A Book Review
Evangelistic Preaching And The Old Testament
Whitesell, Faris D. Evangelistic Preaching and the Old Testament (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1947). of God as is the New Testament. “The New Testament,” he said, “can be understood and properly interpreted only against the background of the Old Testament,” because the New Testament is rooted in the Old Testament. The Old Testament, therefore, provides perfect illustrations of New Testament truths, even though it is not our standard to live by today. In addition to this biblical type of rationale, he suggested that well-known preachers of the past and in his day made heavy use of the Old Testament.
Lloyd Perry said he could only find five books which have been written on evangelistic preaching.1 If such a scarcity of books on evangelistic preaching does exist, how much more would it exist in the field of evangelistic preaching and the Old Testament. To my knowledge this is the only book that has been written on evangelistic preaching and the Old Testament. Faris D. Whitesell said he wrote this book for two reasons: to urge “more and better evangelistic preaching” and to inspire “a wider use of the Old Testament.” He believed that preaching in his day (1947) was deficient both in evangelistic thrust and in the use of the Old Testament. Believing in the inspiration and integrity of the Old Testament, he believed the entire Old Testament is authentic and worthy of preaching authoritatively.
HIS DEFINITION OF EVANGELISTIC PREACHING
Whitesell said evangelistic preaching differs from other types of preaching but it is not easy to point out the difference. “Evangelistic preaching is more easily heard and experienced than defined,” he said. He pictured evangelistic preaching as preaching at its highest and best. He said,
It is preaching adapted to the highest ends of the gospel—turning men from sin and darkness to salvation and light. Evangelistic preaching is preaching with a mission—an immediate and allimportant mission—winning a verdict in favor of the Lord Jesus Christ. The evangelistic sermon is an all-out effort to bring the lost to Christ. . . . The true evangelistic sermon is a planned, organized and concentrated drive toward the goal of decisions for Christ.
As a rationale for preaching evangelistically from the Old Testament, Whitesell contended “that Old Testament teachings are not outmoded by the New Testament but rather are completed and perfected” by them. He said “the Old Testament is glowingly interesting if properly interpreted and applied.” He saw the Old Testament’s attack against idolatry and sin as unique in literary records. He also pointed to Jesus and the apostles as setting the pattern in using the Old Testament in preaching and teaching. He argued that the Old Testament is just as much the Word
Lloyd M. Perry and John R. Strubhar, Evangelistic Preaching (Chicago. Ill.: Moody Press, 1979), 7. These authors found Ozora S. Davis, Evangelistic Preaching; D. P. Thompson, ed., The Modern Evangelistic Address; Roy H. Short, Evangelistic Preaching; Faris D. Whitesell, Evangelistic Preaching and the Old Testament; and V. L. Stanfield, Effective Evangelistic Preaching.
Whitesell listed thirteen characteristics of evangelistic preaching:
Evangelistic preaching presses the claims of the living God upon sinful man. . . . The evangelistic message proclaims God’s holiness, justice, righteousness, wrath, and judgments. . . . Evangelistic preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit unmasks sin and human selfishness. Evangelistic preaching magnifies the grace of God. . . . Soul-winning preaching attacks the doctrine of good works, ceremonialism, and human merit as a basis of salvation. . . . This preaching exalts Christ. . . . The cross dominates
evangelistic preaching. . . . Evangelistic preaching aims to produce repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . The evangelistic sermon makes its appeal to backsliders as well as to lost sinners. . . . The evangelistic sermon must be intellectually respectable. . . . Evangelistic preaching will appeal to the whole personality— intellect, emotions, conscience, and will. . . . The evangelistic message should be amply illustrated. . . . Evangelistic preaching must conform to good ethics. . . . Evangelistic preaching should hold to the great central verities and doctrines of the gospel, and avoid hobbies, pet theories, and lop-sidedness. . . . Evangelistic preaching should culminate in a public invitation.
His suggestions for the construction of evangelistic sermons and getting the lost present to hear the preaching, though old, are worthy of the consideration of every preacher serious about soul-winning from the pulpit.
The remaining part of his book emphasizes the “how-to” of evangelistic preaching from the Old Testament. He discussed preaching on Old Testament characters, types, institutions, doctrines, events, ages, books, chapters, paragraphs, texts, and words. He devoted a chapter to each of these approaches. In each chapter he mentioned the characteristics of this type of preaching which are needed, mistakes to avoid, lists of subjects for that particular type of preaching (giving usually a “most popular” list plus a much longer “average list”), and a sample outline or two.
Whitesell did not argue that every evangelistic sermon must have all of these characteristics; he did insist that “an evangelistic sermon must make the hearers conscious of their need, reveal God’s gracious provisions to meet specific needs, and urge an immediate acceptance of the divine provisions.” After defining evangelistic preaching, Whitesell offered suggestions on the elements of the evangelistic sermon. He claimed that the evangelistic sermon should contain all the parts that belong to any other well-constructed sermon. Zeal cannot make up for a lack of preparation. He provided a short but interesting approach to constructing sermons. He believed the conclusion is especially important in evangelistic preaching. It should be a conclusion which summarizes the address and clearly calls for a response in harmony with the thrust of the sermon. Whitesell included a list of methods for getting the lost present to hear evangelistic preaching. This, he said, is the hardest problem the preacher faces. He suggested:
Maintain a good relationship with each member. Visit them, counsel them, and help them. . . . Organized personal visitation and evangelism. . . . Seek drives for bigger Sunday schools. . . . Increase the intercessory prayer life of the church. . . . Provide good church music. . . . Keep an active and growing prospect list. . . . Sustain a healthy social life. . . . Broadcast one of the regular services of the church on the radio. . . . Assist in arranging special evangelistic services and revival meetings. . . . Keep working at it. . . . This work of winning the lost can be done; it should be done; and it must be done.
Whitesell’s discussions would have had more balance if he had given more attention to the inclusion of the context and flow of thought of the Old Testament passages in the sermon. For the Old Testament to be dealt with fairly and responsibly the actual context of the type, paragraph, word, etc., being preached must be clearly acknowledged lest the congregation be misled on what the Holy Spirit intended the purpose of the passage to be. On the whole, his discussions are good, but more consideration given to the grammatical, contextual, and historical settings would have given his discussions more balance and would have promoted a more accurate preaching of the Old Testament. One strength of the book is the numerous lists of different preaching subjects from the Old Testament. His lists are thought-provoking and show the possibilities of preaching in various ways from the Old Testament. Although his book is old, I found it to be stimulating and helpful. Since the type of preaching I do is mainly evangelistic preaching, I found his book particularly instructive, practical, and encouraging. I would highly recommend its reading to every preacher. It will be especially valuable to those preachers attempting to improve their evangelistic preaching. It is one of the best books on preaching I have read. It made sense.
Whitesell concluded this section with a list of books which he believed will be helpful for evangelistic preaching from the Old Testament. His list concentrates on books which are conservative and evangelical.
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