THE CHRISTIAN LOOKS AT HIMSELF, by Anthony A. Hoekema; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975; 152 pp., $1.95 (paper).
The main theme of this book is an idea that is being bandied about a great deal nowadays: it is the calling of the Christian to get rid of a “negative self-image.”
The first part of the book, in which the author develops this idea, is the important part. The thoughts running through this part have been presented by the author in a series of articles in The Reformed Journal which I criticized in our own Theological Journal some time ago.
In this first part of the book, the author attempts to encourage the redeemed saint of God to change his self-image so that he no longer looks at himself as a guilty sinner, but as a redeemed saint. Now this thesis, in itself, is perhaps not so bad. And the author admits that the redeemed child of God is still capable of committing sin. Nevertheless, he carries his thesis to an incorrect conclusion, for he insists that the child of God ought no longer to have any feelings of guilt, ought no longer to abhor himself, and ought no longer to look upon himself as a guilt-ridden man.
This emphasis leads to many incorrect assertions in the book. First of all, it leads to an incorrect exegesis of many different passages. (By the way, the exegesis of these passages is skimpy and superficial, something one would not expect from a professor of theology in a Reformed seminary.) He interprets Romans 7:13-25 as referring to Paul in his unregenerate state, though written after Paul’s conversion. This is the same interpretation given this passage by Arminius while minister in Amsterdam; an exegesis which got him into trouble with his colleague Plancius. It is an Arminian interpretation because there is no way in which one can escape the fact that then this passage teaches the ability of the unregenerate man to will the good. Hoekema also interprets II Cor. 5:17 in such a way that the term “new creature” refers to a “new era,” although it also refers to the new saint. He interprets the references in Scripture to the “old man” and the “new man” as referring to “old and new life-styles.”
In the second place, by such exegesis Hoekema comes to the conclusion that the redeemed saint no longer has an old nature with which he must contend. He is only a new man in Christ who sins occasionally. This brings him perilously close to perfectionism—although he expressly repudiates this doctrine.
In the third place, this line of argumentation leads him to the Pelagian notion that sin is only in the act. There is little discussion of the nature of man, while a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the act. This is not Reformed. All these ideas are really and essentially Arminian. And it is surprising that they are found so openly espoused in a book by a professor of Reformed theology.
One wonders what the author would do with a statement such as is found in our “Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper”: “That every one consider by himself, his sins and the curse due to him for them, to the end that he may abhor and humble himself before God.” Or the statement in our Heidelberg Catechism: “That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long.” Or: “Even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience.” Or the continuous testimony of Scripture that the saints did abhor themselves, of which Job’s confession is only one example: “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
The second part of the book contains all sorts of practical advice on how we may advance a positive self-image in ourselves and others [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko]