Before getting a copy of this book, I had never heard of Douglas Sean O’Donnell. After what I’ve read in this book, I’d like to hear some more. O’Donnell is the senior pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL and along with this book, has written on worship and Old Testament songs.
This particular book is focused on helping the reader see how to effectively preach Christ from the Old Testament wisdom literature. More than just that, O’Donnell explains his twofold objective:
First, I wish to light a fire beneath you; that is, I desire to help you know and enjoy the Wisdom Literature of the Bible so that you might preach on it more often. Second, I wish to show you how to build a fire, that is, how to preach such literature. In short, this is a book on what the Wisdom Literature is, why we should delight in it, and how we should preach it (p. 23).
Having a two fold aim like this allows the book to reach a broader audience. Had O’Donnell written a book with just the single aim of helping preachers understand how to preach more effectively from the Wisdom Literature, then perhaps only pastors would give it a read. Because part of O’Donnell’s heart in writing is to help the reader “know and enjoy the Wisdom Literature of the Bible,” I think most Christians who want to deepen their faith through godly reading will benefit from this book.
The meat of the book is composed of 6 sermons from the Wisdom Literature, 2 from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job each (chapters 1-6). This is also where the title of the book comes from since each sermon is from the beginning and then the end of each book. In this way, the title works on three levels: (1) the sermons themselves are from the beginning and end of wisdom (literature); (2) the sermons begin in the beginning of wisdom (the OT) and end with Christ (the end of wisdom); and (3) the sermons begin with the wisdom received from Scripture with the intended end of a transformed life (as noted from the Foreword). As you might gather from this, O’Donnell has a written book with a literary quality to it than many books on biblical studies and theology lack.
Back to the structure though, chapters 1-6 are each examples of sermons drawn from the wisdom literature. Book-ending those chapters are a brief introduction on the nature of the Wisdom Literature and a concluding chapter explaining the method of preaching from that literature. I think this was an effective move on O’Donnell’s part. Rather than start with a chapter on method that may bog down some readers, he jumps right into his well-written and crisp sermons. After taking you on a brief tour of sermons from the Wisdom Literature, he then takes the time to explain “how to take a wisdom text and show forth Christ,” or “how to relate verses and/or passages we find in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job to ‘the gospel of God’ (Rom 1:1)” (p. 120). In doing this, O’Donnell gives the reader a blueprint for making sound gospel connections in their preaching and teaching from the Wisdom Literature.
As bonus, O’Donnell also includes an appendix on preaching Hebrew poetry. He covers all the essentials and provides several suggested resources for further study. The other included appendix presents book summaries from the Wisdom Literature and suggested sermon series. He then provides a 15 page bibliography broken down by category and took the time to asterisk the 30 resources he felt were most helpful to pastors. If that were not enough, the end notes provided further nuggets to mine out. Most of this kind of thing is standard in an academic textbook, but this book clearly seems aimed at the popular level audience, but is crafted in such a way as to give maximum benefit.
Personally, this is the kind of book I wish I had access to this time last year. I was in Preaching I, which is required of everyone at Dallas Seminary who wants to graduate with a Th.M. Because preaching from the epistles comes very naturally to students once they’ve been through 4 semesters of Greek (and because hey, the epistles are like mini-sermons in many cases) the curriculum developers at DTS decided the first preaching class every aspiring master of theology takes should be completely focused on preaching from Proverbs.
In other words, what I am telling you is that this book provides a great summary of what I learned in a semester long class on preaching from Proverbs. There is certainly more to learn (which you’ll have to take the class to find out) but as far as a 150 page summary in clear prose goes, this book is it. Don’t be thrown from checking this out if you’re not a preacher or don’t aspire to be. I would place myself in that category, and that’s why I was in Preaching I my second to last semester of school. I do however want to communicate clearly from Scripture, particularly in writing, and the principles O’Donnell provide in this book clearly transfer since after all, it’s a book.
So, if you’re interested in seeing Christ in the Wisdom Literature, you should probably pick this book up. If you’re hoping to better preach Christ from the Wisdom Literature, definitely pick this book up. O’Donnell provides a great road map and the resources he points to are sound and provide even more help.
Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 240 pp. Paperback, $17.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!