THE JUDGMENT OF JONAH, by Jacques Ellul, (translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley from the French); Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971; $1.95 (paper).
Written by an increasingly popular author, this book seeks to interpret the prophecy of Jonah for modern times. The author however, is not particularly interested in the questions of the historicity of Jonah and the authenticity of the miracle. On p. 63, e.g., he writes:
One thus sees why it is so important not to be so worried about the material side of the miracle. If the real issue is my own death and resurrection, I cannot build on the story of the fish. My salvation and resurrection, do not depend on the resurrection of Jonah. The miracle of Jonah does not guarantee me anything. It is on God’s word which records the miracle that my salvation rests. It is because God declares it to me that it comes about. He also declares it to me in the story of Jonah. This is the truth of the story. It is true because it is a word of God, not because it corresponds to historical reality.
The whole trouble of course is (as is the case with all those today who deny that Scripture is historically true): If I cannot trust the Word of God in describing to me the nature of the miracle or in the Word of Jesus Who verified it, how can I trust in the Word of God that I shall be raised?
But this approach not only vitiates the book, it also leads to some very strange spiritualizations which remind one of Origen’s hermeneutical methods. The author writes, e.g., on pp. 81, 82 in connection with the miracle of the gourd:
Jonah made a booth to get shade and peace. But we have seen that the prophet no longer has this mastery over his life. Hence God replaces the peace Jonah has given himself by his own peace: “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” In other words, by substituting the plant for the booth God puts his servant back in the true position of the servant. He takes away the false constructions which he had made, and in truth made against God. He takes away his false security. He replaces it by the sign of grace in which (in and by God’s will) ensures true security, which presupposes the putting of his destiny in the hands of the Lord (so that it ceases to be destiny), and also true joy.
There are, however, some valuable and interesting observations in the book which are worth reading if one is interested in understanding more fully the prophecy of Jonah.
GOD LOVES. . . . by John Gritter; Baker Book House, 1970; $2.95 (paper).
John Gritter is a recently deceased minister of the Christian Reformed Church. This book has come out of the recent controversy in the Christian Reformed Church over the question of the general character of the love of God. It is a popularly written book which has as its stated purpose to set down the author’s thoughts on the love of God against the background of the controversy out of which it arose.
It is not however, a very good book. It adds almost nothing to the discussion which was being carried on in the Christian Reformed Church in the last parts of the sixties; and, in fact, at some key points, adds to the confusion.
This rather harsh criticism of the book is for several reasons. For one thing, the author is very careless in his theological terminology. In speaking of the doctrine of the trinity the author writes:
In the divine being there are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not three parts but three forms of existence in the one divine essence. This has been the teaching of the Christian Church practically from its beginning. . . .
By defining the persons of the trinity as three forms of existence the author does not, I think, mean to deny the reality of the three persons. But he ought to know as a minister of the gospel that the Christian Church has never taught that the three persons tie three forms of existence; and that, in fact, very early in the history of the Church this view was severely condemned as being a form of modalism.
The same carelessness is present in his description of the image of God in man. He writes:
And man was made in the image: a spiritual being, personal, self-conscious, intelligent, with ability to hear and see and learn and systematize knowledge, to be responsible, to make choices, to do right, and so much more—and finally to live forever. There is, however, no mention made
There is, however, no mention made of the fact that Reformed theology has always maintained that the image of God in man is essentially knowledge, righteousness and holiness.
Other examples of this could be cited. The author writes very confusingly, e.g., about man’s creation: as if man’s body were formed of the dust of the earth and that that body was made alive by the breath of Life. Further, in his somewhat parenthetical discussion of ecumenicity, he writes as if ecumenicity and true union is only a matter of loving more—without defining what this really involves.
But when the author turns to the question of the objects of God’s love, especially as this is revealed in God’s relation to men, the book becomes most confusing. Rev. Gritter agrees with the decisions of the Synods of 1967 and 1968 which decided upon the “Dekker Case,” but insists that these Synods affirmed nothing with respect to the doctrine involved. This is obviously not true as is evidenced from even a quick reading of the decisions.
And so Rev. Gritter wants it both ways. He wants to defend the Reformed doctrines of particular atonement and God’s love for the elect. But he also emphasizes his deep commitment to the free offer of the gospel and defends vigorously the fact that God loves all men. He not only speaks of the fact that God loves humanity in general and men as His creatures, but insists that God loves the wicked in all their sins. In so doing he interprets many passages of Scripture just as the Arminians have always interpreted them includingJohn 3:16 which he interprets to mean every man in the world. (cf. p. 100.)
This sort of treatment of the problem does no one any good and is of no help to anyone. It is confusing in the extreme and adds nothing of value to the discussion. It would have been better if Rev. Gritter had not written the book at all.
Interestingly enough, the author also interpretsRom. 11 as teaching some future mass conversion of Israel.
Presumably the book accurately reflects much current thinking on the problem of God’s love in the Christian Reformed Church. Its value is almost exclusively limited to this.