives seven reasons (over many pages) to justify a fully written manuscript for a sermon. Realizing that many preachers will not be able to sustain this in a busy pastorate preaching more than once each week, he even suggests the possibility of writing almost nothing at times. But he concludes by recommending a synthesis. A young preacher will appreciate the struggle, and Martin’s conclusion.

Introductions receive a fine treatment. And this homiletics professor appreciated the caution against introductions that go too long, as well as the warning to lazy preachers who imagine sermons need no introduction.

Martin takes thirty pages to treat sermon conclusions. The book argues convincingly that a sermon that ends poorly is not a good sermon. No one should disagree that how a sermon ends is important. But the section makes this reviewer want to do more justice to this subject in the instruction of his students; and any of his former students will benefit from reading Martin’s treatment.

Not the most important part, but my favorite part of the book was its lengthy third unit on the “Act of Preaching” (441-626). Here, Martin treats all the aspects of sermon delivery. Martin lays the groundwork for the section with an engaging—and exegetical—argument that the manner in which a sermon is delivered should never be underestimated After giving a good ‘dressing down’ to the preacher who does not give good attention to the manner of reading the Scripture, Martin shows from Scripture and history the importance of good delivery. Anyone who doubts the importance of delivery and style, tone and voice, pauses and volume and variety, will very likely come away convinced by the biblical case Martin makes.

 

This article was originally published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, and has been reproduced here with permission from the PRTS faculty. You can find the original full issue PDF and subscribe to PRTJ here: https://www.prcts.org/past-journals