Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: Volume 6, The Modern Age.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. Paper. 997 pages, $50.00. ISBN 978?0?8028? 3139?2.
When Hughes Oliphant Old launched his monumental, multi?volume history of preaching and worship, he set the bar of quality high. I must say that Volume Six is my favorite in the series of which Old promises one more.
Because of the massive size and scope of the enterprise, few preachers will buy it or few courses will use it as a text. Volume Six seems especially expansive, running to almost 1,000 pages. Certainly no history of preaching shares more of the actual preaching of the Christian communicators covered (though 17 pages on the great Edinburgh preacher Thomas Guthrie seems overdone).
Old is now in his 70th year and presently Dean of the Institute for the Study of Reformed Worship at Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, South Carolina. As a liturgist and specialist in worship, he constantly makes a good case for preaching as worship, but in some cases goes too far. For example, he debates whether G. Campbell Morgan really preached or was just a teacher because his Bible teaching didn’t seem to be worship (887).
The copious and compendious wealth of data in this study is dizzying. One can learn new things on every page. The long French and German footnotes could be excised to reduce bulk, but I must say I never knew before that Charles Haddon Spurgeon took communion every day either at the Tabernacle or in his home. His basic instincts on Scripture are sound (581), and his briefer chapters on Black preaching and Southern Baptist preaching are positive.
His outstanding treatment of Timothy Dwight’s vision of a Christian commonwealth and evangelical confrontation with the Enlightenment have significant contemporary relevance. The historical seams are, on the whole, informative and incisive. Having loved F.W. Krummacher for his great preaching on the Cross of Christ, I was elated to discover from Old that he also published a volume of sermons entitled The Risen Redeemer. Such discoveries are invaluable as we seek freshness and forcefulness in preaching the great special days in the Christian calendar, in my view some of the hardest sermons to prepare.
Some earlier identified sub?texts and undercurrents continue to occasion concern as we canvas this high?quality work and readers should be aware of them, for whatever they are worth:
1) The tendency to make systematic Calvinism the standard of orthodoxy is troubling. Every historian has a bias, but is failure to preach TULIP really the mother of all apostasy? Old loves the Wesleys and William Sangster but “frontier Arminianism” is naughty, and what condemns Norman Vincent Peale is that he was an Arminian (572). (The truth is, many Arminians don’t want him either, as William Sangster and A.W. Tozer would be quick to say). When Old is so generous and gracious to Schleiermacher and Harry Emerson Fosdick-who denied supernaturalism entirely-how about a little brotherliness to those for whom Dort is not the New Jerusalem?
2) As a homiletician, I am uneasy with Old’s definition of expository preaching as only being lectio continua (preaching through the Scripture in order, text by text). True exposition is seeking to preach the big idea of a natural thought unit, allowing the text to shape the sermon. This is not to deny the value of an appropriate topical sermon, textual?topical sermon or the textual sermon (on a verse or two).
I am pleased that Old has finally found the uniqueness of the Puritan sermon (328), which is not expository in the Broadus?Phelps?Robinson definition. Exposure of such minute amounts of text subordinates the text to doctrine, as when Thomas Shepard preached four years on the parable of the 10 virgins. Martyn Lloyd?Jones was a Puritan-in all of the fascination that the Puritan preachers have for us-but his textual?topical sermons are hardly the model for most. I read every sermon he preached with relish, but to speak of him as leading in “a recovery of expository preaching” is just not right (946). His was textual?topical preaching, and he did it not only on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel (Romans) but also Sunday mornings (Ephesians). Such series were exceedingly rich, but should we take eight years in Ephesians? Few of us today are advised to emulate this.
3) Olds continues to use “extemporaneous” as a synonym for impromptu speech. Finney (whose belief in man’s moral ability makes him semi?Pelagian, not Arminian) was impromptu-that is, he did not prepare. Extempore form involves thorough preparation and possibly memorization of the introduction and some transitions but preaching without notes, sacrificing some precision for a sense of spontaneity. Paper is a poor conductor of heat.
4) I regret that Olds is so hostile to the altar call and “decisional regeneration.” Although of the “old school”-hostile to revivals and the evangelism of D.L. Moody (he is not sure Moody was a biblical preacher, 504)-he has some ambivalence because of Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. Hello! He likes R.W. Dale in part because “he was not centered on the conversion experience” (402) although Dale became an ardent backer of D.L. Moody. This steady hostile staccato in Old is painful.
Old likes “eastern mysticism” (226), which gives me the chills. I wish somewhere there was at least tacit recognition that holiness preachers and our Pentecostal friends are part of the Body of Christ.
5) I do miss the eschatological in this treatment. There is much apocalyptic in Scripture, and preaching itself is an eschatological event. Granted, the Reformed have not been drawn much to it (Calvin did no commentary on Revelation); but other than a few swipes at the pessimism of premillennialism (which is pessimistic only about man and his prospects but is basically optimistic because of divine interposition), the cupboard is bare. There is today too much attention to eschatology for a comprehensive treatment of preaching to avoid this.
Old’s achievement is prodigous from every standpoint. I would like to talk to him about his love?affair with Origen’s hermeneutic, his giving a pass to Karl Barth, and his addiction to higher critical views, along with some other questions.
Nevertheless, by any criterion, Old continues to give us epochal work in his amazing history of preaching. He cheers us and thrills us and saddens us and puzzles us. This book is nearly 1,000 pages long; but if you love preaching, you can hardly put it down. I will guarantee that.
Review by David Larsen