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The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church (Volume 1: The Biblical Period; Volume 2: The Patristic Age), by Hughes Oliphant Old. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998. Pp. x-383 v. 1. $35.00. Pp. viii-481, v. 2. $42.00. (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Robert D. Decker.]

These are the first two volumes of a comprehensive multi-volume study of the history of the reading and preaching of the sacred Scriptures. Old proposes to give us the history of the reading and preaching of Scripture from Moses to the end of the twentieth century. If Old is able to complete this ambitious project, and if the quality of the succeeding volumes is as good as the first two volumes, this series will quickly and deservedly replace the long-time, standard, three-volume A History of Preaching, by Edwin C. Dargan.

Old believes that preaching and the reading of Holy Scripture lie at the heart of the worship of the Christian church. He states his purpose in writing this history as follows:

So, then, the purpose of this work is to come to an understanding of how preaching is worship, the service of God’s glory. We want to see how preaching in one age after another has been done as a sacred service. It is upon the doxological function of preaching, then, that we wish to focus, even though surely other dimensions of preaching will unavoidably come into view. Although we will elaborate our discussion with a great number of different answers from a great variety of times and places, our basic question will always remain very simple: How is preaching worship? At the center of our discussion is, inevitably enough, Jesus.

Jesus came preaching…. At the center of Jesus’ ministry was this reading and interpreting of the Scriptures, this proclamation that they had been fulfilled. He gave himself to us in his preaching as well as in the agony of his prayers, his baptism of fire, his drinking of the bitter cup, the suf

fering of his cross, and the victory of his resurrection. Jesus came preaching because he had been sent for this purpose by the Father. Similarly, Jesus sent his disciples out to preach: “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you” (

John 20:21

). The earliest Church understood preaching to be at the heart of its mission… (v. 1, p. 7).

By studying the preaching of some of the greatest preachers in the history of the church, Old hopes to help contemporary preachers “recover what seems in our day to have become a lost art” (v. 1, p. 3).

Anyone looking for an excellent, exegetical analysis of apostolic preaching will find it in Volume 1. Old’s fine analysis of Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2), e.g., is by itself worth the price of the book (pp. 167-169). In Volume 2 Old presents not only a first-rate history, but an excellent study of the preaching of Cyrillic of Jerusalem, the Cappadocian Fathers, Cyrillic of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and many other of the “greats.”

All these riches are given us in a fine, readable style of writing, as the following quotation from volume 1 will indicate. This quotation is taken from Old’s study of Paul’s sermon to the Athenian philosophers preached on the Areopagus. Old is commenting on the apostle’s concluding admonition, wherein he tells the Athenians that “now God commands all men everywhere to repent.” This is what Old says:

Polite apologetic has been put aside here. There was nothing diplomatic about telling the Athenians, of all people, that they were ignorant. To threaten the day of judgment was to reveal oneself as being hopelessly beyond the pale of polite humanism, and to affirm the resurrection was to kiss enlightenment a fond farewell. Be that as it may, essential to the missionary sermon has always been the call to repentance. No matter how disguised it may be, a call to repentance can never really be diplomatic or polite; it is always an affront to our self-sufficiency. The missionary sermon aims at baptism, even if baptism is not specifically mentioned, and baptism is the sacrament of mortification (pp. 177, 178).

Each volume is enhanced by a detailed bibliography of both original and secondary sources and an index.

Pastors, teachers of Homiletics, but also laymen will benefit from these volumes. We fervently hope that Dr. Old is able to finish the series.

Hughes Oliphant Old served as pastor of a Presbyterian church in Indiana for thirteen years. Currently he is a member of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey.