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HERMENEUTICS, AUTHORITY, AND CANON, edited by D.A. Carson & John D. Woodbridge; Zondervan Publishing House, 1986; 468pp., $14.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)

The battle over the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture goes on and the result is a continual stream of books which flow from the ecclesiastical press. This book is a part of that stream.

It is somewhat difficult to evaluate a book of this sort because of the different writers who have authored chapters—Woodbridge, Bromiley, Frame, Silva, Van Hoozer, Carson, Moo, Blomberg, Dunbar—and the different subjects and approaches which the authors take. This review, therefore, will do three things: give a listing of the subjects treated; call attention to some specifically significant chapters; and make some general remarks about the book as a whole.

The subjects treated are: Recent developments in the controversy over inerrancy, the Bible’s different literary forms, the place of historical reconstruction in critical approaches to the Scriptures, the problem of harmonization, the question of the New Testament’s use of the Old, the role of the Spirit in Scripture and its use, an analysis of the enlightenment on the doctrine of Scripture, Karl Barth’s view of the authority of Scripture, the canon of Scripture.

If anyone is interested in recent developments in the field of redaction criticism, Chapter 1 by D.A. Carson is of great help. David G. Dunbar has an interesting chapter on the foundation of the canon, which I found helpful. John M. Frame’s chapter on “The Spirit and the Scriptures” is important and, on the whole, sound.

It is obvious that the book is not written for those who have no technical training in hermeneutics and who do not know anything about the vagaries of historical criticism. There is something about this very fact which makes one perk up his ears. Long, detailed, involved, and highly technical papers, articles, and books have been written on the subject of how to interpret the Bible. But if there is even a modicum of truth to what all these treatises have to say, the fact is that the Bible is put out of the reach of the people of God who have no technical training in these fields. This is always, to my mind, the one great danger of exhaustive studies of all these points. God wrote his Word, through the inspiration of the Spirit, for men behind the plow, women who turn to it in their homes, that they may know how to bring up their children, little lambs in God’s flock, sick, distressed, dying saints who have never heard terms like historical-literary criticism, redaction criticism, sensus plenior, and the like; and who would not be interested in them even if they did hear the terms. One does not talk of sensus plenior to a saint struggling with the fierce temptations of Satan. And if one does, he has failed miserably as a pastor to God’s sheep. If the ability to understand the Bible is tied to knowledge of such a technical nature, God’s people might just as well put the Bible in their closets. We are back to the Middle Ages, only now with a priesthood of scholars who alone can make the Bible clear for those who have no education in this area.

These problems have been answered—after a fashion. Some claim that we must speak of a multileveled meaning of Scripture. I.e., Scripture has a surface level meaning which is accessible to almost anyone who can read. But beneath this simple level are other levels of understanding, each somewhat deeper, and each available only to those who have studied a particular branch of hermeneutics, be it linguistics, Jewish studies, archeology, redaction criticism, or the like. But then, of course, we have really lost the perspicuity of Scripture, and it is highly questionable whether even the surface-level meaning is trustworthy.

Others have said that we must write about all these technical matters because it is responsible Reformed apologetics to answer the attacks which are being made on Scripture. With this, of course, I agree; But it is precisely here that I have my major quarrel with most apologetes, even the “conservative” ones, and particularly the gentlemen who have authored this book.

One aspect of this quarrel is that the critics of Scripture are answered on their own grounds. I.e., the “defense” of Scripture becomes a rationalistic defense, answering critical objections with critical arguments. In doing this we have let the enemy choose the battlefield as well as the weapons and we have forgotten that the whole doctrine of Scripture is an article of faith. A responsible apologetic is important. But I never hear anyone saying that only a true and living faith in Christ can defend the truth of Scripture. If one takes this approach, then two things (of tremendous importance) happen. The analysis of the enemies’ (and I use the word “enemy” advisedly) attack is one thing, but the defense is simple and straightforward. No need arises then to write lengthy documents in defense of the Bible’s teaching on this point. And the child of God who turns to God’s Word for help and guidance in this troubled world can be confident that he will find in his Bible all he needs for all his salvation.

This is characterized as “simplistic” and “unscholarly.” I do not believe that it is; but the charge troubles me not at all. Give me a Bible I can carry with me to the hospital to bring to God’s dying saints; give me a Bible that I can preach from the pulpit so that even the little children sitting in the pews can understand it; give me a Scripture which is truly a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path. I have need of nothing else—and neither do God’s people.

That leads me to the one great objection I have against this book. It is, for the most part, a concession to redaction criticism. This is not surprising. I keep hearing even “conservative” Bible scholars who profess faith in Scripture’s inerrancy relying upon this current fad in Bible interpretation.

Without attempting to go into detail on what this redaction criticism is, it is sufficient to point out here that its whole approach is the approach of studying the Scriptures from the viewpoint of their human authorship. Don’t get me wrong. All believe in divine authorship. But all also believe in human authorship. And in redaction criticism the human authorship gets all the attention.

A few remarks about this.

While we believe, of course, that God used human men to write the Scriptures, the question is principallyhow these men were used. It is often presented, at best, as some kind of cooperative venture—although even then all the emphasis is placed in discussions on the human author. (In the present book, the chapter by John Frame is the exception.) We believe an analogy exists between the way in which Scripture was inspired and the way in which God saves His elect people. The basis for this analogy is that both the salvation of the elect and the inspiration of Scripture are parts of the one wonder of grace. He who is Arminian in his theology will also emphasize too much the “human element” in Scripture. And he who emphasizes too much the “human element” in Scripture does so from an Arminian perspective. When it is emphasized as it ought to be that salvation is solely the work of God through grace, then it will also be emphasized that Scripture is God’s work.

It has been argued that redaction criticism is nothing more than the application of grammatico-historical exegesis to the Biblical text. And grammatico-historical interpretation has been recognized as the true method of interpretation from the time of the early church. In answer to this two points have to be made. Even more conservative redaction critics concede that redaction criticism can be carried to extremes—and indeed this is true. But a method which can be carried to such an extreme that it destroys Scripture is surely a method to be distrusted. It is also true, however, that the grammatico-historical method of interpreting the Scriptures must be put within the framework of the spiritual method. By the latter I mean simply that the final goal of interpreting Scripture is to learn the meaning of the Holy Spirit as He speaks through Scripture to God’s people.

It is this latter that we never hear anything about. We hear a great deal of what Paul said, or Peter wrote, or John included in “the corpus of Johannine literature;” but we never, somehow, get around to what the Spirit says. We have a Pauline eschatology and a Petrine soteriology; but we never seem to get around to a theology which the Holy Spirit gives to the church as the revelation of Jehovah God. We are called earnestly to study the audience which Luke addresses and the people to whom Matthew was concerned to inform about Jesus; but we have no time left over to discuss what the Spirit says to the child of God wending his spiritual pilgrimage in this world of sin and death.

And it all comes down to such an obsessive preoccupation with the human element that the divine element is forgotten, overlooked, ruled out, or whatever. Scholarly or not, give me a Bible which is God’s Word to His struggling saints in all walks of life, in all life’s problems—a Word in which they can find treasures of untold worth and which will be their comfort and hope until they see their Lord face to face.

CHINESE THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, 1985. Available from Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia, c/o Marvin D. Hoff, 86 East 12th St., Holland, MI 49423. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)

This is the first volume of a new theological Journal which is written by Christians in China and devoted exclusively to the Church in China. The opening paragraph of the “Editor’s Notes” reads:

The Chinese Theological Review (I) is the product of a desire to make available to a wider readership a broad spectrum of current Chinese theological writings. Its aim is to be a link between the Christian community in China and those abroad through the more widely current medium of the English language, providing to those outside China a vivid picture of Chinese Protestant thinking as it has been evolving over the last five years. At the same time, through both current writings and by the inclusion of a much earlier piece, the Review seeks to show the background as well as the underlying continuity of developments as reflected in the self understanding of Chinese Christians.

This issue of the Review contains speeches, essays, sermons, and a confession of the Chinese Churches. It is fascinating reading and gives more light on the churches in Communist China than anything I have read in the ecclesiastical press. It explains in some detail the basic Three-Self Patriotic Movement of which so much has been written: self-government, self-support, and self propagation. It explains how the church in China stands related to the Communist (and atheistic) state government. Most of the articles have as their purpose to emphasize that in the past ten years or so every effort has been made by the Chinese churches to develop a truly indigenous church.

One can get a great deal of insight also from these writings into the theology of the Chinese churches, and the distinct impression is that the theology of these churches leaves much to be desired. This is undoubtedly due in large measure to the fact that the church is consciously a supporter of the present communist regime (with nothing but scorn for the “gang of four”), that it presses hard for a true Chinese ecumenism—one denomination only within China, and that it still reacts with great fury against what is called imperialistic and colonialistic mission work of the past.

For its insight into the Chinese church we recommend it.

THE EVANGELICAL-ROMAN CATHOLIC DIACOGUE ON MISSION, 1977-1984; A Report edited by Basil Meeking and John Stott; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986; 96 pp., $4.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)

This dialogue on mission referred to in the title was a series of three meetings which took place over a period of seven years. The first was held at Venice in 1977, the second at Cambridge in 1982, and the third at Landevennec in France in 1984. Some of the participants with more familiar names were: Prof. Peter Beyerhaus, Dr. Orlando Costas, Dr. David Hubbard, and Rev. John Stott. They discussed such topics as Revelation and Authority, The Nature of Mission, The Gospel of Salvation, Our Response in the Holy Spirit to the Gospel, The Church and the Gospel, The Gospel and Culture, The Possibilities of Common Witness.

On p. 11 we read concerning the report:

This report is in no sense an ‘agreed statement’, but rather a faithful record of the ideas shared. It is not exhaustive, for more questions were touched on than could be described in this brief compass. Yet enough has been included to give a substantial idea of how the dialogue developed and to communicate something of it without creating misunderstandings or false expectations.

The dialogue, we are informed, was “born out of desire to find a common ground between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics in their endeavors to be more faithful in their obedience to the church’s mission.” And, “In recent years both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have concentrated their attention on evangelism, and statements from both constituencies reveal a measure of convergence in the understanding of the nature of evangelism. This report is offered as a stimulus to further local encounters in dialogue between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics on a crucial aspect of the church’s work in the world.”

We encourage our readers to read this important book so that they may keep informed on the pressing issues of modern ecumenism.

WORLDLY SAINTS (The Puritans As They Really Were), Leland Ryken; Academic Books, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 281 pp., $14.95 (cloth) [Reviewed by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema]

If you have the rather common picture of the Puritans as a sour, dour, seldom-smiling people who normally walked about with faces so long (as Billy Sunday put it) that they could eat oatmeal out of the end of a gas-pipe, and who were rather Anabaptistic in their world-and-life view, then you should read this book and allow yourself to be disillusioned.

The reader should not be misled by the word worldly in the title. The term is not used in a pejorative sense, as though the Puritans were carnal and guilty of loving the world in the sense in which I John 2:15 warns God’s people, “Love not the world . . . .” But it is used in the sense of depicting the Puritans as living the full-orbed life of the world, but from their Christian principles. They did not believe in world-flight, in other words.

The author lets the Puritans speak for themselves in this book. The author has taken most of his data from Puritan written sources, and he quotes a very broad range of both English and American Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—in other words, lets the Puritans speak for themselves—on a wide variety of aspects of life. His purpose is to depict as fairly as possible the strengths and weaknesses of the Puritan movement. Here are the chapter titles: 1. What Were the Original Puritans Like? 2. Work 3. Marriage and Sex 4. Money 5. Family 6. Puritan Preaching 7. Church and Worship 8. The Bible 9. Education 10. Social Action 11. Learning From Negative Example: Some Puritan Faults 12. The Genius of Puritanism: What the Puritans Did Best.

Perhaps a weakness in the book is the fact that it attempts to cover too much ground. On the other hand, this may also be a strength: for it saves the book from being too limited in scope and from becoming tedious. It appears to me that the quotations are rather fairly and judiciously chosen.

All in all, I found the book very instructive and stimulating. I can recommend it for a broad range of readership.

BUILDING A CHRISTIAN WORLD VIEW, GOD, MAN, AND KNOWLEDGE (Vol. I), Edited by W. Andrew Hoffnecker; Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1986; 340 pp., $14.95. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)

The contributors to this book are mainly from Grove City College where the faculty have engaged in lengthy discussions and writing on the subject of this book. The blurb tells us:

Not since the Reformation have Christians been as concerned as they are today to develop a biblical view of all of life. The importance of such an outlook cannot be overstated. Writes W. Andrew Hoffnecker in the preface, “Underlying all that we think, say, or do are basic assumptions that form what we call a ‘world view . . . .’ Nobody is without such fundamental beliefs, and yet many people go through life unaware of their presuppositions . . . . The result is that people generally fail to recognize how their world views govern every dimension of their lives.” 

This volume focuses on fundamental questions such as: How do we know that God exists? How does God relate to His creation? Is man “the measure of all things?” Are people basically good and ultimately perfectible? On what basis can we know what is true? What is the role of reason, experience, and biblical authority? 

The authors examine how leading thinkers have addressed these questions throughout Western history and compare their ideas with clearly presented biblical teachings. In so doing, this book unveils the roots of much modern thought and challenges readers to formulate their own understanding upon the bedrock of God’s revealed Word.

The book is primarily historical, but its value lies not only in the historical material it has brought together, but in the evaluation of the thought of past thinkers. It is an important book for students on a college level.