Looking into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology, ed. David W. Baker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. 383 pp. $29.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

The worth of this volume on eschatology is not at all the astigmatic look into the future, but the penetrating glimpse it provides into the present condition of “evangelicalism.” Evangelicalism is shot. The best of the evangelicals are the bizarre premillennial dispensationalists. The worst are the “open theists.” Much of the book is taken up with Clark Pinnock’s defense of a god who does not even know the future, much less ordain it and direct all toward it. What feeble opposition there is to this idolatry is pathetic. The reason is that open theism is the logical, natural, inevitable development of the theology of Arminianism: a god dependent on the will of depraved man. And evangelicalism is committed, heart and soul, to Arminian free-willism. The few who still hold out for something of the sovereignty of the God of Christianity refuse to condemn Arminianism as a false gospel.

Open theism is not even original. Its favorite figure for the relation between God and humans is that of a master playing chess with mere novices. The master chess player—open theism’s god—neither knows nor governs the moves of the novices, but because of his superior ability he is able in the end to counter all their moves, checkmate their king, and win the game. This was the philosopher William James’ defense of free will against the sovereignty of God long ago. In his essay, “The Dilemma of Determinism,” James wrote (about 1900):

The belief in free will is not in the least incompatible with the belief in Providence, provided you do not restrict the Providence to fulminating (sic!) nothing but fatal decrees. If you allow him to provide possibilities as well as actualities to the universe, and to carry on his own thinking in those two categories just as we do ours, chances may be there, uncontrolled even by him, and the course of the universe be really ambiguous; and yet the end of all things may be just what he intended it to be from all eternity. An analogy will make the meaning of this clear. Suppose two men before a chessboard—the one a novice, the other an expert player of the game. The expert intends to beat. But he cannot foresee exactly what any one actual move of his adversary may be. He knows, however, all the possible moves of the latter; and he knows in advance how to meet each of them by a move of his own which leads in the direction of victory. And the victory infallibly arrives, after no matter how devious a course, in the one predestined form of check-mate to the novice’s king. Let now the novice stand for us finite free agents, and the expert for the infinite mind in which the universe lies. Suppose the latter to be thinking out his universe before he actually creates it. Suppose him to say, I will lead things to a certain end, but I will not now decide on all the steps thereto. At various points, ambiguous possibilities shall be left open, either of which, at a given instant, may become actual. But whichever branch of these bifurcations become real, I know what I shall do at the next bifurcation to keep things from drifting away from the final result I intend. The creator’s plan of the universe would thus be left blank as to many of its actual details, but all possibilities would be marked down…. So the creator himself would not need to know all the details of actuality until they came; and at any time his own view of the world would be a view partly of facts and partly of possibilities, exactly as ours is now. Of one thing, however, he might be certain; and that is that his world was safe, and that no matter how much it might zig-zag he could surely bring it home at last.

James’ zigzagging deity is one of the more interesting gods of the philosophers. If he existed, I would challenge him to a game of chess. Novices sometimes accidentally beat masters. Master chess players sometimes make a stupid move. This now is the god of open theism. Accordingly, open theism’s doctrine of the last things is that everything is up for grabs. This is some “gospel”! This is some “hope”! The god of James and Pinnock, however, is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At least, the open theists in Looking into the Future should have credited William James for their theology.

In addition to his bold espousal of an ignorant, hapless Christian God, evangelical Pinnock proclaims the salvation of pagans by their own good works of service to their heathen deities. This teaching is advertised as the development of Christian doctrine “toward a more inclusive eschatology.”

The evangelical falling away from the gospel of God carries with it the publishing houses as well. The book is published by Baker, once known the world over for producing solid Reformed works. Rather than publish this vain volume on eschatology, Baker should have scoured the Reformed community for men of God who would write the truth about the last things—Reformed amillennialism—and defend it. Admittedly, Baker would have had to have “run … to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem” to find a few.

There is one exception. Presbyterian Bruce Waltke’s opening article on “The Kingdom of God in Biblical Theology” is sound, scholarly, and helpful. His detailed explanation of the typology of Israel’s relation to the land of Canaan is particularly good.

Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism, by Leigh Eric Schmidt. Second edition with a new preface. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. Pp. xxix + 278. $27 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

“Holy fairs” was the fitting name for a peculiar, if powerful, institution in Presbyterian Scotland not long after the Reformation: the communion season. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people from all over a certain large area of Scotland would gather at set times for an elaborately ritualized celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Usually, the celebration lasted four days. It was held out of doors. This communion season was promoted among the Presbyterians as the high point of the spiritual life of the people. Numbers of preachers preached many experiential and emotional sermons. The gatherings aimed at personal conversions and at revival of the churches. To a student of the history of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, the Cambuslang revival of 1742 represents an exceptional instance of such communion season revivals.

The book Holy Fairs is a thorough study of this strange, long-lasting practice. The author offers well-grounded criticisms. The communion season was expected to provide what ought to be found in the regular worship of God within doors every Sabbath. It elevated the sacrament above the preaching of the gospel. The preaching at these events encouraged mystical experiences and indecent, disorderly bodily behavior on the part of the audience. The exaltation of the Lord’s Supper at these services was virtually a Presbyterian counterpart to the Roman Catholic ritual of its Eucharist. And these large gatherings in the open air for days on end often took on a holiday atmosphere that resulted in drunkenness and sexual immorality. They were “holy fairs.”

The special importance of the book lies in its demonstration that the Scottish holy fairs contributed to American revivalism. The immigrant Scots brought their communion seasons to America, where they became camp meetings and revivals. The famed Cane Ridge revival (in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1801) had its origin in the Presbyterian communion season. Even the frenzied physical manifestations of the Spirit at the American revivals owed a great deal to the communion seasons in Scotland. The weepings, groanings, visions, falling to the ground, and jerking had their source, if not in most cases their exact equivalents, in the holy fairs in Scotland. They are all now continued, and intensified, in the charismatic movement.

Scottish Presbyterianism has long suffered from the serious weakness of looking to revivals for the conversion of sinners, the heightened experience of salvation, and a richer season of grace for the church. This book is further confirmation of this reviewer’s growing conviction that nothing good has ever come from revivals, and nothing ever will.