Glory Has Not Departed

Review by Leander S. Harding

Hughes Oliphant Old is dean of the Institute for Reformed Worship at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He has over the course of a long and distinguished career been engaged in the project of documenting the preaching of the Scriptures in the Western Church. This volume treats the 20th century with an emphasis on the post-World War II period. It is a wonderfully comprehensive survey.

The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 7
Our Own Time
By Hughes Oliphant Old.
Eerdmans. Pp. xx + 714. $55

Included are treatments of mainline preachers such as William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Fred Craddock, James Forbes, Fleming Rutledge, and William Willimon, an entire chapter on Billy Graham, another on the new breed of Presbyterians including Tim Keller, then long chapters on “Protestant Preaching in Black Africa,” “Liberation Theology in Latin America,” “Vatican II and American Catholic Preaching,” “Black Preaching” in America, “The Charismatics,” and “The Young Churches of East Asia.”

Dean Old gives well-documented summaries and thematic analyses of sermons. The emphasis is on reporting, with critique kept to a minimum. His evaluations have the feel of a savvy and learned pastor. When Oliphant does weigh in he is short on academic jargon and practical about the missional and catechetical consequences of the preaching described.

Reviewing a sermon by James Forbes at the National Cathedral in 2005, Old shows how Forbes has transferred the revival style to a traditional liberal Protestantism. “The congregation is asked to reach out to those who are standing around and promise to each other to work for the kingdom. What this apparently means is supporting environmental issues, showing up for the right demonstrations, and voting for politically correct candidates. These acts have taken the place of decisions for Jesus” (p. 35). He is appreciative of the generous orthodoxy that he finds in Methodist William Willimon and in Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest and acclaimed author. Of Rutledge he says that even in mainline American Protestantism, “[w]hen the Word is truly preached, the glory has by no means departed” (p. 43).

Anglicans will be especially interested in the chapter on Britain and the preaching of John Stott, Dick Lucas, and Nicky Gumbel. All three of these preachers managed to fill empty churches in the heart of one of the world’s most secular and skeptical cities. In all of these preachers Old finds a careful attention to the biblical text. Of Stott, Old says: “The sermon is not the preacher’s word but God’s Word” (p. 478). Global South Anglicans, including Festo Kivengere, Samuel Crowther, Janani Luwum, and Peter Akinola, also get a thorough review. Old says of Crowther and Akinola, “The Anglicans of Nigeria, apparently, are accustomed to hearing a lot of Scripture in their sermons” (p. 219).

Old is capable of appreciating preaching emphases outside his Reformed tradition and has a good section on sacramental themes in the Roman Catholic Church. In the emerging churches of East Asia he finds a style of expository preaching that is identical to what John Calvin was doing in Geneva.

This is an extremely useful book. Students of preaching will be challenged to place their approaches to Scripture and the preaching task within the vast spectrum on display here. I would have enjoyed even more commentary by the author. Old has done the Church a remarkable service by this encyclopedic effort.

The Rev. Leander S. Harding is rector of St. Luke’s Church in Catskill, New York.

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