This is Volume III of a twelve volume set entitled “The Fifty Greatest Christian Classics.”
Seven different works on the holy life of the child of God by seven different authors are bound between I attractive gold and green covers. Most are well-known writings by old worthies in the church: “Holiness” by J. C. Ryle; “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” by Jeremy Burroughs; “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” by Thomas Brooks; “The. Art of Meditation” by Joseph Hall; and “How to Prepare for Communion” by Matthew Henry.
Overall this volume will be helpful to the believing reader in promoting what has been called “experimental religion”—personal Christian experience. An excerpt from “The Art of Meditation” will give the flavor of the whole:
For it is by meditation that we ransack our deep and false hearts, find out our secret enemies, come to grips with them, expel them, and arm ourselves against their re-entrance. By meditation we make use of all good means, fit ourselves for all good duties. By meditation we see our weaknesses, obtain redress, prevent temptations, cheer up our loneliness, temper our occasions of delight, get more light unto our knowledge, add more heat to our affections, put more life into our devotions (p. 427).
If this were the only book from which one learned holiness, his life would tend to be self-centered, individualistic, and morbidly introspective. Read with other works on holiness that emphasize the glory of God in sound doctrine; that do justice to the Christian’s life and practice in relationships with others; and that place the holy life in the fellowship of the church, this book will be profitable to correct a weakness in some of us, namely, our neglect of fervent, personal, experiential spirituality.
The work by Frances Havergal (author of “I Gave My Life for Thee”), “Kept for the Master’s Use,” is shallow. What is worse, it skirts the heresy of the “second blessing” i.e., the teaching that some Christians obtain a distinct, higher level of salvation at some point after their conversion by consecrating their life wholly to the Lord: “a fuller and further blessing” (p. 260). Like all forms of the error, it holds before the saint the real possibility of virtual perfection in this life. Exactly this is one of the dangers that ever dog the heels of an “experimental religion” that allows itself even the slightest separation from a thoroughly and solidly doctrinal Christianity.
The doctrine of God has become a hotbed of theological debate in both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles. Theologians are challenging the classical (and creedal) Christian doctrine concerning the being and attributes of God. God’s being must no longer be thought to be perfect, transcendent, and spiritual. Rather, He is developing, dependent upon the world, and, at least in part, identified with the world. Every one of God’s essential attributes is under attack omnipotence; omniscience; eternity; simplicity; and immutability. These attacks are not veiled and implicit, but bold and explicit. Denying the eternity of God as that attribute according to which God is above and outside of time, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes:
The biblical writers regard God as having a time-strand of his own on which actions on his part are to be found, and that some at least of these actions vary in such a way that there are changes along the strand . . . . The God who acts . . . seems clearly to change . . . . Temporality embraces us along with God . . . . It is not because he is outside of time—eternal, immutable, impassive—that we are to worship and obey God (pp. 81, 82).
The Concept of God, one of Zondervan’s “Academic Books,” is a fine, little work for acquainting ministers and other inquiring theological minds with these contemporary issues. Although the book is not easy reading (by virtue of its topic), it is characterized by the clarity that marks an author who thoroughly understands his subject and is intent on teaching others. The new theology that is radically reconstructing the Christian conception of God is “process theology.” Nash gives as lucid a description and as keen an analysis of process theology as I have seen.
The value of the book lies in its description of the doctrinal developments of the present day, not in its uncompromising defense of the faith concerning God. Nash is quite concessive toward the attacks on the attributes of God, although at the end he sharply rejects process theology as such:
A being who is not essentially omnipotent or omniscient, who is not the sovereign and independent Creator, is neither worthy to receive our worship nor to bear the title “God” (p. 115).
Of particular interest to a Reformed reader is the discussion of “Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom” in chapter 4. Contemporary theology, as well as contemporary philosophy, struggles mightily I with the question, how man can be truly free, if God knows everything.
Of special interest to the Protestant Reformed reader is Nash’s defense of the logical nature of God: “A supralogical God would be unknowable and unintelligible. . . . A supralogical God is a God about whom nothing can be said or known. Moreover, a supralogical God would introduce devastating implications into any religion promoting such a concept” (p. 40). Nash is taking issue with those who introduce contradiction into the being of God by asserting that omnipotence means God’s ability to do the logically impossible, e.g., squaring the circle. But his rejection of a supralogical, or illogical, God applies as well to the doctrine that God both predestinates some only to be saved and wills (desires) every human to be saved. Such a God would be a “supralogical” God, “about whom nothing can be said or known.” We may expect that advocates of the well-meant offer in Calvinistic circles will fall upon Ronald Nash with the same fury that they pour out on the Protestant Reformed denial of a will in God to save every man.
This world’s society places heavy emphasis on emotions and feelings. People do or do not do things, simply because they do or do not “feel like it.” Dr. Clark effectively deals with this emphasis as it has touched evangelism.
It is Dr. Clark’s contention that reliance on emotion and personal experience is destructive of the Gospel. In fact, reliance on emotion and feeling was the source of modernism. The apostasy of the large denominations today resulted from a deliberate emphasis on feeling and personal experience (p. 25).
Much evangelism is characterized by an attempt to “lead” people into making a decision. In this book Dr. Clark does not teach about evangelism in general. Rather it is his stated purpose to examine today’s evangelism from the unique, but most interesting perspective of how it plays up to human emotions. He analyzes the methods of modern evangelism, ala Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Billy Sunday, and Robert Schuler (whose pictures appear on the book’s cover). As Dr. Clark says,
There are all too many points at which this study (of evangelism—RVO) could begin. The one chosen here has to do with the tone of the evangelistic service. We shall examine the place of emotion in evangelism. This matter is really more important than it may at first seem. It brings to light elements of great significance in the life of the church that holds these services (p. 3).
It is Dr. Clark’s contention that today’s evangelism neglects the mind and truth, and appeals to emotions and feelings.
If insistence on personal experience is a reaction to dead orthodoxy, then, Dr. Clark says, “I wonder whether perhaps even dead orthodoxy might not be preferred to living heresy.”
In his typical style Dr. Clark has a chapter entitled “What Is Emotion?”—and in it no clear definition of emotions is given. The reviewer wonders if this is not Dr. Clark’s way of emphasizing the futility of building evangelism on something, the definition of which is so evasive.
Dr. Clark’s excellent emphasis is that evangelism, along with everything else, must be based only on the Bible. “Experience teaches us nothing. The Bible does” (p. 32). On the basis of Scripture Dr. Clark
insists that evangelism is preaching the Gospel; that a few sermons are inadequate; that as much elucidation as possible must be given (p. 61). . . . The Gospel is a message, not an emotion. And as a message it is received by the intellect, not the emotions…. Now, since as
says, the Gospel is the word of truth, its reception has to be an intellectual act. Truth cannot be received by the emotions (p. 35).
It is also Dr. Clark’s point that any evangelism is counterfeit when and if it defines faith only in terms of emotion and not of
an act of the unitary person, in Scripture called the “heart,” or the “soul,” of whom the activity of the understanding and of the will are essential. . . . If an evangelist holds to this position he will preach the Gospel. If he has other ideas of faith, he will almost necessarily adulterate the Gospel, alter the message, and handle the Word of God deceitfully (p. 88).
For the reviewer, some matters of difference or of question did arise. Understandably, Dr. Clark stands in the Westminster tradition of not including assurance in his definition of faith, as the Heidelberg Catechism does. He maintains, although no proof is given, that God has laid the obligation to evangelize upon every Christian (p. 7), rather than upon the church through its ministry of the Word. He seems to neglect the growth of the church which comes by means of the salvation of the seed of the covenant when he states that evangelism is indispensable because without its continually winning people the church will die (p. 1). Sadly, no proof is given in this book for the declaration made three different times that seventy-five per cent of the time the Bible defines “heart” as “mind.”
These questions and a few others do not detract from the value of this book.
It is a vigorous and necessary warning. It underscores the truth that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge. It makes clear that the mandate of the Great Commission is to teach. And it alerts the readers about the constant temptation to follow our emotions and feelings. Trinity Foundation is to be commended for this publication.