Sermons that Shaped America: Reformed Preaching from 1630 to 2001

By William S. Baker and Samuel t. Logan, eds.
Phillipsburg, N.J. : P & R (2003). 409 Pages.

Reviewed by Jimmy Caraway
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 154-155

“Without a doubt, the church stands or falls, grows or dies according to the quality of the weekly diet that it is fed” (ix). William Barker, Professor of Church History emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Samuel Logan, Professor of Church History and President of Westminster Theological Seminary, as editors recognize well the necessity and value of faithful biblical preaching. Despite the technological changes of the past four hundred years and the unforgettable events of September 11, 2001 “what will still be needed—whatever the future brings—is the faithful preaching of the Word of God” (xiv).

The title is self-explanatory but the work is more than just a collection of eighteen sermons. They are sermons, in the estimation of the editors, which address major shifts in religion and culture, for example, the corporate nature of Puritan ideals by John Cotton and John Winthrop (chaps. 1–2); mindless “enthusiasm” of the First Great Awakening by Jonathan Edwards (chap. 4); the Christian and governing authorities by Jonathan Mayhew and Ezra Stiles (chaps. 6-7); preaching in a mixed black and white church before the Civil War by John Girardeau (chap. 12); response to Harry Emerson Fosdick by Clarence Edward Macartney (chap. 14); and a sermon by Timothy Keller the Sunday following the World Trade Center bombing (chap. 18). Included also are manuscripted sermons from Gilbert Tennent, Archibald Alexander, Asahel Nettleton, James Waddel Alexander, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Geerhardus Vos, J. Gresham Machen, Francis Schaeffer, and James Boice.

A special feature of the book is the biography of the preacher and historical details in which the sermon was preached. Reading a sermon in light of the events of its day is interesting. In this sense the book is somewhat of a religious history volume. Sermons appear chronologically so that one gets the editors’ view of significant issues, primarily in the Presbyterian denomination.

Regardless of denominational affiliation of the modern reader, those preachers “believed that there is an unchanging Word from God and precisely because they sought to faithfully speak that Word into the changing world they faced, what they said matters greatly” (x).