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Book: The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church

Hughes Oliphant Old. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. Vol. 1, 383 pp. $35.00; Vol. 2, 481 pp. $42.00.

Hughes Oliphant Old conceived the vision for this series while he was a pastor. Because his intent was to guide other pastors on a grand tour of how the Christian church has understood the reading and preaching of Scripture, these volumes (the first two of seven) are much more than an academic history of preaching. Old focuses on the reading of Scripture and how that reading and preaching have shaped worship over the centuries of the church.

Volume 1 investigates biblical examples of the reading and preaching of Scripture. After an initial examination of Moses, the study explores the writings and ministry of the Old Testament prophets. Throughout each of these volumes, Old analyzes their various “sermons” according to the following five styles of preaching: expository, evangelistic, catechetical, festal (celebrations related to the Christian year), and prophetic. Biblical preaching reaches its zenith in Jesus Christ, the Living Word, who devoted much of his mission to preaching. The early church followed Christ’s pattern and is traced through the witness of the New Testament apostles (Peter, Paul, James, and the others). This volume concludes with a representative sampling of second- and third-century sources (i.e. Didache, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen).

Volume 2 covers the Patristic Age, or the period of the early church fathers. It is significant that Old seeks to recover a balanced reading from the best voices of both the Western church (such as Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great) and the Eastern church (Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and numerous examples from the Syriac church). He also carefully traces the development of the lectionary through the various schools of the church. Throughout these pages the reader notices the great passion Old has for elevating the ministry of the Word and gains an understanding of how we in the contemporary church can learn from the past.

These carefully researched and richly documented volumes are primarily written for pastors and educators of worship and preaching. However, their readable style makes them highly accessible for others who are interested in the development of the reading and preaching of Scripture as well. Readers, regardless of their background, will discover delightful gems that will stimulate and stretch their minds and warm their hearts. Old’s work offers the church a great gift in reclaiming our memory of the reading and preaching of Scripture and enlarging our gratitude and faithfulness. It deserves a wide and careful reading and application.