CREATIVE MINDS IN CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGY, Philip E. Hughes, Editor; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. 488 pages; price, $6.95
The claim of the dust jacket on this book is that “This symposium is designed to provide an introduction to the thought of some of the religious thinkers who have made an impact on Christian theology in the twentieth century.” To this end fourteen socalled “creative minds” are treated in this book. Among them are Karl Barth, G.C. Berkouwer, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, Herman Dooye-Weerd, and Paul Tillich, to mention a few more familiar names. Each essay is written by a different author, one who is supposed to be thoroughly familiar with the works of the man about whom he writes. Each essay contains a biographical sketch, first of all. This is an informative and valuable part of each essay. Secondly, each essay contains an exposition of the main concepts and contributions of the theologian discussed. This is necessarily abbreviated, of course. And, thirdly, each essay presents an evaluation.
A book of this kind is interesting, and, to an extent, helpful. Nevertheless, its value is very limited. First of all, the exposition offered is necessarily brief, too brief. Secondly, the reader necessarily sees through the eyes of the particular scholar who writes about each theologian. One sees Barth through the eyes of Bromiley, Berkouwer through the eyes of Lewis Smedes, and Brunner through the eyes of Paul. Schrotenboer. The same is true of the evaluation of each of these fourteen theologians. If the exposition is accurate and the evaluation is correct, fine. But who is to know? Is the essayist objective? Is he a disciple of the man about whom he writes, and therefore sympathetic to him, or is he an opponent and a severe critic7 This, you will understand, makes a world of difference. It would make a world of difference, for example, whether James Daane or I would expound and evaluate the theology of Herman Hoeksema. Hence, more than a mere introduction, and a very limited one, this book cannot be. I immediately sense that Bromiley is too sympathetic toward Barth, and that Smedes is too enamored of Berkouwer.
After all, if one would study theologians and their theology, tedious as the task may be, he must go to the sources and read, study, and evaluate for himself. This book is recommended; but the reader must not swallow all that is offered.
HOMILETICS (A MANUAL OF THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF PREACHING), by M. Reu; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 639 pages, $5.95.
This is a volume in Baker’s Limited Editions Library, a publishing project which features some other worthwhile reprints. The volume under review is a reprint of a work first published in 1922. The author was professor of practical theology at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
This book is not written for popular consumption; it is a text-book which features a thorough treatment of the subject of homiletics, and as such it is aimed especially at seminary students and preachers.
The author is a Lutheran, and his Lutheranism not unexpectedly shines through at various points in the book. Besides, I would not agree with him in regard to many technical or scientific points of homiletics; for example, the section on various kinds of sermon propositions is not to my liking.
But in a day when very few good books on homiletics are published, it is refreshing to find a book as thorough and as sound as this one. Agreement is not a prerequisite to reaping benefits from a book of this kind. In the future I expect to assign this book to our seminary students as collateral reading in our homiletics course; and I think our mature ministers might have their homiletical thinking and practice refreshed by reading this book critically also.
Here is a sample of the author’s thinking on the relation of the text to the sermon, and I like, this kind of thinking: “Whatever the text that has been chosen it must come to its full rights in the sermon. The sermon dare not deal with matters that have nothing to do with the text; that would be to turn a word of God into a lying signboard, to use it as a mere stopgap or superficial adornment. Nor dare the text become merely a motto or title of the sermon, or serve as appoint of departure from which the preacher advances to the elaboration of his own ideas, the springboard for a plunge into the depths or shallows of his own thought. This might lead, under the most favorable conditions, to a scriptural but not to a textual sermon, and is out of keeping with the purpose the text is intended to serve. Instead of this, the text must rather be the source of the contents of the sermon, from which all its thoughts flow, so that the preacher draws from nothing else, is guided by nothing else, imparts to his congregation nothing else. His text must be for him beginning, middle and end, and. whatever does not grow out of his text, be it ever so fine and true, biblical and edifying, must be ruthlessly excluded. This does not mean that the text may not be related to, or illustrated by, other parts of the Bible. This, on the contrary, is highly necessary; for the individual text is an integral part of the whole of Scripture. But it must be insisted that whatever is gathered from the rest of Scripture, to explain and illustrate the individual text, can only serve as aid to the exposition and application of the latter, and can have no other purpose than to magnify and impress upon the congregation the text itself. Nor does this mean that the life of the congregation may not be referred to in the sermon. On the contrary, it is an important and eminently proper requirement, that the preacher take into consideration the circle of ideas, the judgments, emotions, experiences, and all the various needs of his people, in order that his sermon may come home to their business and-bosoms and influence them for good. But the individual text must decide as to the manner in which this is to be done.” pp. 317, 318.
This is sound language, and would there were more preachers today who followed this counsel.
And so is this language concerning the application of the sermon sound: “The application dare not, however, be anything alien imported into the text, as though the preacher’ needed to add to the contents of the text something of his own. He must, on the contrary, take the Word of God, whose meaning in the past he has ascertained, set it unaltered and unabridged, with all its winsomeness and all its severity, in the midst of the present, and let it say to the men of today what it said to the men of the past.” pp. 361, 362.
Baker Book House is to be congratulated on this reprint. It is a valuable addition to the library of any seminarian or minister.