Book Reviews

.UNDERSTANDING CHURCH GROWTH, Donald A. McGavran; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan; 480 pp., paper, $12.95. (Reviewed by Prof. R. D. Decker) 

This book is a full revision of an earlier (1970) edition bearing the same title. It is full of tables, graphs, and statistics, all of which are used to support the main thrust of the book. It is McGavran’s contention that the church as it exists throughout the world can and indeedmust grow. If the causes which hinder church growth are avoided and if those causes which foster growth are implemented, the church will grow, and that too rapidly and even spectacularly. This kind of numerical growth is what God desires. “God has a passion to find lost men” (p. 32). “Suffice it to say that lack of church growth is an unnecessary trait, or experience, of many branches of the Church and many missionary societies,” writes McGavran (p. 48). The author, Dean Emeritus and Senior Professor of Mission Mission at the School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, is an Arminian, and this detracts a great deal from the value of the book as far as the Reformed missionary or student of missions is concerned. What the Arminian refuses to see is that the Church is throughout the ages in every nation. By the power of God through the means of preaching, the Son of God gathers that Church unto everlasting life. 

This is not to say the book has no value. It does. To the author’s credit he conceives of the church’s mission task in terms of discipling the nations. Social action may not be first. McGavran also makes the point which we must not forget in our Protestant Reformed Mission work: “In any increase of the Church, the activities mentioned and God’s sovereign pleasure are of immense importance. Yet if any one thing is certain, it is that churches in the varying cultures of Africa and Asia do not grow in the same way as in the wealthy, educated, individualistic Protestant populations of Europe and America. The gospel is surely one, and the church is one; but the visible churches which God creates in every corner of the world differ enormously one from another. Some speak Mandarin and others Tagalog. Some exist as tiny minorities oppressed by the powerful, others as the power structure itself. Some are literate, healthy, and fat; others illiterate, sick, and hungry. Some have highly paid professional ministers; others untrained, unpaid laymen. The processes of growth which cause these differences are themselves extremely different” (p. 83). 

Finally, the fifth part of the book, “Special kinds of Church Growth” (pp. 269ff.) and especially chapter 19, “Indigenous Church Principles and Growing Churches” (pp. 373ff.) are must reading for any missionary, mission committee, or student of Missions. 

THE PARABLES OF JESUS, by Simon Kistemaker; Baker Book House, 1980; 301 pp., $10.95. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.) 

In this treatment of the parables Dr. Kistemaker treats not only the sayings of Jesus which are generally accepted as being parables, but also many of the parabolic sayings. For that reason, the treatment of the parables is quite brief and oftentimes somewhat superficial and shallow. Nevertheless, for a concise treatment of the parables and for a brief summary of their teaching, this book will be of considerable help. 

We were not always happy with the contents of the book, however. We mention briefly a few points. Where the parable being treated appears in more than one gospel record, Kistemaker will often make much of differences between the records and the significance of these differences so that there is more attention paid to technical details than to the meaning of the parable. In this connection Kistemaker does not do full justice to the divine inspiration of Scripture. I do not want to enter into a quarrel with: Dr. Kistemaker on this point (as happened once before when I criticized him for this); but the fact remains that one could wish that he would give as much attention to the truth that God through the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture as he gives to the so-called “secondary authors.” E.g., he writes on pp. 274, 275:

Of course, the evangelists recorded the parables of Jesus, and in their work of writing the Gospels they show their own individuality. Differences in wording in the parallel accounts of the same parables clearly reveal the hand of the individual evangelists. Besides, the fact that Jesus taught His parables in the Aramaic, whereas the Gospels present them in the Greek language, is sufficient to prove that the recovery of the very words of Jesus remains problematic. The question of origin, not authority, in regard to specific wording in a given parable is not always easy to answer. If a parable has been recorded by only one evangelist, the authenticity of Jesus’ words need not be debated. But when a parable occurs in parallel Gospel accounts and shows variations in wording, the question of editorial work of the individual evangelist is real. Matthew, Mark, and Luke display their own characteristics and inclinations as they record the parables of Jesus.

Further, when the author involves himself in the question of the relation between election and the free offer of the gospel, he not only strays from the Reformed faith but misinterprets the parables involved as well. This also comes to expression in his treatment of the sovereign purpose which Christ has in teaching in parables as described in Mark 4:11-12.