- A History of Preaching
Homiletics professors looking for a brief, manageable, and contemporary history of preaching have commonly been frustrated; the existing works tend to be (1) old and out of date, and/or (2) vast multi-volumes, many of which are devoted to specialized study, and/or (3) histories reflecting questionable scholarship, and (4) usually out of print. O. C. Edwards' A History of Preaching is one of three works on the topic published in the past five years to fill the void that has existed for the past thirty years. Edwards work has at least one clear advantage over the other two contemporary histories:his has been completed, while the multi-volume works by Ronald E. Osborn (The Folly of God) and Hughes Oliphant Old (The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church) are still in process. Additionally, Edwards' history is a more manageable size. A History of Preaching consists of one printed volume plus an additional CD-Rom that contains both a second volume as well as a digitized copy of the first. The second volume consists of 665 pages of primary sources: complete sermons and reflections on what [End Page 283] preaching is and how it should be conducted, beginning with a synagogue homily and a sermon by Melito of Sardis (ca. 165 A.D.) and extending up to the work of homilists preaching and homileticians reflecting on preaching in the last decades of the twentieth century. In some ways, by collecting this material and making it available in one source, the second volume may easily be as valuable as the first.
Describing his book as "a homiletic genealogy for those who preach the faith today in English—especially Americans, but British as well,"Edwards acknowledges the limitations that space and time have constrained him to make. He begins with a consideration of the earliest examples of Christian preaching and reflections on preaching that are available, but soon begins to focus his attention, first on the Greek and Latin Fathers; then, after the patristic period, on preaching in the West; then, after the Reformation, on preaching in England; and finally on preaching in the United States. Although he critiques Fant and Pinson's 20 Centuries of Great Preaching for devoting ten of twelve volumes to preaching in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he comes dangerously close to falling into the same pattern himself. Over half of the book treats the history of preaching in England and America. Indeed, his treatment of recent British and especially American contributions to the art of preaching and homiletic theory are the strongest part of the book, and happily, he considers a wide variety of traditions, from Evangelical to main-line Protestant to Roman Catholic, treating each tradition with respect. On the other hand, the progressively narrowing focus necessarily precludes treatment in other branches of Christianity and thus tends to make his history more helpful for a seminary professor who teaches preaching than for anyone doing an in-depth study of the field.
Although responsibly researched, Edwards' would have to be considered a popular history, as unlikely as that description might seem for a book approaching a thousand pages. The pattern he follows is to give an overview of preaching in the various periods of Christian history, then, identifying the major figures in preaching from each period, provide a brief biography and analysis of their homiletic style, often, although not always, with a consideration of one or more of their sermons. For each period, he has included either complete sermons or reflections on the art and technique of preaching in the companion CD-Rom. The information he provides gives a good introduction to the major figures and movements in preaching; his bibliography points the way for those who wish to pursue a more in-depth study. A History of Preaching should prove a handy and helpful...