Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. 122 pp. $6.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
This small book (it really does fit in one’s pocket) will prove extraordinarily useful to the reading layman and the student of theology, whether seminarian or minister.
It consists of a concise description of more than 300 important theological terms. These terms include doctrines, e.g., amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism; names of many prominent theologians, both ancient and contemporary, e.g., Augustine and Karl Barth; church assemblies, e.g., the Synod of Dort (“biased against Arminianism”); movements, e.g., Holiness Movement; significant words and phrases in foreign languages, e.g., homoiousios, homoousios; and more.
The list is surprisingly comprehensive. It is up-to-date, including such entries as “postmodernism” and “panentheism.” The descriptions are strikingly accurate, clear, and pointed. This is the description of “amillennialism”:
The belief that the thousand years mentioned in
do not represent a specific period of time between Christ’s first and second comings. Many amillennialists believe instead that the *millennium refers to the heavenly reign of Christ and the departed saints during the Church Age. Amillennialists usually understand
to mean that the return of Christ will occur at the end of history and that the church presently lives in the final era of history. See also premillennialism; postmillennialism.
As this description indicates, the Pocket Dictionary is helpfully cross-referenced.
There are, of course, exceptions to the accuracy, usually involving doctrinal differences. The authors erroneously define “total depravity” thus: “Total depravity, therefore, does not mean that humans are thoroughly sinful but rather that they are totally incapable of saving themselves.” These exceptions are rare.
The book is an exceptionally fine work for its purpose.
Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, by Henri Blocher. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 158 pp. $18 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
No one who read the author’s treatment of Genesis 3 in the earlier book, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), will be surprised at the message of this follow-up work. The message of Original Sin is rejection of the Reformed doctrine that Adam’s disobedience in Paradise is imputed to all humans by virtue of Adam’s representative headship. Accordingly, the book denies that depravity of nature, with which all humans are born, is punishment for the transgression of Adam, for which transgression all are responsible before God.
The book denies the doctrine of original sin.
It does so carefully, even cautiously, and, therefore, subtly. The author is “steeped in the Reformed tradition” and shows a certain respect for it. He likes to remain as close to the doctrine that he rejects as possible. He acknowledges that a sinful condition follows Adam’s sin, both in Adam and in us all. The sinful condition of the race is due to the race’s relationship to Adam. But the relationship is not that of representation by a federal (that is, covenant) head. Rather, it is the “organic solidarity of the race.” The sinful condition of the race, therefore, “is not a penalty, or strictly the result of transference, but simply an existential, spiritual, fact for human beings since Adam.” The condition is “voluntary,” a “disposition of the will” (pp. 128, 129).
The basis of the rejection of the Reformed doctrine of original sin is an erroneous interpretation of Romans 5:12-21. Blocher explains the passage as teaching that “the role of Adam and of his sin in Romans 5 is to make possible the imputation, the judicial treatment, of human sins” (p. 77; emphasis Blocher’s). Adam’s sin makes possible the imputation of the sins of others; it is not itself imputed to others. Somehow, the disobedience of Adam opened up the way for God to condemn every human for his own personal sins. Blocher’s interpretation of Romans 5 avoids “the unattested and difficult thesis of the imputation of an alien sin” (p. 80).
Conclusive against this interpretation of Romans 5:12-21are the clear statements by the Holy Spirit (not a “rabbinic” Paul) in verses 18, 19 that the offense of the one man effected the condemnation of all and that the disobedience of one man constituted the many, sinners.
The implications of Blocher’s doctrinal innovation are significant. He himself calls attention to one: breaking down the radical difference between the Augustinian and the Pelagian doctrines of original sin (p. 123).
The other implication is inescapable by virtue of the inspired structure of Romans 5:12-21. This structure consists of the parallel, “as by Adam, so by Christ.” If Adam’s disobedience merely allows God to condemn the race for their own misdeeds, then Christ’s obedience merely allows God to justify humans on the basis of their own right deeds. The interpretation of Romans 5 that manages to avoid “the unattested and difficult thesis of the imputation of an alien sin” must also avoid the equally difficult thesis of the imputation of an alien righteousness.
This is the teaching of Pelagian works-righteousness. It is the denial of the gospel.
What rendered this rejection of original sin certain was Blocher’s earlier denial (in his In the Beginning) of the historicity of Genesis 3—a denial repeated in this book (cf. pp. 41, 50, 51). Denial of the historicity of the opening chapters of the Bible (they are a unit) results in the loss of the gospel of Jesus Christ: no Adam, no Christ; no federal headship of Adam, no federal headship of Christ; no imputation of Adam’s guilt, no imputation of Christ’s righteousness; no original sin, no justification; no tree of the knowledge of good and evil, no cross.
There is in this book a clear, sharp warning to those churches which, though traditionally Reformed and conservative, are now opening themselves to doubt concerning the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis. Blocher would be considered, and probably considers himself, an evangelical, even conservative, Reformed scholar.
The first chapters of Genesis are not a myth. They are history. The myth is that a church can let go the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis without losing the gospel.
John Calvin, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1999. Pp. xii + 366. $14.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
For those whose devotions include a disciplined daily reading of a brief exposition of Scripture, this will be a welcome volume. It consists of single-page excerpts from John Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms for each day of the year.
A gifted interpreter of the Word, Calvin was especially graced to do justice to the experiential nature of the Psalms. His commentary on the Psalms is well-suited for the personal worship and meditation of the Christian. The language is simple and clear. Like the Psalms themselves, Calvin addressed the saints, not the scholars. Thus, he spoke to believing scholars as well.
The book has Calvin commenting on the Psalms in order from Psalm 1 through Psalm 150. No Psalm is ignored. Obviously, to arrive at readings for 365 days some Psalms must bear more than one reading. The Psalm or passage of a Psalm being commented on is identified.
An example is this section from the daily reading for Day 132, based on Psalm 51:8, 9:
There is no true or solid peace to be enjoyed in the world except in the way of reposing upon the promises of God. Those who do not resort to them may succeed for a time in hushing or evading the terror of conscience, but they must ever be strangers to true inward comfort. And, granting that they may attain to the peace of insensibility, this is not a state which could satisfy any man who has seriously felt the fear of the Lord. The joy which he desires is that which flows from hearing the word of God, in which he promises to pardon our guilt, and readmit us into his favour. It is this alone which supports the believer amidst all the fears, dangers, and distresses of his earthly pilgrimage; for the joy of the Spirit is inseparable from faith.
The reader is warned in a preface by an unnamed compiler that the book uses the translation of Scripture of the NIV.