Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the
Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 7


The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church
Volume 7: Our Own Time

Hughes Oliphant Old
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, paperback, xx + 714 pp.
ISBN 978-0-8028-1771-6

Seven Monumental Volumes

"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 (1998-2010).1 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.2 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 final volume!

Heretical Preachers

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 "causes."

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" (pp. 227-236).

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 Westminster Standards (the creed of both Morrow and Old) which denounce Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholics as idolatrous. Heidelberg Catechism 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. 1:8-9).

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 (p. 556).

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?3

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" (vv. 3-4).

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.

1 Derek Thomas, "The Majesty of God in the Preaching of John Calvin," In Writing (Summer, 2010), p. 11.
2 In 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 ..."
3 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."