POWER-WORD AND TEXT-WORD IN RECENT REFORMED THOUGHT, by Harry L. Downs; Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1974; $3.50 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
This book, by the pastor of the Dresden Christian Reformed Church in Dresden, Ontario, is an analysis of “the view of Scripture set forth by some representatives of the philosophy of the law-idea.” Particularly, the author examines in some detail the views of the A.A.C.S. with respect to their basic doctrine of the Word of God.
Although the author enters into the more philosophical views of the A.A.C.S. in Chapter II (a chapter which can be skipped by those who are not interested in the vagaries of philosophy), the book as a whole gives a rather thorough presentation of the views of those who are followers of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy on the North American continent and in various places overseas. In chapter 1, the author deals especially with the differences in the Reformed community on this question and points out not only the differences between the proponents of the law-idea and those who oppose this view, but also shows that there is not complete agreement among the A.A.C.S. men themselves. But especially in the rest of the book, the author concentrates on the view of Scripture and goes into a rather lengthy critique and analysis of these views. For these reasons the book is worth reading.
However, I must, in this review, also make mention of the fact that I am increasingly troubled by those who oppose the errors of the A.A.C.S. As those who have been readers of the Standard Bearer know, I have no sympathy for the aberrations of the A.A.C.S., and I consider the whole philosophy of this movement to be a dangerous and heretical movement within the Reformed church world. But this does not alter the fact that a book such as this under review, as well as the writings of many who have opposed this philosophy, leave me with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction. It seems to me that the A.A.C.S. has forced errors in some parts of traditional Reformed theology out into the open. The A.A.C.S. is collecting bills past due because of these errors. And the result is that those who oppose the views of the A.A.C.S. find themselves in an unfavorable position to combat successfully the enemy which they see creeping into the camp.
Although a book review is hardly the place to go into these matters, let me be specific and mention them at least.
For one thing, the theologians of the A.A.C.S. have placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of the Word of God. This is both their strength and their weakness. The doctrine of the Word of God is, without question, of fundamental importance. In placing emphasis on this doctrine, the leaders of the A.A.C.S. have properly made some important distinctions—as e.g., between the creative Word, Christ, the Scriptures, and the Word preached. With these distinctions I not only have no quarrel, but find myself in complete agreement. The trouble with the A.A.C.S. is that it has separated these aspects of the Word of God so completely that there is no room left for any relationship between them whatsoever. The opponents of the A.A.C.S. have, on the other hand, all but identified these various aspects of the Word of God. And this too is a serious mistake. To give but one example, the opponents of the A.A.C.S. have identified the gospel with theScriptures. We believe with all our hearts that the Scriptures are the infallibly inspired record of the Word of God. But it is the written record of the Word of God, not the gospel. The opponents of the A.A.C.S. speak of the Scriptures as if the Scriptures themselves are the powerful Word of God which is able to save. But they are not. I have even heard Rom. 1:16 quoted as support for the proposition that the Bible has power in itself. But Paul does not say that in the text. He writes: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation . . . .” That is something else. Only the gospel, which is the preaching of the Scriptures, is able to save. The Scriptures can be called “The Word of God” only in the sense that the Scriptures contain the infallibly inspiredrecord of the Word of God. The Scriptures have no power in themselves. The opponents vitiate their own criticism when they fail to make this distinction; and we have the A.A.C.S. to thank for bringing this distinction out into the open.
For another thing, the A.A.C.S. has made a lot of the revelation of God through the Word in the creation. They have erred, and erred seriously, in making a disjunction between the Word in creation and the Word of God in Scripture. Nevertheless, leaning upon the traditional idea in some parts of the Reformed Church world between “general” and “special” revelation, the opponents of the A.A.C.S. have committed the same error of making a disjunction between God’s Word in creation and in the Scriptures—the Scriptures now as the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of God inthe Word which is Christ. It is my considered opinion that if the opponents of the A.A.C.S. are to be successful in their refutation of the views of the A.A.C.S., they must abandon forthwith the whole concept of “general revelation” of which neither Scripture nor our Confessions (not even Article 2 of the Belgic Confession) speak. If they insist on holding to this distinction, they will never be able successfully to refute the errors of the philosophy of the law-idea.
And this brings me to the third matter, for the whole idea of general revelation is closely connected to the idea of common grace. While some members of the A.A.C.S. seem somewhat reluctant to accept the idea of common grace—at least all the implications of this view, they cannot really escape it. But those who oppose the A.A.C.S., while still maintaining the doctrine of common grace, never get around to a successful refutation of this heresy. One illustration will suffice. In all the writings of the A.A.C.S. there is almost no mention of the devastating effects of sin both on the creation itself and on man whose mind is so darkened that he cannot hear the Word of God in creation. But this same fundamental fault is to be found in those who oppose the A.A.C.S. In all the critique of the book under review there is almost no mention made of sin. Without even discussing the whole doctrine, it is of utmost importance to see how sin affects the whole truth concerning the doctrine of the Word of God and revelation. Without a proper conception of sin, no light can be shed on this problem. And the concept of common grace makes this utterly impossible.
It would be well for this whole subject to be analyzed in detail. And if the opponents of the A.A.C.S. do not do this, they will find that their efforts to combat the A.A.C.S. are futile. The A.A.C.S. will continue to collect the bills due, and their heresy will continue to permeate the Church.