Book Reviews

STUDIES IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS, by Robert C. Harbach; Privately published by Grandville Protestant Reformed Church, 1987; 934 pp., $21.00. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)

In my Seminary days I studied with Rev. Harbach under the instruction of Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff. Over the years in the ministry he has been an esteemed colleague and it is with a sense of grief that I see his active ministry brought to a close by retirement. In a certain sense, this commentary by Rev. Harbach is a continuation of his ministry in our churches and his labors of love to believers throughout the world who love the Reformed faith. We are thankful that it has been published and wish to commend the congregation of Grandville for undertaking this work. It will be of abiding value for all those who love the Scriptures and who know that the Reformed faith is the truth of Scripture.

It is impossible, of course, to review the book in detail. But Rev. Harbach has made the study of the book of Genesis a project which spanned many years. His commentary on this book is not, therefore, hastily thrown together, but is the culmination of many years of thoughtful study and prayer, and has undergone the testing of societies and Bible classes which Rev. Harbach has led. It is a book which gives evidence of much thoughtful contemplation of the divine text.

As far as the format is concerned, a few things may be said. It is a detailed (though never tedious) and faithful exposition of the text itself and shows the author’s commitment to the truth of inerrant inspiration. It is interspersed with graphs, charts, quotations from other writers and from various poets. It has several notes on various doctrinal questions which arise out of the text which are, in themselves, important and interesting. At the end it contains an appendix which deals with the unbelief of higher criticism, especially applied to this book.

When the book is reprinted, I would suggest a couple of changes in format which would, I think, enhance the value of it. There is a certain lack of uniformity in format which, if corrected, would make the book better. For example, the first part of the book deals with the text verse by verse; the second part is written in more essay-type form. Sometimes the author includes, a long list of questions at the end of his discussion of a chapter; other times he does not. Sometimes a chapter begins with the author’s own translation of the passage; other times it does not. Perhaps these inconsistencies in format are the result of a long period of labor, but they ought to be changed in future printings.

The book is scholarly, thorough, and very interesting reading. It gives evidence of a wide range of learning in many fields and demonstrates clearly the terrible error of vicious higher and destructive criticism, something sorely needed in our day. It is written by a man who is not only deeply committed to the Reformed faith, but who is not averse to setting forth the Reformed faith over against those who deny it. It is, in a good sense, polemical.

Rev. Harbach comes from a different ecclesiastical tradition than that of the Dutch Reformed faith. To me this is one of the strengths of the book. Because of our upbringing, we are sometimes not as aware of ecclesiastical currents outside our Churches as we would like to be. Rev. Harbach, speaking from a different background, has something to say to us which we ought to hear. And he has not lost his ability to speak to others outside our own tradition in a way which we cannot. I find this refreshing and enriching.

While the commentary goes into various technical questions of Hebrew grammar and syntax, as well as various scientific questions which arise out of the attacks on the historicity of Genesis 1-11, it is never written in such a way that it lies beyond the understanding of all God’s people. Rev. Harbach had the believer, not learned doctors of theology, in mind when he wrote the book. All our readers, therefore, ought to have a copy in their libraries, not only to support the work of Grandville Church, but also to enrich their own understanding of this important book of the Bible.

Note: Books may be ordered from Grandville Protestant Reformed Church, c/o Mr. Dennis Dykstra, 3228 Chestnut S.W., Grandville, MI 49418; or Protestant Reformed Seminary, 4949 Ivanrest Ave. S.W., Grandville, MI 49418; or Reformed Book Outlet, 3505 Kelly, Hudsonville, MI 49426.

FAITH AND FORM: A UNITY OF THEOLOGY & POLITY IN THE UNITED METHODIST TRADITION, by Robert L. Wilson & Steve Harper; Zondervan Publishing House, 1988; 214 pp., (no price), (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)

While the book is an enlightening picture of Methodism since the time of Wesley, its main purpose is to demonstrate that the genius of Methodism has always been a close relationship between theology and polity. The authors are convinced that the last century has demonstrated a breakdown in Methodism between these two aspects of the life of the church. The authors hope that the book will lead to a return to a strengthening of the more traditional position of Methodism, while not failing to meet the needs of our modern world.

If one is interested in learning about Methodism, this is a good book to read. It is enlightening and instructive, and gives a sure sense of what Methodism is all about and the role the Methodist Church envisions for itself in our present world. It gives a brief sketch of the doctrinal position of Methodism and clearly shows its anti-Calvinistic position. It demonstrates how Methodism has always been and is now basically Arminian, holding to such doctrines as prevenient grace, perfectionism, resistible grace, etc. (See pp. 52-55). The book spends a great deal of time on church polity and describes its hierarchical system of church government and its vast and powerful bureaucracy.

The historical section of the book is brief, sketchy, and vague, and has as its intended and stated purpose to promote ecumenism. I found a great deal of ecclesiastical jargon in the book, a characteristic of ecclesiastical bureaucrats, but a heavy burden for an interested reader. One of the big problems of Methodists is to define the limits of what a Methodist may believe. The authors write:

It is increasingly evident that pluralism really means a range of acceptable beliefs and practices that must, in fact, have limits. There are some things that a United Methodist cannot believe or do and still remain a member in good standing. The range may be broad, but there are limits. The problem the church now faces is how to define the limits of acceptable belief and action. There is a core of beliefs that has traditionally been part of the Methodist heritage. However, the contemporary church has serious difficulties accepting what might be interpreted as inflexible rules. The affirmation of pluralism as a principle makes it difficult to define what is appropriate belief and practice.

While the book is written by Methodists, for Methodists, it gives an outsider a glimpse into the tensions which now trouble this large denomination.