Keeping track of what is going on in the vital history of preaching field requires us to note the following:

The long-awaited major history of preaching by O.C. Edwards (published by Abingdon) will soon be out and will be reviewed in an upcoming issue.

An exciting new series of symposia (beautifully done by Brill in the Netherlands) merits interest. The volume edited by Larissa Taylor (who has done such invaluable work on fourteenth century French preachers) is entitled Preachers and People in the Reformation and Early Modern Period (2001). Like all symposia, the work is somewhat uneven in its treatment but overall it is magnificently done.

My own The Company of the Preachers: A History of Biblical Preaching from the Old Testament to the Modern Era has been reissued by Kregel in a two volume format.

The eagerly anticipated fifth volume in Hughes Oliphant Old’s epochal series on The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church is now out in 620 pages (Eerdmans, 2004). This study like its predecessors shows massive scholarship and a sparkling style. Treating worship and preaching together seems natural but we feel occasionally schizoid in our focus.

The concentration here is on “Moderatism, Pietism and Awakening.” No one has ever written more helpfully on the great French Protestant Jacques Saurin (1677-1730) as Olds (38-49). Many will be surprised to see how extensively Olds sees pietism influencing and infiltrating Calvinism, since pietism for many Calvinists has been almost pejorative. His tribute to John Wesley is fulsome and mellow (110ff). The influence of Samuel Davis on Patrick Henry and his oratory is a highlight. The American Puritan Thomas Shepard’s emphasis on conversion in his preaching and the centrality of “receiving Christ as Savior and Lord” are clear in Olds’ treatment. He traces the evangelistic thread in preaching which insists that people must be converted (561). Judgment as trumpeted by Jonathan Edwards is a necessary part of true kerygmatic proclamation. “Full reliance on the blood of Christ” comes through again and again as absolutely imperative and our spirits are lifted and blessed. Olds is good.

But there seem to be some conflicting currents. The pietism which he sees as so pervasive is “extreme” and escapist and when Spener insists on the new birth, he sees this as German medieval mysticism.” He seems to contradict himself when he argues that preaching for conversion is more Anabaptistic than Calvinistic. Will the real Hughes Oliphant Olds please stand up?

He gives large place to “moderatism” with its tendency to a vapid intellectual moralism and praises Hugh Blair and Professor Robertson in Scotland and also Thomas Chalmers who led in the great disruption in Scotland which gave rise to the Free Church of Scotland. Olds does not refer to the disruption. There were issues here.

Is it his broad mainline ecumenism which leaves some of us uncomfortable with the extensive treatment of Romanian and Russian orthodoxy (in which there never was a Reformation)? Is there really any gospel preached here? Why then no reference to the exciting developments in Scandinavia after the Reformation? His extensive survey of Franciscan preaching in California seems a bit over the top when he has skipped over John Owen, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan.

Problems for this reviewer continue in his insistence that the homily is expository. Expository preaching must divide the text in the interest of preaching the “big idea,” it would seem to some of us.

He seems fuzzy on the origin of Puritan preaching, which in the volume edited by Larissa Taylor previously cited is seen rather as coming from the commentaries of Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) and led to the pattern of exegesis, doctrine and uses (71). Puritan preachers like Thomas Shepard can hardly be our model in the exposure of text when he spent four years preaching on the parable of the ten virgins. What kind of hermeneutic is really operative here and where is the caution from our guide?

Mistakenly J.C. Ryle is put as bishop of Birmingham and Samuel Wesley was not a Puritan (although Susanna was). The Whitefield bibliography does not include Dallimore or Harry Stout (his entries are very old) and one wishes he had George Marsden’s classic on Jonathan Edwards which would have enlightened him greatly on why Edwards left Northampton (not a single issue). Also it is quite clear that Edwards did abandon the reading of his manuscript in his preaching.

Though there is imbalance here and there and some lack of a coherent historical perspective on pietism (were its founders anti-intellectual in founding the University of Halle?) and some lack of precision in the taxonomy of preaching, these volumes remain a good investment for those who want to probe more deeply into the history of preaching at a time of important decision-making in our time. Now is when the lessons of history need to be reviewed with rigor.


David L. Larsen is Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.

Share This On: