Eleanor Mumford reviews ‘The Word in Small Boats’ by Oliver O’Donovan.
I have discovered an unusual gem of a book, quaintly entitled “The Word in Small Boats”. It is a collection of sermons delivered in Oxford by Oliver O’Donovan while he was both Professor of Moral Theology there and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. O’Donovan is the most humble and godly of men. He is unquestionably brilliant and some of his academic writings can be beyond the range of lesser mortals. HOWEVER, the beauty of this book is that it contains sermons both accessible and heart-warming; simple and profound; deeply thoughtful and intellectually satisfying. Evangelical literature can be a little thin when it comes to material appropriate to “occasions” not least those of the church calendar which call for special recognition, such as the Epiphany (page 19), The Entry into Jerusalem (page 25), the Ascension (page 37), and possibly one of the most wonderful sermons ever on The Honour of Marriage (page 150). John and I have read it to each other several times, bowled over by its beauty!
These bite-sized chunks, these “small boats” laden with biblical treasure I have found thoroughly delightful. There is such a freshness in reading of Jerusalem as “the place of God’s self-disclosure on earth”; of Jesus’ baptism as that moment when “the world’s Creator drew the veil back from his face”; of the young carpenter from Nazareth as “the scandal over which faith chokes”; of our very faith as “this eternal solidity, which banishes our phantom fear for the future”. All are wonderful truths which feed my soul and gladden my heart, not least because they are so beautifully written, each word so perfectly measured. Reading a book like this could even enrich one’s own preaching!
The book is published by Eerdmans and I have been assured that Vineyard Records have copies readily available.