A History of Preaching

Article excerpt

O. C. EDWARDS, JR. A History of Preaching. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2004. Pp. xxviii + 879, appendix, indices, CD-ROM. $65.00.

The word normally reserved for massive, career-capping books like A History of Preaching is "magisterial." O. C. Edwards's work, written over an 18-year period and completed following retirement from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, certainly merits this designation, although, as with most surveys that range over twenty centuries and rely almost entirely on secondary sources, it is not without flaws and inadequacies. The first thing to affirm, however, is that this is a prodigious scholarly achievement, a huge contribution to the field of homiletics, a vital resource for clergy and anyone engaged in theological education. The book is published in two formats, on traditional printed pages bound between covers and as a CD-ROM tucked inside the back. The CD-ROM contains not only the full text of the book, but also a 650-page second volume of primary source material-sermons and homiletic manuals that are cross-referenced in the two volumes. No table of contents is provided listing the documents in volume two, a very unfortunate omission.

Edwards begins with the straightforward sentence: "There is no activity more characteristic of the church than preaching" (3). Justin Martyr's second-century description rings true across the centuries: "On the day called Sunday," believers "gather together in one place," and, following the reading of Scripture, "the Ruler in a discourse instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things" (14). Further, the church generally requires not only spiritual gifts but theological training for those authorized to speak. In "A Book About the Way a Sermon Ought to Be Given," the earliest homiletics textbook apart from Augustine's De doctnna Christiana, eleventh-century Abbot Guibert of Nogent warned: "It is extremely dangerous for (one) who has the obligation of preaching ever to stop studying" (175). Twenty-first-century congregations would benefit if this epigraph were above the door in every church office. While common themes persist and proclamation of the Word is perennially understood-along with the sacraments-as theologically constitutive of the church, the making of sermons is also a human activity embedded in history and culture. Edwards effectively charts historical shifts over the centuries, exploring the relationship of preaching to developments in the fields of rhetoric, philosophy, and theology and highlighting the lives of many exemplars. …

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