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Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, by Richard J. Mouw. Intervarsity Press, 1992. 173 pp. $8.99 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]

Relying heavily on I Peter 3:15 (“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”), the author deals with the important question of the manner in which the Christian is to promote his Christian principles in an ungodly world. He faces head-on the problem of how Christians are to witness to the right and good while at the same time being kind, civil, decent, and non-confrontational. In his development of this theme, the author rightly points out that we must reflect God in His kindness and gentleness; he makes the valid point that in our defense of the truth we may not stoop to any kind of tactic, but must be reasonable, fair, and honest in our treatment of another’s position (pp. 54ff.); and he argues that coercion and efforts to legislate morals are not within the prerogatives of acting civilly in an uncivil world.

Nevertheless, the argument of the author is flawed.

It is flawed in its theological basis. Our civility, he says, is rooted in God’s universal love, in His desire that all men be in conformity with God’s will; and that all men must serve Him. All men are image-bearers (p. 88) and, therefore, eventually right will prevail in this world; goodwill will have the victory; and the cause of Christ will be triumphant. All this introduces an incipient Arminianism, an Arminianism which becomes explicit when the author speaks of hell as “the culmination of a person’s freely chosen life-plan” (p. 138).

With an incorrect theological basis for a starting point, it is not surprising that very little good leadership is provided in telling us how precisely to be civil towards unbelievers. While from time to time we are urged not to surrender our Christian principles, we are told that we ought to seek legislation of public displays of morality; that we ought, in theological discussions with others, to listen carefully, for civility means finding truth in other religions (p. 106); and that we ought in industry, film, and politics, to learn as well as educate so that, speaking out of a Christian context, we may promote general themes such as righteousness, honesty, etc. In fact, toleration and compromise are essential because God’s shalom (peace) only comes gradually into the world (p. 37).

The emphasis in all the book is too much on man. Insufficient emphasis is placed on God’s glory and honor which are trampled under foot in a sin-filled world.

The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology, by Ernest F. Kevan. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993. 294 pp. $12.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]

Although this book is actually the doctoral thesis of the late Principal of London Bible College, its great worth is evident from the fact that this volume is its second reprinting.

Dr. Kevan explores the biblical teaching -of the indispensable place which God’s law occupies in the life of the Christian, and the spiritual character of God’s law and God’s grace in relation to that law. He deals primarily with the Puritans in the 17th century, although references are made to later Puritans as well.

The primary concern of the book is to demonstrate that the Puritans, in their treatment of the law of God, faced the dangers of antinomianism on the right and the dangers of legalism on the left. They developed a view of God’s law which was both biblical and in the tradition of the orthodoxy of the Westminster Confessions.

The book is not difficult to read and has many good points about it that make it a valuable addition to one’slibrary. It is an excellent book to introduce the novice to Puritan thinking on what was an important part of their theology. It deals with problems which the church faces today as the church continues to fight the battle against the enemies of antinomianism and legalism. It gives considerable information concerning the idea of the covenant of works: its origin, its importance in Puritan thinking, and its influence on subsequent thought. This alone makes it worthwhile for Protestant Reformed people who have rejected the idea of the covenant of works.

A bonus in the book is its treatment of the so-called third use of the law. Historically, as is the teaching of our Heidelberg Catechism, the law is said to have two purposes: a mirror by which we know our sin, and a rule for the grateful life of sanctification for the believer. Some of the Puritans also spoke of a third use: the restraint of sin.

We recommend the purchase of this book to our readers. Whether one acquires a used copy from previous editions or whether one buys it new, get it and enjoy its thorough study.

Revealed to Babes: Children in the Worship of God, by Richard Bacon. Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1993. 75 pp. $4.95 (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]

Presbyterian pastor Richard Bacon reminds Reformed parents and churches that the children of believers are privileged and required to participate in the public worship of the congregation. The basis is their inclusion in God’s church by virtue of the covenant.

Although very brief, the explanation of God’s covenant with believers’ children is in the main sound and profitable. The author recognizes that predestination cuts through the sphere of the covenant. Not all the natural children are elect. He points out that God works conscious faith in the elect children by the Word in the worship services at a very young age. He impresses on parents and churches that

raising covenant children is arguably the most important thing that Christians do in the Kingdom. God has chosen in His sovereign wisdom and mercy to make the church herself the “seedbed of election” (p. 5).

There is a lack of clarity on the question whether the holiness of infant children signified by baptism is actual, inward sanctifying grace of the Spirit or merely the external position of formal membership in the church. On the one hand, it is recognized that Calvin taught that infant baptism means the regeneration and (actual) sanctification of elect children in infancy:

Calvin also was of the opinion that infants of believers are both holy before their baptism and that, in fact, many of them are actually regenerated and saved prior to their baptism. Calvin emphasized in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that baptism is tied to regeneration (p. 14).

On the other hand, Bacon speaks of the “federal” holiness of the children as though it were merely a right to n the outward privileges of the church” (pp. 15-19).

The main error of the book concerns its chief purpose. This is the application of the truth of the covenant to a condemnation of nurseries. Nurseries – rooms in the church building where infants are cared for during worship services – are “idolatry and will-worship” (p. 61). The ground for this startling charge is the “regulative principle” of worship (p. 64). God must be worshiped as He has commanded in His Word. He has commanded that children participate in worship. Nurseries violate this commandment. Therefore, nurseries are transgression of the second commandment.

This is another instance of such extremism in application of the regulative principle of worship as to bring the principle itself into disrepute among Reformed Christians. On Bacon’s reasoning, every time parents keep their infant child home when the congregation gathers for worship, the parents break the second commandment.

Why does the Presbyterian not make a valid point this way? In the covenant, God wills to be worshiped by the children as well as by their parents. Therefore, as soon as the children are old enough to have some idea what worship is, to sit still and be quiet, and to listen and understand, parents are called to take the children to church with themselves. And the children are privileged to go.

A Marvellous Ministy: How the All-round Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon Speaks to us Today, by Tim Curnow, Erroll Hulse, David Kingdon, and Geoff Thomas. Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993. Pp. xiii + 147. $8.95 (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]

This is an account of the interesting life and fruitful ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was a Baptist preacher in London, England in the 19th century who confessed and preached the doctrines of grace commonly called the five points of Calvinism. Spurgeon was pastor of a huge congregation in London for almost forty years. God blessed his ministry with enormous influence that continues today through his writings, especially his commentary on the Psalms and his printed sermons.

In addition to a biography and an examination of Spurgeon’s preaching, there are chapters on his social concern, his involvement in the politics of his day (Prime Minister Gladstone was an admirer of Spurgeon and visited his services), and his stand for the truth in what is known as the “Downgrade Controversy.”

There is much that pastors can learn from Spurgeon. There are also elements of Spurgeon’s ministry that pastors should studiously avoid. One is the preparation of Sunday morning’s sermon on Saturday evening.

Gifted in many ways, Spurgeon had a way with words. Reacting against the jingoistic militarism of Prime Minister Disraeli, Spurgeon debunked the reasons put forward to justify war (“British interests”), declaring, “the fact is that the national bulldog wants to fix his teeth into somebody’s leg” (p. 143).

The authors have collaborated in presenting a fine and worthwhile portrayal of a truly “marvellous ministry.”

The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian, by Greg L. Bahnsen, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Douglas J. Moo, Wayne G. Strickland, Willem A. Van Gemeren. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993. 416 pp. (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]

The question of the relation between the law and the gospel has been on the agenda of the church from the time of the Reformation. It is a question of no little importance in the field of theology not only, but also in the field of ethics. The latter is undoubtedly the reason why the authors have added to the title the words “and the modern Christian.”

The five men who have collaborated in the writing of this book are all leading figures in the evangelical world and significant scholars. They represent different backgrounds and traditions, however. Greg Bahnsen represents the theonomic position of post-millennialism; Walter Kaiser comes to the question with new, fresh, and unbiased ideas; Wayne Stickland is a representative of the dispensational view of the law; Douglas Moo writes from, the perspective of Lutheranism; Willem VanGemeren speaks more from the Reformed tradition.

All this makes the book a fascinating one. But added to its fascination is the fact that each chapter (written by one of the five men mentioned above) is followed by a short critique prepared by the other four. The benefit and worth of this is that the areas of agreement as well as the basic disagreements are sharply defined.

We cannot, of course, give a thorough review of the contents of the book. It is best to be limited to some general remarks about its value, in the hopes that our readers will be tempted to purchase it.

The book reveals a much wider chasm between these thinkers from various traditions than most people are conscious of. The variety of viewpoint comes as something of a surprise to anyone who has not carefully studied these various theologies. The book is an extremely helpful aid in learning these differences.

Interesting questions are brought up which need to be answered. Does the law itself have power to give life, as Leviticus 18:5 (quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:12) seems to suggest? Does the law have power to give eternal life? Does the law have two or three uses? What is the relation between the law and sanctification? Does dispensationalism really teach, (as John Gerstner insisted in his Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth) that there are two ways of salvation — one for Jews and one for the church? Strickland emphatically denies this. Is Strickland correct when he insists, contrary to some dispensationalists, that dispensationalism does not necessarily imply an antinomian position over against the law in the new dispensation? What relevance do the civil laws of the Old Testament have for the new dispensational church? If Reformed believers are to answer Bahnsen’s theonomy, this is one question they have to face.

The book contains some real nuggets which delight the soul. Kaiser’s insistence on a unilateral and unconditional covenant warms one’s heart; and his discussion of the meaning of torah in the Pentateuch as instruction and faith is excellent.

It is interesting that Bahnsen, in his defense of theonomy, appeals to the doctrine of common grace, especially as applied to civil good and government. Does Bahnsen mean to suggest that the kingdom envisioned by theonomists can only finally come about through common grace?

Everyone who is interested in the all-important question of the relation between the law and the gospel ought to read the book; it will help him understand the problems involved in the question; and it will force upon him the necessity of thinking his way through the difficulties to come to clearer understanding of the truth of God’s Word in this matter.