A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HISTORY?, Edited by George Marsden & Frank Roberts; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975; 201 pp., $4.50 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.]
This book, in a series of essays by different authors, seeks to provide a “tentative” answer to the question posed in the title. It seeks to answer the question by taking a mediating position between “over assurance” and “diffidence.” The disagreement seems especially to be whether there is historical data upon which believer and unbeliever can agree. And, in connection with this, whether an objective interpretation and value judgment is possible, or whether we are reduced to an historical relativism in this respect.
Because the book is written by a number of different authors, the viewpoint is also different. George Marsden defines the reason for studying history as:
We who are Christians should teach and learn history so that we may better understand ourselves and our fellow men in relation to our own culture and to the world. Since the Christian’s task is to live in this world and to witness to the love of God as manifested in Christ, it is essential for us to understand ourselves and the world as well as we possibly can.
This, taken by itself, is a wholly inadequate reason for studying history, but it follows from the general view of the authors, for they reject the traditional view of history as the unfolding of the counsel of God. Doing this, they can no longer find in history the revelation of God, and they no longer see in a study of history the benefit of growing in the knowledge of God in His works and ways. For this reason too, there is little in the book about the relation between history and sacred history and the relation between the Scriptures and the study of history.
In general, the conclusion of the book is that probably one must, in the teaching of history, make moral judgments about what transpires in history; but there is a caution sign raised in this connection, and an objective standard by which to judge what transpires in history is totally absent.
The book reflects current thinking about history in evangelical circles and is worth reading for this reason. But it is of little or no help (except by the way of antithesis) in an understanding of a Christian approach to the study of history. Nevertheless, those who teach history in our schools ought to read it, and those who are interested in this subject will find a great deal of food for thought.
JESUS, THE STORY OF HIS LIFE, by Walter Barnett; Nelson-Hall Inc., 325 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, Ill., 60606; 1976; 273 pp., $6.95. [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.]
This book is a sort of retelling of the life of Jesus from the gospel narratives. Since it combines all the gospel narratives, it is also a sort of harmony of the gospels. The author describes the book in a chapter at the end entitled, “Note on the Composition of the book.”
This book is not a fresh translation of the sources from the original Greek. It is simply a retelling of the story in modem American speech. Since the objective is to put that story as nearly as possible into the words Americans would use today, the result may occasionally seem like a rather free paraphrase of the sources, but great care has been taken to make certain that the meaning has not been misrepresented. . . .
It must be reemphasized that this book is not a fictionalized account of Jesus’ life. Nothing imaginary has been added to the New Testament information. Only what is fairly there has been reproduced here, with one exception. In the account of the imprisonment of John the Baptist an explanation taken from the works of the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus is incorporated, because it is one item of information from a source contemporary with the gospels that is doubtless genuine and throws considerable light on the temper of Israel in Jesus’ time.
There is also a section at the end on the historical setting of the gospels which is very worthwhile.
For those who are, as is true of most of our readers, brought up from childhood with instruction from the Scriptures themselves, this book is of little value. Most of us have learned to understand and love the King James Version, and the need for a modern “paraphrase” is not a need among us. There is also the danger that a paraphrase may be taken as the Scriptures themselves.
The book is also weakened by higher critical views of the author, by various omissions from the text, and by an incorrect chronology.
The book could be useful to those who are totally unacquainted with the gospels, but then only if it led them to read the gospels themselves.
GRACE UPON GRACE, Essays in honor of Lester J. Kuyper; Edited by James Cook; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1975; 154 pp., $6.95. [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.]
Lester Kuyper was for a long time a professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. The essays in this book, dealing with various problems of Old Testament studies, were written in his honor. Most Festschrifts are dull reading, and this one is no exception. It deals with such subjects as: “The (Un)changeability of God,” “The Biblical View of Time,” “Women and Masculine Theological Vocabulary in the Old Testament,” “Exodus in the letter to the Hebrews.” Some of the authors are: I. John Hesselink, Hendrikus Berkhof, James Muilenburg, G. Ernest Wright, J. Coert Rylaarsdam, and Marten H. Woudstra.
If nothing else, the book shows how far higher criticism has vitiated Biblical studies in Reformed circles. I would not be honored by these essays, but angered and embarrassed that Scripture can be treated so cavalierly. So should anyone who loves the Word of God.