Book Reviews

COMMENTARY ON ROMANS, Chapters 1-8, William Hendriksen; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 303 pp., $14.95 (cloth). (Reviewed by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema.)

This is one of Dr. Hendriksen’s series of New Testament Commentaries. Like others of the series, it is, generally speaking, a conservative, reliable, and helpful commentary. It is also written for the general public, that is, in such a way that references to the Greek do not interfere with its use by those who do not know the Greek language. 

Like all commentaries, however, it must be used with discretion and not simply swallowed, “hook, line, and sinker.” In checking a few passages, I was disappointed to find that Dr. Hendriksen’s “common grace” bias affected his commentary in more than one place. For example: 1) The gospel, “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), “has achieved and offerssomething far better….” (p. 59, italics added). 2) The author is, to say the least, very weak in his interpretation of “God gave them over” in Romans 1:18-32. This was a passage which was cited in 1924 for the idea of the restraint of sin. (p. 75) 3) With respect toRomans 2:4, the author paraphrases the text and speaks of the idea that “God’s kindness seeks to bring you to conversion,” and “that the purpose of God’skindness…is…to bring him to conversion.” The text speaks of a fact, not of a purpose. Hendriksen’s interpretation would have to lead to Berkhof’s conclusion: that in the case of the unbelieving Jews the result did not answer to the divine purpose. (p. 90) 4) The doctrine of total depravity is watered down in the name of “avoiding extremes.” (p. 100) Jesus taught “that there is a sense in which even the unconverted ‘do good’.” 

I was happy to note that Dr. Hendriksen explains Romans 7:14, ff. as referring to the regenerated Christian. 

But again, I was disappointed by Hendriksen’s explanation of the “golden chain of salvation,” Romans 8:29-30. (pp. 281, ff.) I do not believe his explanation of vs. 30 can be maintained when it makes division between links of the chain in time as distinct from the link of predestination in eternity. Dr. Hendriksen changes the “glorified” of the text, for example, into something future. 

These are just a few items to show that this commentary, which in many respects is a good one, must nevertheless be used with discretion. 

THE THEOLOGY OF CALVIN, Wilhelm Niesel (Translated by Harold Knight); Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 258 pp., $6.95 (paper). 


ANALYSIS OF THE INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION OF JOHN CALVIN, Ford Lewis Battles (assisted by John Walchenbach); Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 421 pp., $10.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema.) 

Obviously both of these books have to do with the theology of John Calvin. But in a way, they are opposites. 

The Niesel book is a commentary on Calvin’s theological system. In my opinion, however, this is one of those many works on John Calvin’s theology which, while it presents Calvin’s theology in a sense and to a degree, nevertheless does so in such a way that the final result is what I would call a “de-Calvinizing” of Calvin. That is, it so waters down Calvin’s theology that the essence of that theology is denied and destroyed in the process. Here is a sample, p. 166: “Calvin could not express more plainly from a formal point of view that the doctrine of election has no intrinsic significance for theology in the sense that other doctrines might stem from it. It must be considered at the appropriate point within the total structure of a theological system; but no more than other questions.” I contend that statements like these do not faithfully present Calvin’s theology. 

The Battles book could serve as an excellent study aid. It is intended as a guide in the study of the Institutes, and furnishes a detailed outline of the text of theInstitutes. As far as I have checked it, I believe it faithfully outlines that great work of Calvin. This is a useful book if it is employed correctly. It should not be used as a substitute for study of the Institutes itself, but rather as an aid, or guide. There is no substitute for the study of the Institutes. Recommended. 

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH, Douglas Kelly, Hugh McClure, and Philip B. Rollinson, Eds.; Attic Press, Greenwood, S.C.; 102 pp., $5.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema.)

This is a modern-English, updated version of the Westminster Confession of Faith. I can best. describe it by quoting from the Introduction: 

“…we are offering here a modern version of the Westminster Confession, which attempts to be absolutely true to the full content of the original theology and at the same time to be clear and comprehensible to the ordinary church member of this generation. Our version of the Westminster text is, of course, merely a private translation and makes no claim to be the authorized work of any church. We simply offer it and the ancillary matter on the changes in the text and proof text as tools for studying and understanding what many believe to be the greatest single statement of reformed Christian doctrine. We hope that laymen, churchmen, and scholars will find use for this work. Laymen not only need to be aware of the changes which have taken place in the text and in the proof texts. Churchmen and scholars will also find this version of interest in so far as any translation is inevitably interpretive and hence a kind of commentary. 

“The changes which have been made to the original 1647 edition and which are reflected in the current American editions are significant but not too extensive. Both the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA, now UPCUSA after the merger in 1958 with the United Presbyterian Church of North America) and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the two largest American Presbyterian denominations, added to the original thirty-three two new chapters, ‘Of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘Of the Gospel of the Love of God and Missions’ (PCUSA-simply entitled ‘Of the Gospel’ in the identical PCUS version) in the twentieth century. PCUSA also added a ‘Declaratory Statement’ interpreting the original Chapters 3 and 10, and both churches independently developed new versions of the original Chapter 24 on marriage. Our modern version is of the basic pre-1900 American text, which with a few exceptions is the same as the original British version of 1647. We have also included the two new Chapters 34 and 35 (9 and 10 in PCUS), the ‘Declaratory Statement,’ and the two new versions of Chapter 24 for comparison….” 

“In addition to these comparative textual inclusions, Appendix I discusses and systematically lists all the changes from the original text of 1647. Appendix II does the same thing for the proof texts, which have also undergone independent major revision by both PCUSA and PCUS. Using Appendix II the reader will readily be able to identify all the proof texts which are now or have been used to support a particular statement or section and to recognize the status of each citation, whether added, retained, or deleted, and by which Church body.” 

To this reviewer, the value of this little book does not lie so much in its new translation as in the fact that it serves as a good reference work with respect to the confessional literature of the two largest Presbyterian bodies in this country. Frankly, I did not know of all the changes and revisions and additions made to the original Westminster. Some of these changes are very significant. It is worth inquiring also as to which version of the Westminster some of the smaller Presbyterian denominations have. For any of our readers who may be interested, we will make this book available through our Protestant Reformed Seminary Bookstore.