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Preaching With Freshness, by Bruce Mawhinney. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1991; 258 pp., $12.99 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Robert D. Decker.]

This book is a novel approach to Homiletics (the art and science of preaching, RDD). It is this because the book is cast in the form of a novel, a story. While Mawhinney deals with the discipline of homiletics and while he sets forth many sound, biblical principles of homiletics, the book is entirely free of technical, theological terms. The author presents his theology of preaching in the form of a fictional account of a young preacher who…. you read the story. You will enjoy it.

The principles and methodology of preaching set forth by Jay Adams in his book, Preaching With Purpose, are woven skillfully into the narrative.

Any preacher, especially the preacher who finds himself “bogged down” or whose preaching is being criticized as being dull or boring, will do well to purchase the book, read it, and implement Mawhinney’s suggestions. In addition to sound, biblical principles of homiletics, the book contains many practical suggestions which, if taken seriously and implemented, are bound to improve one’s preaching. The reminder of chapter three, viz., that preaching is the preacher’s chief task, his “one business,” is in itself worth the price of the book. A preacher ought never allow himself to do what others in the church can do. He maybe so busy with a host of worthwhile matters that he finds insufficient time to prepare good sermons!

But this is not a book just for preachers. Lay people ought to read it as well. In fact I would urge our readers to get the book, set aside two to four hours, and read it from cover to cover. Not only will you enjoy the story, but you will learn something about preaching. The book will enable you to put yourself in “the preacher’s shoes.” It will help you to understand what it’s like to be a preacher in God’s church.

Ordained in 1976, Dr. Mawhinney is pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. He received the Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Ministry degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.

No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, by Octavius Winslow; Banner of Truth Trust, 1991; 396 pp., $8.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]

This excellent commentary written by a 19th century divine, was first published in 1853 and is now republished by Banner of Truth. It is in many respects a gem which will be a valuable addition to anyone’s library. If you are looking for devotional reading, this book will please you. If you are looking for help in understanding this beautiful and important chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, this book will be of great assistance.

Romans 8 is one of those totally crucial chapters in Holy Scripture, which has occupied such a large role in the life of the church of God’s people since the time of the Reformation. It has in it all the essentials of the great truths of salvation by grace alone, and it is brimful of comfort for the tried and afflicted child of God. Perhaps few chapters in all Scripture have more often been read at sick beds and to and by saints in great suffering of body and soul. When I was yet a child, my parents insisted that I, my brother, and my sister, commit the entire chapter to memory. It has been a chapter to carry with me all my life.

This little book will indeed give the reader a sense of the great power of Romans 8. It is a doctrinally strong and biblically sound book so that one has meat to eat; but it is also written in such a way that it catches the “spirit” and power of the chapter.

There is only one warning. It is very much written in the Puritan tradition, particularly that of the 18th century Marrow Men, and has, therefore, some of the weaknesses of these men. Particularly one will sometimes take issue with its incipient doctrine of “preparationism” and want to discard its view of conversion. Being aware of this, however, will prevent one from falling into its snares.

New Testament Criticism & Interpretation, ed. by David Alan Black & David S. Dockery; Zondervan Publishing House, 1991; 619 pp., $17.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]

It appears as if the entire church world has gone mad over higher criticism. And this book would seem to be the proof of it. One of the blurbs on the back cover speaks of the fact that “the editors have assembled a talented team of conservative-evangelical scholars” for the writing of this book; and so it is. But every one without exception is a higher critic and, as the title indicates, is given to higher criticism of Scripture. The list of authors reads like a “Who’s Who” in American evangelicalism, and high praises for the book are sung on the back cover by leading evangelicals from leading evangelical seminaries around the world.

In three separate sections the authors discuss what is meant by critical studies of Scripture, what are the basic methods in New Testament criticism, and some special issues that arise in New Testament interpretation.

The authors are very bold. One of them does not hesitate to say that the historical accuracy of Scripture must be decided on rational and empirical grounds (p. 81), and that, while we may admit the possibility of the supernatural, this too must be historically investigated and the reliability of witnesses examined (pp. 87-90). Another argues forcibly for multiple meanings in the text, a view which carries us back to medieval Roman Catholic interpretation which closed Scripture to the people of God (pp. 270, 271). Another boldly states that the authors of Scripture did not agree in doctrine (p. 475), and yet another is not ashamed to insist that the gospels are not historically reliable (p. 508).

There are two striking passages in this large book. One destroys all higher critical theories. It is not by an author of the book, but by another. The author of this chapter in which the quotation appears only mildly agrees. The author of the quote is David Steinmitz, and it is devastating for all higher criticism. That the author of the chapter is oblivious to the implications of Steinmitz’ quote is amazing. It reads: “Until the historical- critical method becomes critical of its own theoretical foundations and develops a hermeneutical theory adequate to the nature of the text which it is interpreting, it will remain restricted- as it deserves to be – to the guild and the academy, where the question of truth can endlessly be deferred” (p. 271).

The other quote is in a chapter on New Testament Interpretation and Preaching.

This generation of preachers has access to a range and depth of biblical scholarship unparalleled in the history of Christendom. The sciences of hermeneutics, exegesis, and textual and other critical studies are finely developed, Yet preaching is in crisis. We do well to recall, of course, that every age, even the nineteenth century “golden age of preaching,” has had its crisis. But the contemporary crisis is, to put it bluntly, different: It is the seeming inability to preach biblically despite (or because of [?]) a full century of the most intense biblical scholarship ever known. In the words of David Buttrick “Preachers drift out of seminaries trained in historical-critical method, practiced in homiletical techniques, yet at a loss to preach ‘biblically.'”

The author then makes this statement: “Depending on one’s point of view, the current crisis amounts either to a failure to make use of what is now available, a failure to be honest about known critical problems, or the demoralizing effect of critical approaches to Scripture (emphasis mine, HH).” The author is convinced that his first option is the correct one. How can he be so blind? It simply is a fact that critical approaches to Scripture have a demoralizing effect not only on preaching, but on all Bible study. And until evangelicals are willing to see this, the situation is not only hopeless, but bound to get worse.

Anyone who is interested in Hermeneutics in general and in higher criticism in particular ought to read the book. It will give him a clear summary of all the current methods used in higher criticism, but will also show him the futility and wrong of critical approaches to God’s holy Word.

Catholicity and Secession, A Study of Ecumenicity in the Christian Reformed Church, by Henry Zwaanstra; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991; 128 pp., $14.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.]

Any church which is faithful to her Lord and King struggles with the question with which this book deals. On the one hand, the church is required to be faithful to the Scriptures and her confessional heritage and is called to live in separation from other churches if union with them will compromise this all-important calling. On the other hand, the church is called by Christ to seek the unity of the church, and to do so also by bringing the church into organic and institutional unity as the church comes to manifestation in this world.

Dr. Henry Zwaanstra, professor of church history and historical theology in Calvin Seminary, struggles with this question as he reviews the history of his own denomination over the years. He tells of the birth of the denomination in the secessions of 1834 in The Netherlands and 1857 in our own country, and points out that these secessions made a deep impression on the consciousness of the church, which led the church to emphasize for many years separation at the cost of church unity. The role that the question of membership in oath-bound societies played in this struggle, the ecclesiology that was at stake (especially as it involved Arts. XXVII – XXIX of the Belgic Confession) in making decisions concerning church union, the contacts official and otherwise between the CRC and such organizations as the FCCC, the NAE, the WCC, the RES, the WPA (World Presbyterian Alliance), NAPARC, – all these are amply treated and discussed in the book

As it turns out, two events in the history of the CRC proved to be major turning points. The first took place in 1944.

The committee in the CRC which was responsible for contact with other churches submitted a report to the Synod of 1944 in which it emphasized, on the one hand, that all Christian churches were sister churches, while on the other hand it stated that, because the CRC was the purest church, only one system of doctrine, that of the CRC, was acceptable. Dr. Zwaanstra’s analysis of this position is:

. . . the CRC’s ecumenical calling was narrowly reduced to reproving and correcting other churches…. The committee failed to understand that there can be different and equally valid perceptions of biblical truth. It did not anticipate that through ecumenical dialogue God might lead his church into a fuller understanding of the truth than is represented in any one of the great church traditions, including the Reformed (p. 114).

The second major turning point came in 1987 when the CRC adopted a “charter” which significantly broadened the basis for contact. Of this charter Zwaanstra says:

The new Ecumenical Charter has broken some new ground that may enable the church to fulfill its ecumenical task more confidently and effectively. Perhaps most noteworthy is the recognition that churches – including the CRC – have different perceptions of biblical truth that can be shared with one another, and that they can trust God to lead his church into a fuller understanding of that truth. This insight may relieve the CRC of its historic sense of superiority in understanding and purity and may make it teachable in the ecumenical arena. The charter’s endorsement of dialogue as a legitimate means to engage in ecumenical conversation may also provide a basis and framework for a feasible approach and working method for implementing its ecumenical calling.

It is apparently this position which has led the CRC to retain its membership in the REC in spite of the apostasy of the GKN, and this charter will undoubtedly serve to pave the way for eventual membership in the WCC.

The book is a significant contribution to current ecumenical thinking in the CRC.

The Escape, by A. VanDerJagt; Inheritance Publications, 1988; 182 pp., $9.95US,

$10.95. (Reviewed by J. Kalsbeek, Jr.)

The Escape is a book about three Huguenot young people who fled from the persecution of those who called themselves Roman Catholics. The story is based upon historical facts which took place in France during the late seventeenth century.

The main characters are John, his sister, Manette, and a boy named Camille (no last names are given). They are teenagers who were raised in French Protestant or Huguenot families.

At the time this story takes place, Louis XIV, the Sun King, rules France and is determined to stamp out Protestantism. As a result many Huguenots were sentenced to be galley slaves. (One of these was John and Manette’s father.) Another result of this persecution was that many of the Huguenots fled for their lives to neighboring countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England, and even across the ocean to the English colonies of North America.

Soon after John and Manette’s father is sent away to be a slave on a galley ship, their mother dies. Since they are now orphans they are separated by their Roman Catholic relatives.

Manette is sent to Paris where she is ill treated, and John is assigned to live With his uncle and aunt. Both of them, though young, refuse to be converted back to Roman Catholicism. They are determined to continue in the faith of their father and mother. Consequently they experience the cruel hand of persecution.

John is about to be sent by another uncle, Uncle Francis, a Roman Catholic priest, to a monastery because he refuses to give up his Protestant beliefs. He escapes and goes to Paris to find his sister. On the way, he makes friends with Camille. Together they find Manette and the three of them continue their dangerous journey to Holland.

It is a story of courage in the face of many grave dangers. It is a story of great faith in the God they love. It is a story of hardships, afflictions, hunger, and pain. It is a story that is easy to read.

Although it is written about a time long ago, it is worthy of your time and effort. At the very risk of their lives, John, Manette, and Camille refused to give in and take the easy way. They were given a very simple way to avoid persecution. All they had to do was to renounce their Protestant beliefs and deClare that they would become Roman Catholic. This they refused to do. That kind of courage is still needed today. It takes just as much courage today to say “no” to the world, to the devil, to our friends who tempt us to walk in a sinful way. Peer pressure is so prevalent today. It makes cowards even of those who think they are strong.

Young people, teenagers, I encourage you to read this book. It is about courage – something you all admire and desire and need. Do not be afraid to do what is right and pleasing to God even if it turns those you consider to be your friends against you.

Judy’s Own Pet Kitten, by An Rook. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1991; 26 pp., paper $4.95Can., $4.50US. [Reviewed by the Editor.]

Little Judy’s pet kitten had died. When the river flooded her parents’ farm, Judy saw a kitten stranded on straw bales in the water. Judy would rescue the kitten herself. “. . .but oh the water was much deeper. She stumbled and fell face down into the muddy water. It was so terribly cold. She gasped for air . . . .”

A story for children aged 4-8 that can be read in one sitting.