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How to Preach: Times, Seasons, Texts and Contexts

By Sam Wells

Review by Matt Allen, Reviews and Resources Editor and Blackburn Centre Lead Tutor, Emmanuel Theological College

Canterbury Press, 2023, £22.99

ISBN 978-1-7862-2521-4

Sam Wells has written a helpful, honest, and thoughtful book which inspires, informs and encourages preachers by allowing them to peer over the shoulder of a fellow preacher willing to share from their experience. I commend it to those who want to revisit and refresh their heart, passion, and instincts for this vital ministry. Wells is clear that, despite the title, this is not a book for those who are starting their journey as preachers. This is not about the basics of learning how to preach. Rather, Wells is aiming this resource at those who have ‘learned by having a go’, equipping them to reflect on their practice by modelling that in each chapter.[1] The introduction to this book is particularly important to read to ensure that the reader appreciates what is offer in this work.

In every chapter, Wells offers one of his sermons and then some guidelines to follow. As someone also influenced by the homiletical theology movement (associated with David Schnasa Jacobsen and others), I think Wells is right to identify his sermons as ‘works of theology in their own right’ even when being experienced as written text, rather than in the event of preaching.[2]

The book is divided up into four sections: ‘Times’, ‘Seasons,’ ‘Texts,’ and ‘Contexts’. The reader will find consistently good fare on offer, not only high-quality sermons in each chapter but also guidelines drawn from Wells’ own preparation process which show the principles with which he was working. With section covering ‘Texts’ and ‘Contexts,’ this book makes a very helpful contribution to the resources that already offer guidance for preaching different genres of scripture or for the occasional offices.

The guidelines which supported the sermons were informed by homiletical wisdom, seasoned practice, and an open and deep sense of humanity. Throughout the book, Wells acknowledged the particularity of his experience without presuming that others would share it. Instead, he uses his insight to open up space for others. Infused within his approach is a deep appreciation that preaching is offered prayerfully before God, as part of worship.

I was drawn to the chapters under the section titled ‘Times’ where I thought Wells’ contributions on sermons that cover Politics, Society, Freedom, War, and Disability, represent an excellent addition to the field. I particularly appreciated Wells’ chapter on ‘War’, where he explores preaching on Remembrance Sunday and I expect that other readers would find chapters that resonate with them and touch on challenges they have faced when preaching conscious of the ‘Times.’

Overall, I warmly commend this book. I would imagine it resourcing an individual retreat focused on preaching or for any who would like to recalibrate their approach to preaching.

I also think it would be a useful reference guide for the busy preacher looking for assurance and companionship on their preaching journey.


[1] p. xii

[2] p. xiv

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