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A "New Breed" of Presbyterians
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Can something new come out of something old? Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old thinks so. In our day, when the Presbyterian Church is struggling to be faithful, he believes that he has seen and heard signs of new life arising within the Presbyterian Church.


Dr. Old, in the seventh and final volume of his massive work, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, shows that something new is happening in the Presbyterian Church in the recovery of the ancient practice of expository preaching through the Bible.


As we struggle with questions of how to be the church of Jesus Christ, can we first learn again and anew how to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ?


A "New Breed" of Presbyterians


If in the last half of the twentieth century liberal Protestantism lost the ears of the nation, there were nevertheless at the same time some stirrings of life in the American pulpit. One of these was the appearance of a "new breed" of Presbyterians. . . .


This is where I see myself. This is, at least, the company of preachers with whom I would like to take my stand.


One of the most important characteristics of this new breed is its devotion to the classics of both the Protestant Reformation and the ancient church. Even more, the new breed is a "back-to-the-Bible" breed. For the more sophisticated it is an ad fontes movement. We really like Dale Bruner's commentary on Matthew and Brevard Child's work on the Christian interpretation of Exodus. . . . Here is a breed that is rediscovering its heritage: Martin Luther and John Calvin, yes, but Bernard of Clairvaux and Augustine, too! Even more radical is the rediscovery of John Owen, Matthew Henry, and Thomas Chalmers. This is a breed that has rediscovered its progenitors. It knows its sires and dams. . . .


Back in our pedigree are a John Knox and a John Leith, a John Mackay and a John Chrysostom. We are a new breed, but our bloodlines are clear enough. (pp. 87-89)


There is something . . . that transcends the professional cleric of our day. It is that Old School Presbyterianism that appreciates both the holiness of God and the sanctity of the church. This Old School Presbyterianism, which one still finds in Virginia and the Carolinas, never got converted by the evangelism of Charles Finney. These were people who were born and brought up in the church. They learned the Ten Commandments from the catechism, and from time to time in the preaching of the Scriptures and the celebration of the Lord's Supper they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Some even felt the call to the mission field in China and Brazil. They died like flies in the Congo (but the seed they planted bore fruit). They believed, and their faith gave them strength for their work. Such are the spiritual roots. (p. 123)


The question here is whether what we have examined in this chapter constitutes a distinct school of preaching. . . . Do they really exemplify a "new breed" of Presbyterian preachers?


As I see it, there really is an identifiable group of preachers who are recognized above all by their rediscovery of systematic expository preaching. Sometimes this was accompanied by a rediscovery of catechetical or doctrinal preaching as well. It is not that this school was founded by anyone in particular or that it arose in any particular seminary. It is not that this was the method of preaching advocated by the Bible [it was, but they did not argue that], nor was it argued that this was the method of John Chrysostom or Ulrich Zwingli. Some of these contemporary preachers may have been aware that Augustine or Origen or Calvin used it, as indeed they did, but they did not argue for it for that reason. It was mostly because it seemed to be a good way of preaching. It seemed appropriate.


For me, preaching the lectio coninua [reading and so preaching continuously through books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse] was one of the patristic roots of Reformed worship, as the title of my doctoral dissertation has it. But I still figure the biblical root is the taproot. The New Testament church probably did quite a bit of expository preaching. . . . That was the way it was done in the synagogue in the days of Jesus. . . .


Strong expository preaching as well as strong doctrinal preaching are beginning to fill the pews that the fifteen-minute homilies of a generation ago succeeded in emptying. To be sure, this is no whirlwind movement. It is developing slowly, but my guess is, it will be around a while. (pp. 171-172)


There will be many others who will hear the call to mount the pulpit steps, open the Bible, read God's Word, expound it, and apply it. Even more, they will try to live the Word they read. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31 KJV). When this is done, God's people will gather around that reading and that preaching, for in this reading and preaching they will find the Word of life. (pp. 667-668)


To learn more about Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, click on the following link to our website and scroll down to find volume 7, Our Own Time:


Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
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