Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries

Article excerpt

Ancient A Mirror for the Church: Preaching in the First Five Centuries. By David DunnWilson. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2005. Pp. xvi, 224. $22.00 paperback.)

David Dunn-Wilson, professor emeritus of theology at Kenya Methodist University, has written a detailed study of the patristic preaching that takes the reader from the early Christians to Leo the Great, focusing on sociological tensions that helped to shape preaching. Dunn-Wilson has a remarkable ability to make sermons come alive across the centuries; some sermons that might otherwise have seemed dull to the modern ear gain new vitality and energy. His aim is to show that the challenges of pluralism facing the church today are akin to the challenges facing the patristic church, and we can use it as a mirror in which to glimpse some ideas and possibilities for the way ahead.

Two things make this book stand out from classics like E. C. Dargan's A History of Preaching. The first is its reference to a vast number of primary sources-one hundred pages, almost half of the book, are devoted mainly to notes and bibliography. A large number of historical people and situations are covered, perhaps too many because exposure to actual sermons is diminished. Dunn-Wilson excels when he stops at someone's church to allow the reader to hear sermon excerpts and to overhear other scholars. O. C. Edwards' monumental two-volume A History of Preaching (Abingdon, 2004) may strike a better balance between in-depth study and sense of the period.

A second distinctive feature is organization of the period around sociological situations. The book moves from primary evangelism to pastoral preachers who nurture apprentice-believers; to apologist preachers who reach into the pagan world with their defense of the faith; to ascetic and mystical preachers who argue against materialism; to liturgist preachers who equip the church to be the state religion; to theologian-preachers; and finally to the "majestic homileticians," Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom, who "inspire the crew and train its officers to keep the church afloat" (p. …

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