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Ethical Dilemmas in Church Leadership: Case Studies in Biblical Decision Making, by Michael R. Milco. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1997. 192 pages. $10.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

The weaknesses of the book leap out at the Reformed reader. There is no clear recognition that the sole standard of Christian ethics is the law of God whose end (goal) is Jesus Christ. Whatever does the Christian pastor have to do with Kant’s categorical imperative? The main use of Scripture consists of finding an example in some character or event that bears some similarity to the person or incident that is under consideration. The author is guilty of the prevalent error of supposing that a Christian is called to forgive one who has sinned against her, even though the sinner is not repentant (see pp. 100-103, concerning forgiving a rapist). In addition, it may well be questioned whether the method of case studies is the effective way of treating the subject.

Out of (my) experiences I felt the need for the development of case studies in pastoral ethics…. My purpose in writing is not to articulate a particular biblical ethic…. My aim is to assist church leaders in the decision-making process that affects the body of Christ (p. 15).

Nevertheless, the book has its value for the Reformed pastor. The subject is the difficult decisions that pastors must make concerning the right handling of various sins in the congregation: sexual abuse of children; homosexuality, with its consequences of AIDS; theft of church funds; the pregnancy of the unmarried young woman (by the unmarried young man), and more. The cases are true to life. The author is obviously a pastor who has heard the dreaded telephone at 2:00 in the morning and who has struggled with such cases, to do what is right before God, good for the people involved, and best for the church. He brings out the complexity of the cases, as well as the pressures on the pastor. Usually his advice to the pastor is sound. On occasion he even recommends discipline.

Michael R. Milco is Pastor of Families and Small Groups at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago.

The Rev. Milco could help himself greatly in guiding pastors if he would work with the distinction between private and public sins. This is the distinction taught by Jesus in Matthew 18:15ff. It is the distinction that is basic to that section of the Reformed Church Order of Dordt that deals with the church discipline, Articles 71-80. If a sin is, and can be kept, private, as is the case in the book with the fornication of two teenagers, a pastor will not report the sin to the consistory.

A Firm Foundation: An Aid to Interpreting the Heidelberg Catechism, by Caspar Olevianus. Tr. and ed. Lyle D. Bierma. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995. Pp. xlii + 132. $17.99 (paper). (Reviewed by the editor)

A Firm Foundation is Caspar Olevianus’ commentary, in question and answer form, on the Apostles’ Creed. Because Olevianus in this catechetical commentary followed closely the Heidelberg Catechism’s treatment of the Apostles’ Creed, the work is also a kind of commentary on this important section of the Heidelberg Catechism. In a “general introduction” to A Firm Foundation, Lyle D. Bierma, translator and editor of the book, contends that Olevianus had a greater hand in writing the Heidelberg Catechism than recent scholarship supposes. This would make A Firm Foundation the first commentary on a large section of the Heidelberg Catechism by one who helped to draw up this Catechism. Olevianus wrote A Firm Foundation in 1567.

This is the first publication of Olevianus’ book in English. In his foreword, Richard A. Muller notes that this volume is “the first translation and, indeed, the first modern edition (to my knowledge) of any work of Olevianus” (p. x).

Included in the “general introduction” are a brief account of the life and work of Olevianus, a helpful analysis of the relationship of A Firm Foundation to the Heidelberg Catechism, and a description of the theological significance of A Firm Foundation.

Bierma points to the significance of the work as an early development of covenant theology. The covenant of grace unifies Olevianus’ explanation of the Apostles’ Creed. Since the Apostles’ Creed is the summary of the whole of the Christian faith, it is evident that for Olevianus the truth of the covenant is central to all the doctrines of Scripture.

FF (A Firm Foundation—DJE) marks the beginning of the first effort in the history of Reformed theology to employ the covenant idea as a unifying theological principle over a lifetime of theological reflection and writing (p. xxix).

In this connection Bierman calls attention to “the close relationship between covenant and predestination” in Olevianus. For Olevianus

the covenant of grace “flows out of the fountain” of God’s gracious election in Christ. Covenant and election are different links in the same “golden chain” of salvation described in Romans 8…. Olevianus integrates covenant and election in such a way that the former, by its very definition as reconciliation with God through justification and renewal, is viewed as part of the unfolding of God’s decree of predestination (p. xxx).

Bierma himself argues that this characteristic of early Reformed theology refutes the theory of some contemporary theologians that “early Reformed covenant theology … (was) an attempt to mollify a rigid double predestinarianism in Calvinist orthodoxy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” (p. xxx). The close relationship between election and covenant in Olevianus, pointed out by Bierma, also refutes those today who mightily exert themselves virtually to sever covenant from election. According to Bierma, Olevianus taught that “God’s gracious covenant (is) with the elect” (p. xxix).

The centrality of the covenant for Olevianus did not mean that covenant swallows up all else. The exposition of the twelve articles of faith is a careful, rich explanation of all that is necessary for a Christian to believe. Particularly interesting are Olevianus’ emphasis on, defense of, and grand treatment of providence; his teaching of eternal justification (“their sins have been pardoned from eternity”—p. 9); his assertion that the reigning Christ always keeps His church “under the cross and all sorts of enemy zealotry to curb the remaining sin in them” (p. 81); and his insistence, oft repeated, that salvation is “unconditional.”

Ministers who preach the Heidelberg Catechism will want to read this work in preparation for preaching on the Lord’s Days explaining the Apostles’ Creed. Reformed believers will benefit from the instruction in the faith by this excellent and authoritative teacher.

Especially edifying and of the greatest importance is Olevianus’ teaching on the assurance of salvation in the face of the devil’s temptations of believers to doubt (pp. 112-124). It is evident that for the Reformers assurance is an integral, essential element of faith itself. Further, it is evident that it is Reformed to comfort even the weakest believer with the certainty that he possesses genuine, saving faith. To work at instilling doubt concerning the reality of faith with pernicious questions, “Is your ‘feeling’ genuine? Have you had a remarkable experience? When you scrutinize your faith, are you sure that it is real?” is for a church or a minister to ally itself or himself with the Evil One; indeed, it is to give itself or himself to the Evil One as his willing agent. No less destructive to assurance is the false doctrine that one can have a desire for Christ without being a true believer.

176 Q. But what if the Evil One were to say, “This all applies only to believers, but your faith is much too weak”?

A. I would respond to that by saying that whoever desires from the heart to believe is in fact a believer. Christ says in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Ultimately the assurance of the believer is certainty of his own personal election:

Whoever, then, is a believer is also elect, for the Scriptures testify that each and every true believer has been elected from eternity unto eternal life (I Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:28, 30; Eph. 1:11, 13). Therefore, when you are in the throes of despair about whether you are elect, you must not let your thoughts try to scale the heights of God’s decree. You must rather hold on to the Word, which promises that all believers have been elected by grace unto eternal life, and that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are believers…. And if we have faith, then we are also elect, for faith is given to none but God’s elect (Rom. 8) (p. 122).

The book is the first in an important series of works on Reformation and post-Reformation orthodoxy published by Baker. The series is entitled, “Texts and Studies in Reformation & Post-Reformation Protestant Thought.” The general editor is Richard A. Muller.