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Fall 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 2 · pp. 237–238 

Book Review

The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present

ed. Richard Lischer. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. 478 pages.

Reviewed by Lynn Jost

The book’s title, The Company of Preachers, invites readers to a delightful colloquium of the classic theoreticians and practitioners of homiletics from Augustine to the Present. The Wisdom on Preaching is organized in sections that follow standard homiletic categories: definition of preaching, preacher, proclamation, interpretation, rhetoric, hearer (audience), and the relationship of preaching with the church. Editor Richard Lischer, professor of preaching at Duke Divinity School since 1979, intended a modest revision of his earlier Theories of Preaching (Labyrinth, 1987) but produced a new collection that deserves the attention of both preachers and students of preaching.

Lischer introduces each of the fifty-seven selections with a brief description that places the author and the text historically and homiletically. The essays themselves come as book selections, excerpts from addresses (notably the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale), testimonies, and sermons that are superbly edited into a living conversation. At times, the exchanges are sharp as authors passionately defend or question such issues as the place of rhetorical flourishes or the purpose of preaching. As is always the case in an edited work, readers will find themselves more amply rewarded by some selections than others, due in part to the wide spectrum theologically and historically. As Lischer writes in his introduction, “A thematic and historical collection such as this presents a fascinating case study in continuity and discontinuity in theology” and, he might add, homiletic theory.

In a book of this amplitude, a few teasers must suffice as an introduction to content. Phillips Brooks reminds readers that the truth is proclaimed through the preacher’s personality. Gardner Taylor’s stately rhythm, like a black spiritual, calls the preacher to serve as Ezekiel’s watchman. John Wesley rejects (by name!) preachers who value style over substance. Nicholas Lash intrigues with his call to “perform the Scriptures” as the ultimate test of right interpretation. Throughout, the conversation and debate rage regarding the role of the preacher, the congregation, and the Spirit of God in proclaiming the message.

How might this fine volume be improved? Lischer himself apologizes for the patriarchal language but defends it as representative of the authors. Yet the problem is not this “manliness” of language but the paucity of female authors included (just five), with the majority of them {238} defending feminine preaching or feminist interpretation. Also missing is an Anabaptist voice, though Bonhoeffer, Brueggemann, and Willimon offer familiar tones for that audience.

As a reader, I found myself at home with friends of preaching, old and new, familiar and novel. As a preacher, I was challenged by Barth’s reminder that preaching is God’s word to the congregation. As a biblical interpreter, I was overwhelmed by the trio of Bultmann, Ebeling, and Ricoeur. As a student and teacher of preaching, I was instructed anew by Buttrick’s practical theory. As an Anabaptist church member, I was moved by Romero’s last sermon, a call to give one’s life as a disciple of Jesus.

Lynn Jost
Assoc. Prof. of Biblical and Religious Studies
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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