A MIRROR FOR THE CHURCH: PREACHING IN THE FIRST FIVE CENTURIESWritten by David Dunn-Wilson Reviewed By David Jackman
This is an intriguing and stimulating book by the professor emeritus of theology at Kenya Methodist University. Dunn-Wilson’s thesis is that the relationship between preachers and congregations is symbiotic. Using the record of preaching in the first five centuries, the author explores how the issues of the day and the nature of the congregations frequently changed both the message and methods of the early church’s preachers.
Beginning with the apostolic missionaries in Acts, the process is traced to pastoring new believers (the epistles) and then on to the apologists and the ascetic preachers who both dialogue with and withdraw from the pagan world. Next, the liturgists and theologians enable the church to adapt to its imperial status (Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa in the east, with Hilary and Leo in the west), while the sequence ends with the ‘delightful persuaders’, the homiletical rhetoricians, such as Ambrose, Augustine and John ‘Chrysostom’. There are helpful sections on each of these.
In an epilogue, the author identifies pluralism as our greatest contemporary challenge, and ‘supermarket spirituality’. He calls for a new persuasive apologetic, based on ‘a fresh Christology’, though what form (it) will take is ‘a matter for theological theorists to discover’ (124). With 70 pages of endnotes and 25 pages of bibliography, this is a well researched resource for anyone interested in early Christian preaching. Its weakness lies perhaps in the thesis itself, which almost inevitably reduces Scripture to an influence, rather than the ‘given’, as God’s authoritative revelation.
Proclamation Trust, London