and Preaching of the Scriptures
Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 1
and the Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church
Volume 1: The
Hughes Oliphant Old
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, paperback, x + 383 pp.
Hughes Oliphant Old has set himself an audacious
task: to study the history of preaching in the church beginning with
Moses until the present day. Old has already completed six of the
planned seven volumes and his historical research makes for fascinating
In the first section of the first volume, Old gives a
detailed survey of the preaching of the biblical writers, beginning with
Moses (28), whom Old considers to be the first preacher (at least his
sermons in Deuteronomy are the earliest recorded), proceeding through
the prophets (Samuel to Jeremiah) and the "Wisdom School" and then
treating the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Old notes that the Old
Testament Church placed great importance on a thorough knowledge of the
Word of God and the priests and prophets saw their primary calling to
teach (30). One criticism of this section is Old's
toleration of liberal higher criticism. For example, Old's
chapter on Isaiah is followed by a section on "Deutero-Isaiah," thus
denying (although with some reservations) the unity of that book (69ff).
In other places his affirmation of Scripture's
inspiration is weak: he does not affirm verbal inspiration but contends
… it was God who inspired
Matthew to pick up his pen and write what he knew of the words and
works of Jesus. Surely we would want to affirm that the Holy Spirit
guided the thoughts of Matthew and any who worked with him in
producing the Gospel that bears his name" (263, my italics).
Earlier, he argues against some who relegate the
account of the boy Jesus in the temple (Luke 2) to "legendary tales"
that "the story may very well preserve reliable material" because "much
about it rings true" (128). No doubt, Old is a genius of a scholar, but
his liberalism is disappointing.
The second section deals with the early church of the
second and third centuries AD and describes in considerable detail the
sermons of prominent church fathers of that period, particularly Origen.
Old's work is filled
with juicy historical tidbits. For example, the Didache is evidence that
the early church considered that Christ is present in the preaching
(265); Clement of Alexandria was opposed to what later developed into
the asceticism of voluntary poverty in the church (see his sermon on the
Rich Young Ruler [298-306]); sermon series preaching has a very old
pedigree; human interest stories were rare in the sermons of the early
church (304) and preachers were generally given an hour to preach (329).
Origen is an especially interesting character: it is fascinating to read
how Origen chose preaching units in a day when there were no chapter or
verse divisions (322-323) and quite disturbing (if not amusing) to see
how Origen engaged in allegory and numerology (a la Harold Camping!)
with reckless abandon (318). Old rightly criticizes Origen for this but
adds that for all his allegorizing Origen "insisted on the historical
integrity of Scripture" (338).
I end by quoting a very astute observation. In days
when churches preach "potted gospel messages" for the unconverted we
need to follow the pattern of the early church:
Evangelism did not require a special message
preached for the unconverted, different from the one for the
converted, nor did it mandate that the faithful hear and
enthusiastically support again and again evangelistic sermons that
were not really directed to them. Rather, when Christ is proclaimed
as Lord and Savior, when God's
promises are proclaimed, and a witness is given that God is faithful
and that in Christ those promises have been fulfilled, and will yet
be fulfilled, evangelism is done (283).
That kind of preaching, doctrinal, expository
preaching with exegetical application will save us and our children and
those who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.