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WHAT an excellent topic - a survey of preaching in the early Church. A pity,
then, that the book is so uneven. The reader plunges straight into Peter's
"sermon" in Acts 2 and Paul's Areopagus "sermon" in Acts 17; but Dunn-Wilson
does not take seriously enough the possibility that Luke has done more than put
his own gloss on the actual words of Peter and Paul. There is also the matter
of whether preaching is directed within the faith, or outside it - in other
words, whether it is for the purpose of conversion or
Such a distinction would have been helpful in the early chapters, on the New
Testament, where the preaching is mainly not actual sermons, but homiletic
fragments or epistles for reading aloud. And although it is important to
under-stand how letters might be read out in churches for theological and
ethical guidance, he slides too easily from "epistle" to "epistolary sermon".
This book has a flavour of the pulpit about it - imaginatively attributing
motives, feelings and emotions to preachers and their listeners. It is written
in the historic present tense, which emphasises the oratorical style. But it is
also staking a claim to be serious scholarship, with a substantial
bibliography, extensive endnotes, and citation of Greek. These strands do not
always mesh convincingly.
There is no consistency about the quotation of Greek - sometimes it is
transliterated or translated, sometimes not. In a long list of disadvantaged
groups to which Jesus spoke, "slaves, children, women, even prostitutes, social
outcasts such as lepers and tax-gatherers", the Greek word for the latter, but
none of the former, is pointlessly given in brackets.
The book is also peppered with otiose references to classical writers, from
Aeschylus to Juvenal.
The homiletic style of Dunn-Wilson's argument does no favours to a reader
who wants to distinguish preaching as liturgical exposition from preaching as
mission. Where it does score is in its understanding of preaching as a living
form of religious and pastoral expression - the sections on Basil of Caesarea,
on Ambrose as a theoretician of preaching, and on Augustine and John Chrysostom
The importance of apostolic credentials to the early Fathers is touched on;
the content of early post-apostolic preaching (still not clearly distinguished
from other writings) is surveyed, including the apologists' dialogue with
I was glad to have this book drawn to my attention, and to have read it; and
I was even gladder to finish it and put it away.
The Revd Dr Hammond is Rector of Gamlingay and Everton in Ely diocese,
and Dean-elect of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
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