Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the
Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 7
Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the
of the Christian Church
Volume 7: Our Own Time
Hughes Oliphant Old
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010,
paperback, xx + 714 pp.
"A work of
supererogation"—that is how Derek Thomas, no mean preacher
himself, characterises reading "all seven volumes" of Hughes
Oliphant Old's The Reading and Preaching of the
Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church
I couldn't disagree more!
Having read every page of
all seven volumes and having eagerly waited for them to come
off the press, Old's history of preaching is a delight, not
a drudgery, never mind above the call of duty.
If one were to make a foray into the languages of
superlatives, I believe it is not an exaggeration to say
that Old's magisterial multi-volume work is far and away the
best in its area and unlikely to be surpassed for some time.
The author's grasp of and love for his subject, his
comprehensive sweep of preaching in various countries and
"schools," his lively prose and his personal knowledge of
some of the ministers all make for fascinating reading—this
too through over 4,000 pages and dealing with a subject
which, in less capable hands, could easily become repetitive
and dry. Mr. Old, I salute you and thank you!
The same engaging style and
verve displayed throughout Old's monumental series
characterises his seventh and final volume entitled
Our Own Time. Seven
of the twelve chapters deal with preaching in the United
States: "mainline" liberals (ch. 1), Billy Graham (ch. 2),
Presbyterians (ch. 3), Roman Catholics (ch. 6), "Black
Preaching" (ch. 8), Charismatics (ch. 9) and megachurch
preachers (ch. 11). That over half of volume seven should
deal with Old's own country is understandable given
America's world leadership in the last century, not only
economically and politically but also ecclesiastically.
Old's global interest comes out in his treatment of
Protestant Preaching in sub-Saharan Africa with preachers in
Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia (ch. 4); Roman Catholic
Liberation Preaching in Latin America (Mexico, El Salvador,
Brazil and Argentina) (ch. 5); Eastern Orthodox preaching in
Romania in connection with its 1989 revolution (ch. 7); as
well as preaching in the British Isles (England, Scotland
and the Republic of Ireland) (ch. 10) and East Asia (Sri
Lanka, China, Japan and S. Korea) (ch. 12). Old has a deep
personal interest in S. Korea and not only deals with it at
length in chapter 12 (pp. 632-666) but he also touches upon
that country in a section of his chapter on Billy Graham
(pp. 81-85). Thus Old manages to include S. America (and
Central America), Africa, Europe (the British Isles and
Romania) and Asia, as well as N. America. Only the continent
of Australia goes untreated. As well as requiring reading a
lot of sermons and a judicious selection and arrangement of
his material, all this calls for a "feel" for various
countries and the history of their churches, preaching and
preachers on five of the world's six continents (not
including Antarctica). No mean task!
So who, besides Billy Graham mentioned earlier, are some of
the better known preachers included in Old's seventh volume?
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., the old liberal in Northeast USA
(pp. 2-16); Sinclair B. Ferguson, a Scottish Presbyterian in
S. Carolina (pp. 134-146); Archbishop Peter Akinola of
Nigeria, a leader of the Southern Anglicans against the
liberal, pro-homosexual, white Anglicans of the Western
world (pp. 215-227); Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar A.
Romero of San Salvador, the "martyr" and "pulpit saint" of
liberation theology (pp. 266-288); Martin Luther King, Jr.,
the African-American civil rights leader (pp. 368-375);
"Sister" Aimee Semple McPherson with her foursquare gospel
(pp. 396-404); Oral Roberts, the charismatic televangelist
(pp. 404-410); William Still of the Church of Scotland in
Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen (pp. 449-460);
evangelical John Stott of the Church of England (pp.
460-480); Charismatic Anglican, Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity
Brompton, developer of the Alpha Course (pp. 487-492);
California megachurch pastor, author and radio preacher
Chuck Swindoll (pp. 529-551); dispensationalist Baptist John
MacArthur (pp. 551-558); and "Watchman Nee," author of
allegorical devotional works (pp. 610-620).
In late 2007, I e-mailed
Hughes Oliphant Old to see if he would be interested in
treating Herman Hoeksema in volume 7. After mentioning that
he had "heard of Hoeksema" and stating that "a few years ago
I would have been pleased to have received his sermons," Mr.
Old very graciously declined my offer to send him Hoeksema's
Righteous By Faith Alone
and Behold He Cometh!
in light of his failing eyesight and his approaching
publisher's deadline. One wonders how Hoeksema would have
looked amongst the extremely variegated preachers in Old's
Sadly, in keeping with the
rampant apostasy in the church world of our day, volume 7,
aptly entitled Our Own Time,
covers what can only be described, in the light of the
Reformed confessions, as various false gospels and false
gospellers popular in the last half century or so. As well
as Eastern Orthodoxy (ch. 7); Romanism (chs. 5-6), complete
with baptismal regeneration (p. 316) and Our Lady of
Guadalupe (p. 180); Liberation theology in Latin America (ch.
5) and Kenya (pp. 181-188); we receive an unhealthy dose of
liberal Protestantism (ch. 1), defending the
indefensible—e.g., sodomy (pp. 6-8) and the murder of unborn
babies (pp. 8-10)—and pleading for the "social gospel" of
big (civil) government, the nanny state (p. 367). Riddled
with higher criticism of God's Word (e.g., pp. 38-39), often
enslaved to existentialism (e.g., pp. 9-10, 19-29) and
trained in liberal seminaries, it is no wonder that the
"mainline" preachers degenerated into parroting left-wing
Leftist politics and even social revolution are major themes
in Roman Catholic preaching, both in the United States of
America (ch. 6, esp. pp. 317-321) and, of course, in Latin
America (ch. 5). Old describes Eastern Orthodox poet and
preacher, Joan Alexandru, each evening in the open air in
Bucharest's University Square in December, 1989, calling for
the end of Ceausescu's totalitarian regime. Later Alexandru
led the procession to the Communist Party headquarters,
holding an icon of Christ. Soon he was elected to the new
Romanian Parliament (ch. 7).
Left-wing ideology is also preached among the black American
ministers (ch. 7, esp. pp. 366-375, 378-385) and the East
Asians (ch. 12, esp. pp. 566-587) that Old mentions. Old
also throws into the mix Arminians, like Billy Graham (ch.
2) who is featured on the book's cover; a woman preacher,
Sister Aimee (pp. 396-404); and the folly of the
Charismatics (ch. 9), with their "healings" (p. 406) and a
Pentecost Day sermon, Old mentions, that is more like a
Mother's Day sermon and that presents the Holy Spirit as
"the feminine dimension of the Trinity" (p. 418)!
Part of the title of Old's
series is The Reading and Preaching of the
Scriptures, but much of
volume 7 treats the preaching of "another Jesus" in "another
gospel" with "another spirit" (II Cor. 11:4). The remainder
of the title (in the Worship of the Christian
Church) is only
appropriate if we think of Christianity in a very broad,
institutional sense, for many of the preachers in volume 7
are leaders of false churches (Belgic Confession
29; Westminster Confession
25:4-6) where the true worship of God is impossible.
Some of the antics of some
of the "preachers" have one shaking one's head; trendy
Scotty Smith ascending to preach in his Levi's (p. 163) and
talking with two missionaries through a telephone on the
pulpit (p. 162). Old has an appropriately-titled section on
Aimee Semple McPherson: "Preaching as Entertainment" (pp.
402-404), which makes Scotty Smith look old-fashioned. In
keeping with her scandals (her mysterious disappearance in
1926 and her disastrous third marriage while her husband was
living) and bizarre services of healing and receiving the
Holy Spirit are her flamboyant preaching techniques and
aids. Her sermons were "enlivened" with fire alarms, fog
horns, police sirens, skits, bands and the dramatic use of
lighting. In one sermon, a camel from a local zoo was
brought into her Los Angeles church. On occasion, Sister
Aimee made her pulpit entrance on a white motorcycle. "As
Charlie Chaplin is supposed to have said, she was a superb
actress, as good as any Hollywood ever produced" (p. 403)!
Thankfully, there are some preachers in volume 7 who are
more conservative, such as Presbyterian William Still. But
even here we are disappointed with Still's capitulation to
evolutionism, for he reckoned the creation to have taken
"millions of years," going so far as to thank the modern
scientists (p. 453)! Anglican John Stott also has a more
traditional view of preaching and Old's treatment is helpful
(pp. 460-480) but he, too, compromised with the spirit of
the age, especially with his annihilationist heresy which
denies eternal punishment. Old offers us an encouraging
treatment of Conrad Mbewe of Zambia, the "African Spurgeon"
Old's Fatal Flaw
Perhaps, though, someone could argue, Old has little choice
but to treat the (mostly) liberal and apostate preachers in
our day, for in the last half century or so the majority of
the well-known and influential preachers would fall under
this description. There is something to this. Moreover, Old
does at times voice some criticism, though usually mild.
But it is Old's evaluation of the preachers rather than his
choice of subject matter that is most objectionable. He may
write engagingly, like a Will Durant or a Paul Johnson, but,
sadly, he is too lenient with ungodly church leaders, like
Eli, and shares the flaws of Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 19:2).
Old mentions some of his own false ecumenism: going to mass
at Cuernavaca Cathedral in Mexico (p. 241) and attending the
notoriously ecumenical Benedictine Monastery of Maria Laach
in Germany (p. 348).
Old's skewed analysis is
seen, for example, in his treatment of Trevor Morrow,
minister of Lucan Presbyterian Church near Dublin and a
former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI)
(pp. 484-487). Old inaccurately identifies Morrow as "one of
the leading evangelical preachers in the British Isles in
our day" (p. 484). Morrow is one of the leading liberals in
the PCI and no evangelical! In keeping with his ecumenical
double-think, Old writes, "Although thoroughly Protestant in
his theological orientation, Morrow insists that Irish
Presbyterians must relate to Irish Catholics as their
brothers in Christ" (p. 485). But to be "thoroughly
Protestant" would involve upholding the
(the creed of both Morrow and Old) which denounce Roman
Catholicism and Roman Catholics as idolatrous.
Lord's Day 11 rightly explains that those who "seek their
salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere
else" (as Rome does with its doctrines of justification by
faith and works, free will, Mary, etc.) do not believe in
Jesus, who is Jehovah salvation, no matter what they may
claim. Ironically, Old treats Morrow's series of five
sermons on Galatians—of all biblical books!—(pp. 485-487)
and notes that Morrow even quotes Luther's commentary on
this great epistle on justification by faith alone (p. 486)!
Have Old or Morrow understood what Luther wrote in this
commentary on the truth of justification, the article of a
standing or a falling church? More importantly have they
heard the awful anathema of Galatians 1:8-9?
But though we, or an angel from heaven,
preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have
preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before,
so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto
you than that ye have received, let him be accursed (Gal.
This anathema falls not only on the Judaizers in Galatia but
all who corrupt justification by faith alone, "the truth of
the gospel" (Gal. 2:5, 14), whether in the first or
sixteenth or twenty-first century, or whether they call
themselves Roman Catholics or Presbyterians or advocates of
the Federal Vision or the New Perspective on Paul (e.g.,
Morrow cites N. T. Wright; p. 486, n. 91).
The most chilling part of Old's seventh volume comes in his
discussion of John MacArthur's sermons on Matthew 8-9 and on
our Lord's exorcising demons. Tragically, Old states,
I really do not believe in Satan, demonic spirits, and demon
possession. Maybe I ought to, but I don't. I am willing to
agree that I may have been too strongly influenced by the
intellectual world in which I was brought up to fully grasp
the full teaching of Scripture, but that is the way it is
Read those haunting words again: "I really do not believe in
Satan, demonic spirits, and demon possession." How awful!
Also deeply disturbing is Old's related statement: "I have
to admit that the caveats of the Enlightenment still obscure
my thoughts from time to time. I suppose I am troubled by a
shadow of doubt, but then the same would be true of many in
my congregation" (p. 556). So this is in his church too!
This is the huge flaw in Old's thinking: unbelief in the
inerrant, holy Scriptures, which goes hand in hand with the
dark doubts of the "Enlightenment." Think it through: If
there is no Satan, then what of the Fall in Genesis 3 and
the many references to him and his fallen angels throughout
the Bible? And what of our Saviour's temptation in the
wilderness and the cross as His victory over Satan? If the
Lord Jesus wrongly reckoned that He was tempted by the devil
those forty days, that He drove out demons and that He
defeated Satan by His death, can He really be the incarnate
Son of God?
One can appreciate much in Old's learned and persuasive
series. He wants to recover expository preaching. He wants
the historic church's theology taught from the pulpit. He
wants preaching to be viewed as worship and done to the
glory of God. All true and well said. But there is a huge
"But!" The only thing that can truly support all this is
God-breathed Scripture, so that "all" of it is "profitable
for doctrine ..." (II Tim. 3:16) to equip the man of God (v.
17), who is solemnly charged to "preach the word" "in season
and out of season" (4:1-2), for those of "itching ears" will
depart from "the truth" and "shall be turned unto fables"
Along with Old's rejection of Scripture's infallibility
(John 10:35) and acceptance of higher criticism—one wonders
what part Old's years at Princeton Theological Seminary
earning his BD in the 50s played in all this—comes his false
charity towards the various false gospels and false
churches. There is a logic to all this. Not accepting the
Bible's teaching on the devil ("I really do not believe in
Satan"), how can Old believe its testimony that the evil one
sends forth false teachers (II Cor. 11:13-14) who preach
"another gospel" of "another Jesus" through "another spirit"
(vv. 3-4) and so establish and maintain "synagogues of
Satan" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9)?
It is striking that all this becomes most manifest in Old's
last volume with the deepening apostasy of the church world
in the last several decades and especially in his treatment
of John MacArthur, who is arguably (and sadly) the most
orthodox preacher in volume 7. It is precisely MacArthur's
witness to the "authenticity" of God's Word (p. 558), "his
complete confidence in the text" (p. 556), that evokes Old's
chilling doubts (p. 556). Hence, not Old, but MacArthur, or,
better yet, the Reformed creeds and the Reformed tradition
point the way to the faithful reading and preaching of the
Scriptures as worship in true Christian churches in our own
time and until the Lord Jesus returns. For Old (learned and
eloquent as he is) and his magisterial series (with its
fascinating description of the preaching of both true and
false churches) can only take us so far.
Derek Thomas, "The Majesty of God in the Preaching
of John Calvin," In Writing
(Summer, 2010), p. 11.
correspondence with Mr. Old, he remarked to me, "Several
times I have gotten letters of appreciation like yours,
but this is the first time someone has said that they
have read the whole thing ..."
For more on the fallen angels, listen to the series
of nine audios on the latter part of Belgic
Confession 12, entitled "The Devil and the Demons."