Reading Scripture in Public: A Guide for Preachers and Lay Readers, by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991. 196 pp., $7.95 (paper): [Reviewed by Prof. R. Decker.]

The reading of Holy Scripture is a very important element in the worship service. It is much more than a “preliminary.” It should be done, in the opinion of this reviewer, very early in the worship service, just after the first Psalm of Praise is sung. All of the singing, the congregational prayer, the giving and receiving of the offering, and the preaching find their meaning and significance in the Word of God. In brief, worship is the believer’s hearing God’s Word and his faith response to that Holy Word. Hence the importance of the public reading of Scripture.

Part I of this book (the first five chapters) deals with this all-important element in the liturgy. The author believes we must find and communicate the meaning of the particular passage in our reading of Scripture. He offers helpful suggestions to do just that. Especially in this section of the book will the preacher find helpful the exercises at the end of each chapter.

In Part II (the last five chapters) the author applies the principles of reading Scripture in public. Of particular value are chapters 8 and 9 in which the author writes of using one’s voice effectively in public reading of the Bible.

Preachers ought to be concerned about all this, and they would do well to read this book. Others who are called upon to read the Bible in public – ruling elders, Christian school teachers, and Sunday School teachers – will also benefit from a reading of this book.

The author, Thomas E. McComiskey, is acting director of the Ph.D. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has a Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus against the Heresies. Selected and introduced by Hans Urs von Balthasar. Tr. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990. 111 pages, $10.95 (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]

The church father Irenaeus is regarded as the first great Christian theologian. Born about A.D. 130, he knew Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John, by personal acquaintance. The main work of Irenaeus that has come down to us is his Against the Heresies. It defends and explains the Incarnation against the Gnostic opposition to the material world. The original title was Five Books on the Unmasking and Refutation of the Falsely Named Gnosis. God the Son, Irenaeus contends, became flesh to redeem human flesh from its sinfulness, not from its fleshliness.

The Scandal of the Incarnation is a selection of outstanding passages from this great work of Irenaeus.

This is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times became man among men, in order to join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God (p. 43).

The introduction by Roman Catholic theologian von Balthasar is helpful, especially for grasping the heresy of Gnosticism. The Protestant reader will have to be on guard, however, against von Balthasar’s Roman Catholic interpretation of Irenaeus.

The book is a good introduction to Irenaeus and to the earliest treatment of the doctrine of the Incarnation in the post-apostolic church.

The Plan of Salvation, by Benjamin B. Warfield. Boonton, New Jersey: Simpson Publishing Company, 1989. 113 pages, $11.95 (hardcover). [Reviewed by the Editor.]

This is a reprint of the great Presbyterian’s classic work contrasting the Calvinistic view of God’s plan of salvation with the various forms of the only alternative. The alternative in all its forms, whether sheer Pelagianism, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Arminianism, makes God’s will to save dependent upon the will of the sinner. Thus, whereas Calvinism teaches that God saves, the anti-Calvinistic religions teach that the sinner saves himself, God only making salvation possible. “There are fundamentally-only two doctrines of salvation: that salvation is from God, and that salvation is from ourselves” (p. 27).

With profound insight into the truth of God’s sovereignty in saving sinners, as well as into the truth of the deadness of the sinners who are to be saved, Warfield insists that “particularism is the mark of Calvinism” (p. 89). Sovereign particularism characterizes the plan of salvation (election), the redemption of the cross, and the actual saving of the sinner by the Holy Spirit. The universalism that consists of a will of God that elects all, a redemption intended for all, and saving operations directed to all is radical deviation from, and basic opposition to, Calvinism.

How professing Calvinists today can harmonize their teaching of a love of God for all and a sincere desire of God to save all in the preaching of the gospel with Warfield’s insistence on Calvinistic particularism is a mystery. In fact, of course; Calvinistic particularism and the “well-meant offer” cannot be harmonized. The latter is just the latest apostasy from Calvinism, that is, the biblical gospel of salvation by sovereign grace. A gospel revealing God’s love in Christ for all sinners and crying out God’s desire to save everyone to whom the gospel comes is the most recent form, to use Warfield’s pungent expression, of the “useless . . . talk of salvation being for ‘whosoever will’ in a world of universal ‘won’t'” (p. 43).

Warfield boldly presses the claims of Calvinism: “Calvinism, with its doctrines of election and irresistible grace, is the only system which can make credible the salvation of any sinner” (p. 72). His exposure of the doctrine opposed to Calvinism is devastating: “The denial of particularism . . . is logically the total rejection of Christianity” (pp. 89, 90). Such defense of the faith is sorely needed in our compromising, cowardly age.

The Reformed reader may demur from Warfield in two areas. First, advocating the infralapsarian conception of the decrees of God, Warfield charges that “supralapsarianism errs therefore as seriously on the one side as universalism does on the other” (p. 21; cf. also pp. 90ff.). To be faulted is not his embrace of infralapsarianism, for the Reformed creeds allow hint this, but his condemnation of supralapsarianism as error, indeed, error that is as serious as universalism. The Reformed creeds and churches have never condemned supralapsarianism, but have rather permitted it as a legitimate way of holding the eternal counsel of God. The Synod of Dordt deliberately refused to reject it.

The second area of difference is Warfield’s postmillennialism. Warfield proposes that, “when Christ comes, it will be to (my emphasis- DJE) a fully saved world . . .” (p. 104).

This short work deserves the widest distribution. It is grand reading. Since this work has not been included in the published editions of Warfield’s writings and since it has long been out of print, Simpson Publishing Company has done good service in making it again available.