mcastIsrael’s Hope and Expectation, by Rudolph VanReest. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publishers, 1991. 331 pages, $717.90 (US); $19.90 (CAN), paperback. Originally published as De Grote Verwachting by Oosterbaan and LeCointre, Goes, the Netherlands (third edition 1977). Translated by Theodore Plantinga. [Reviewed by Lois Kregel.]
Many of the readers of the Standard Bearer will, no doubt, remember the genial Dutch journalist, K.C. VanSpronsen, who writes under the pseudonym, Rudolph VanReest. He traveled extensively in this country in the mid-forties, spending some times in Grand Rapids also. He sent back his impressions of the United States and the American people to the Netherlands, to be published in a series of articles inDe Reformatie. Later he wrote a book, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church (Inheritance Publishers, 1990), was published some time after his death in 1979. VanReest as novelist, however, is little known here, although, according to the book’s cover, he has been rather prolific in this form of writing.
This English translation is smooth and easy to read. The translator has added biblical references that were not part of the Dutch edition. His purpose was that the book might “be used in Christian schools—not first as a work of literature, but also as a source of knowledge regarding the Biblical era in which the Savior was born.” Because the story follows closely the biblical narrative and frequently refers to the Old Testament laws and the psalms, there are many such helpful references.
The story takes place in Judea, mostly around Bethlehem and Jerusalem, from perhaps fifteen to twenty years before Christ was born to the return of Joseph and Mary from Egypt. Whether or not VanReest actually traveled to the Holy land is not stated, but he has succeeded in making the setting realistic.
Woven into the story are well-known characters from secular history. There is the murderous, lecherous Herod, his wife, Miriamne, and her brother, Aristobulus, his sister, Salome, and his son, Antipater, as well as Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and the emperor Augustus. There are biblical characters, too: the pious Anna, Simeon, Joseph and Mary, Zacharias and Elisabeth. And already on the first page we meet the supercilious Pharisees with their broad phylacteries, fearing even to touch those less holy than they.
The plot centers in Jacob, who is twelve years old as the story opens, and full of questions as he helps his father pick olives for the temple oil. It is his father’s wish that he become a priest, but Jacob is not at all eager to fulfill that wish. He is troubled by the inconsistencies of the Jewish religion and its leaders. The legalism of the Pharisees and their disdain for the common people, the hypocrisy of the rabbis—these are some of the things that Jacob can not harmonize with the instruction in the Scriptures which he has received from his devout parents. The temple service and the bloody sacrifices repel him. He wants to be a shepherd.
In time, Jacob meets Rachel, a neighbor of Zacharias and Elisabeth, and falls in love with her. They marry, but do not receive children. Jacob makes a deal with the Lord, promising that he will serves as priest, if God will give them children. It appears that God hears them, but when their daughter is born, Rachel dies. In his bitterness, Jacob moves to a little house on a hillside near Bethlehem and becomes a shepherd. When she is old enough, his daughter, also named Rachel, joins him there. And so he is among the shepherd that hear the announcement of the birth of Christ, hear the song of the angels, and go to the manger to worship. It is in Jacob’s house that Joseph, Mary, and the Christ-child are living when the Magi come.
The plot is plausible. The strength of the story lies in the skill with which VanReest has pictured in life in Judea—political, social, and religious—in the fullness of time. Especially striking in his expansion of the story of Zacharias serving in the temple, a privilege that was his only once in twenty-seven weeks. He pictures Zacharias as longing to be the one upon whom the lot would fall to burn incense, as never having had that wish fulfilled before, although now he was old; and when de does not believe the message of the angel Gabriel, it is part of his punishment that he cannot serve out of the remainder of this ministration, for now he has a blemish—dumbness. There are also numerous illustrations of the use of the psalms and the quoting of Scripture by the people in their daily life. And the words of Christ come to mind as Ozias, Jacob’s brother-in-law, explains why he must soak and stamp a piece of new cloth before he sews it to an older one: the new cloth will shrink, and tear the old.
There are shortcomings. It is hard to imagine the Zacharias would have waited to tell Elisabeth about the son they had been promised, until the days of his service at Jerusalem were ended and they had traveled a day’s journey home. It is equally baffling that on the night that Jesus was born, the shepherds are still puzzling over Zacharias’ vision, and no one seems to have hears about the birth of John, even though he must have been half a year old by this time.
More disturbing is the way VanReest deals with the story of the Magi. He sees them as three Babylonian sages, who have for some time been observing that the stars have been speaking a lively language that there has been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn; when that happens, a great king will be born in the West according to their beliefs. After some discussion, which includes some talk about the futility of their own gods to do much for them, they start out for Jerusalem. In spite of this perception of the Star, the author pictures the Magi as seeing it over the house where the Child was—a strange mixture of the natural with the Wonder. A conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn aiming its rays at one small house? The reader, particularly the young student reader, should have his open Bible at hand when he reads.
As a historical novel the books is often sketchy; momentous events are sometimes given casual treatment. For example, in describing the mood of the people as they waited for the Messiah, we read: “And the poor people . .. also came to fear that they were under their Jewish homeland was severely shaken by a mighty earthquake in which tens of thousands of Jews lost their lives” (p. 111). Further, when Herod tried to commit suicide towards the end of his life, we read (p. 327), “A grandson who was on the scene prevented him.” One would have expected a “who” and a “how.”
Bearing in mind these caveats, enjoy the books, and be transported back in time to when God’s people waited in hope for the First Coming. You may even find yourself, as did this reviewer, humming the carol, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”
Men, Women and Order in the Church: Three Sermons by John Calvin, tr. Seth Skolnitsky. Dallas, Texas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1992. 63 pages. Paper. $4.95. (Reviewed by the Editor)
The translation into English of three sermons by Calvin on I Corinthians 11:2-16 is timely. In these sermons Calvin explains and applies the teaching of the apostles on the relationships of believing men and women, especially in the public worship of the church. As a faithful expositor of the Word of God, Calvin insists on the subjection of the woman to the man in the Lord. This subjection means that women are not to occupy the pulpit (p. 28); Christ forbids them to be preachers and pastors of the church (p. 32).
Recognizing that believing women are the image of God as well as believing males, the Reformer correctly points out that spiritual oneness in Christ by faith does not rule out difference of rank and outward policy.
Regarding our eternal salvation it is true that one must not distinguish between man and woman . . . . Regarding policy however, we have what St. Paul declares here; for our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to mix up nature, or to abolish what belongs to the preservation of decency and peace among us (p. 21).
Controversial is Calvin’s referring the headship of the man over the woman to the headship of all males over all females, rather than to the headship of the husband over his wife. Seemingly in contradiction of this assertion in the second sermon is Calvin’s treatment of this headship as a husband’s headship over his wige, in the third sermon.
The passage forces Calvin to say something about head-coverings for women in church. Correctly, he understands them to be hats or some other coverings rather than long hair itself. The practice, he takes to be a custom of that time by which the women showed their subjection in Christ: “. . . the man is the head of the woman . . . and . . . the covering is a sign of that subjection . . . .”
Contrary to the suggestion of the translator that Calvin views head-coverings as a law of God, for the church in all ages and places, Calvin denies that “the piety and holiness of the children of God is . . . comprised of this” (p. 12). With regard to the related prohibition against the man’s having a head-covering in church, Calvin explains, “let us observe the St. Paul has only taken exception to something that was not appropriate and fitting according to the usage of the land” (p. 24).
That Calvin does not suppose that the custom of head-coverings for the men is an inviolable law, like the headship of the man which it signifies, is plain from the picture that adorns the cover of the book: Calvin preaching with a hat on his head. (He wore a cap in order to protect himself from catching cold in the drafty church building where he preached.)
Calvin’s exegesis of the difficult fifth verse (“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered . . .”) is erroneous. Confronting the problem that the apostle implies that the woman does pray and prophesy at church, apparently in contradiction of his forbidding this elsewhere, Calvin explains that he praying and prophesying are merely hypothetical. In fact, according to Calvin, mo woman does pray or prophesy at church, nor may she. But the apostle’s words certainly mean that women were praying and prophesying at church.
Apart from the timeless of these particular sermons in our day of feminism’s riding roughshod over the Bible’s teaching of the headship of the man and the exclusion of the woman from office in the church, we preachers can learn important lessons from the sermons of Calvin. Calvin’s preaching is intensely practical from the very outset of the sermon, and he adopts a direct, popular style calculated to drive his practical message home to the people.
The section on contentious persons in the congregation, and how the church should deal with them, is precious (pp. 58ff.) I wish that I had read it at the beginning of my ministry.
This is the kind of book that ought to be the devotional reading of Reformed Christians.
Gospels and Tradition: Studies on Redaction Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels, by Robert H. Stein; Baker Book House, 1991; 204 pp., $12.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
The author of this book professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary, a strongly evangelical school. He is also, by his own statement, one who believes in the divine inspiration of Scripture. But he is unabashedly a higher critic of Scripture, and he devotes his book to a higher critical analysis of Mark, which higher criticism, he claims, is necessary to understand “the divinely inspired purpose for writing” Scripture, and which the church will “always be interested in because the church will always be interested in hearing the divine word brought to her by God’s ordained spokesmen—the Evangelists” (pp. 19, 47).
Most of the author’s attention is concentrated on a study of Mark. To this gospel is applied the vagaries of form criticism and redaction criticism. Form criticism deals with two sitze im leben: 1) the history of Jesus itself; 2) the theology and tradition of the church in the period of oral tradition. Redaction criticism deals with the theology of the evangelists, here particularly Mark.
To understand the gospel, various exercises are necessary. One must determine what in the gospel narrative are “pre-Markan sources,” whether written or oral. Only in this way will one be able to know mark’s editorial work and thus his theology. The pre-Markan sources are the written and oral traditions which are called “pericopes.” Mark’s editorial work is what writing Mark did as, engaging in what the author himself admits to be, at least in part, a “scissors and paste” process, he wove the various pericopes together by means of insertions, summaries, modifications of the pericopes, and appropriate explanations.
Once having determined what is truly “Markan,” one can then proceed to an analysis of what Mark actually wrote and thus determine what Mark’s “theology” in fact was.
These exercises, always bringing with them “assured results,” enable the student of Mark to determine whether the transfiguration account in mark 8 is a misplaced account of Christ’s resurrection; whetherMark 14:28 (“But after that I am risen, I will go before you in to Galilee”) and Mark 16:7 (“But . . . tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee . . .”) are references to Christ’s second coming; and whether Markan theology proves that Jesus was a teacher.
Such are the studies which occupy so many evangelical teachers in today’s Seminaries.
Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, ed. Donald K. McKim. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press and Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1992. 414 pages. Hardcover. $37. (Reviewed by the Editor)
“This Encyclopedia fo the Reformed Faith provides a picture of major events, persons, and theological understandings of the Reformed faith. It is ‘encyclopedic’ not in the sense that is can exhaustively treat all aspects of the Reformed faith in comprehensive manner . . . . Rather, it seeks to provide a circle of knowledge (from ‘Accommodation’ to ‘Zwingli’) indicating how events, persons, and concepts have been particularly significant in the Reformed heritage. This orientation sets the following work apart from other general dictionaries and encyclopedias of church history and theology” (“Preface,” p. vii). Such is the editor’s own description of this unique resource on the Reformed Faith.
The work is a valuable source of information on many aspects of the Reformed faith—persons; events; doctrines; creeds; books; and more. Of particular value is the contemporary nature of the work. Included are not only articles on John Calvin and the Geneva Catechism of 1536 but also on Karl Barth and the Barmen Declaration of 1934. The articles are thorough, but brief.
The contributors are recognized Reformed scholars. Indeed, the list of contributors reads like a “who’s who” of the world-wide Reformed community.
Overall the information is accurate. Robert Lethan’s description of Arminianism, for example, observes that
Arminianism proposed a substantial revision of the Reformed doctrines of predestination and grace . . . . Election is thus conditional on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s response. Moreover, the fallen will remains free. Humans can believe or resist grace. Thus, saving grace is sufficient but not irresistible. Humans cooperate.
He notes correctly that the Synod of Dordt condemned Arminianism because it “introduced a semi-Pelagian doctrine of grace and a conditional gospel.”
The analysis of Reformed doctrines, however, is often another story. Generally, the Encyclopedia reflects the rejection by contemporary Reformed theology of the creedal presentation of fundamental Reformed doctrines and a recasting of these doctrines to suit the modern mind. In the article on “Scripture,” editor McKim asserts that Calvin, the Reformed confessions, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck taught infallibility only in the sense that Scripture “will not lie or deceive about what Scripture is intended to focus upon: God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.”
Dewey A. Wallace, Jr. suggests that one does justice to the Reformed doctrine of predestination if he merely affirms “God’s gracious favor bestowed upon the undeserving,” setting “aside its negative implications as unbiblical.” These “negative implications” include the eternal decree of reprobation. In this connection, writing on “Bolsec, Jerome,” Philip C. Holtrop makes the intriguing admission that “perhaps the majority of Reformed theologians today would be closer to Bolsec’s views on predestination than to Calvin’s.”
There is no entry for “Hoeksema, Herman.” Holtrop does refer to Hoeksema (as a supralapsarian) in his article on the “Decree(s) of God” and lists hisReformed Dogmatics in the bibliography.
Of special interest to Protestant Reformed readers is English theologian Peter Toon’s contribution on “Hyper-Calvinism.” This “exaggerated, rationalist form of the Reformed faith” has a modern representative, we are informed, in “Herman Hoeksema, whoseReformed Dogmatics (1996) places excessive emphasis on the sovereign grace of God.” To this a Reformed man or woman has only one response: “It is impossible to place excessive stress on the sovereign grace of God. The strongest stress ever placed on God’s sovereign grace comes short of doing justice to the unfathomable sovereignty and infinite grace by which a sinner is saved.” The charge that a theologian is “guilty” of stressing excessively God’s sovereign grace is, in fact, the highest commendation of that theologian’s teaching.
The book is worth the price.