THE ROAD AHEAD: A Theology for the Church in Mission, John H. Piet; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970; 103 pp., $1.95 (paper). That there is room in present day literature coming from the ecclesiastical press for a book on the theology of missions is almost a truism. Such a book could be important and would be welcome. But one qualification for such a book would have to be that it set forth the truths of Scripture on this subject. This book lacks this major characteristic. This is all the more sad since it was written by the Professor of Bible and Missions in Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.
The main point of the book is set forth in the introduction and gives a clear indication of the direction the book will take.
The point we shall advance is that the chief concern of the church today is mission—the call to solve the tremendous problems of society, and the cry of man for authentic life.
Proceeding from this viewpoint, the author tackles, first of all, the problem of the definition of the church as given by the reformers of the sixteenth century. He finds this definition, contained in our creeds, totally inadequate because the problems of today are so completely different from the problems which the Reformers faced. He urges us to go behind the Reformers to Scripture itself to find a concept of the church which we can use. Apart from the fact that the author is somewhat inaccurate in his discussion of the history of the church in relation to the state prior to and after the Reformation, the author shows the common tendency of our day to turn away from the historic creeds of the church. This tendency arises from a view that the Scriptures themselves are subject to interpretations which vary according to the nature of the times in which the interpreter lives. This is very dangerous and ultimately destructive of Scripture.
Proceeding then from this viewpoint, the author defines the true idea of the church in terms of mission. The strange part of the book is that while in it the author begs us to return to Scripture to learn from it concerning the church, he offers almost no Scriptural proof for his central thesis that the true nature of the church is that it is a church in mission.
Yet this view is developed throughout. In discussing the doctrine of election the author adopts the rather old idea of election that God’s choice is not of individuals but is corporate, i.e., that God elected the nation of Israel in distinction from other nations so that Israel might serve other nations by her example and by her good influence upon these nations. This view of election is also carried through into the New Testament Church.
Following this same pattern, the author criticizes severely the distinction which has been made between the visible and the invisible Church. While it is not altogether clear what the author is saying at this point, he uses his criticism of the above distinction to make a further distinction between preaching and teaching. He insists that Scripture teaches that preaching is that work of the church done in the world which has as its purpose to persuade men to repent, while no preaching is done in the church. Here only teaching is performed. This distinction is to justify the thesis that the real work of the church is mission. Teaching is, after all, relatively unimportant in comparison with preaching.
The question of infant baptism vs. adult baptism is to be solved, in the author’s opinion, not on Scriptural grounds, but on the basis of the answer to the question, What is the church? Because the church is for the service of the world, baptism “is a sign and seal for right living”; “a sign for mission.” All this is based on some extremely shoddy exegesis of Romans 4-6.
The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. It is to “focus the attention of the Church upon God and His mission.” Hence the question of the presence of Christ (so important at the time of the Reformation) is irrelevant and extra-Scriptural. The Lord’s Supper is participation with Christ in His redemptive work in the world.
Cutting himself loose from the firm moorings of the confessions of the church, the author has constructed a theology for mission which is in no sense Scriptural and which is really some kind of quasi-theological basis for a social gospel.
—Prof. H. Hanko
THE BIBLE AND ARCHEOLOGY, b y J.A. Thompson; Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970; 468 pp., $5.95.
The study of archeology can be an important aid to Biblical studies. It also has serious limitations. If archeology becomes a tool to “prove” the truth of what Scripture contains, it is more hindrance than help. If however, it is used to shed necessary light on Scripture, it can be very valuable. This book belongs to the latter category. The author very carefully does not allow the integrity and final authority of the Scriptures to be called into question by any archeological research.
After opening with an evaluation of archeology as performed in Bible lands, the author treats ‘”Archeology and the Old Testament,” “archeology and the Pre-Christian Centuries,” and “Archeology and the New Testament.” In three or four areas especially is the book worthwhile. 1) It gives a great deal of help in the translation and explanation of difficult words and passages in Scripture. 2) It gives much information concerning the background of the history of Scripture. 3) It gives explanations for many customs and practices ‘in common use during Scriptural times. 4) It shows the close relationships which existed between the nations surrounding Israel and the nation of the people of God.
Of much benefit to the reader are the many pictures, maps, charts and tables with which the book is filled. The book is not written for the technical scholar but for the child of God who is interested in increasing his knowledge of God’s Word. It is highly recommended to all our readers, but especially to our Christian School teachers, Sunday School teachers and ministers. And the book is well worth the low price of $5.95.
—Prof. H. Hanko
THE MAN BORN TO BE KING, by Dorothy L. Sayers; Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing Co., 1970; 339 pp, $3.95 (paper).
Dorothy Sayers is a writer of wide ability. Among her achievements are poetry, essays—also on theological subjects and mystery stories. In this book she turns her hand to drama. The book contains a play-cycle of twelve plays on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These were written for broadcasting over BBC in England.
In a rather lengthy introduction to these plays, the author explains (among other things) her purpose in writing such a series of dramas. Her argument is that after centuries of ecclesiastical and homiletical clichés about the life and death of Christ the horror and shock of how awful and brutal it was no longer staggers us. The crime was immense both because of the complexity of sin on the part of all those responsible for Christ’s suffering and crucifixion and because of the shattering truth that God was put to death. (She believes in the divinity of Christ, the atonement and the bodily resurrection.) But she is convinced that the failure of the story to shock us is a sad loss because it was, after all, we ourselves who put Christ to death on a gibbet. And if we, with our nice words, fail to see this horror of the crucifixion, we fail also to see that we have committed the crime of the ages. And to the extent that we fail to see ourselves as guilty of this sin, we fail to see the wonder and power of the atonement of Christ Who died for those who killed Him.
In accomplishing this purpose she is successful.
Each individual play is introduced with “notes” in which she describes the “characters” in this amazing drama. These notes are of unusual interest. On the whole they are remarkably well done. John comes through as the “intuitive” disciple who was the first to believe the resurrection. Caiaphas is described as an almost unbelievably foul man. Her characterization of Judas is extremely interesting.
Nevertheless, the theology of the author is not sound. She rejects, for example, the truth of providence and predestination and presents Jesus as seeking Judas’ salvation to the very end. Nor is she always honest with the gospel narratives. She admits this and gives two reasons for it. The first is that she does not believe in the infallibility of Scripture. The second is that she must play fast and loose with the Scripture given for the sake of the dramatic production. It is this second reason which is disturbing in this connection. It is probably the very real (though unintentional, for the author) proof that one ultimately cannot and surely may not present the life of Him Who was God with us in dramatic form.
—Prof. H. Hanko
A Voice From America About America, R. T. Kuiper (Translated by E. R. Post); Heritage Hall Publications; Number One; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.; 120 pp., $3.50.
This is the first Heritage Hall Publication of Calvin College and Seminary Library. What does this mean? Permit me to quote an explanatory note which appears in this little book:
Heritage Hall of the Calvin College and Seminary Library includes in its holdings materials which cover a wide range of interest, but specializes in documents pertaining to the Reformed faith as it comes to expression in the Christian Reformed Church.
The purpose of the projected series—Heritage Hall Publications—is to make available to the English reader translations of significant selected writings which portray the history and activities of that Church. It is hoped that they will enable the general reader to obtain a clearer perspective of the Church which maintains Calvin College and Seminary. These publications appear too in the hope that the academic world will want to use the Heritage Hall materials for scholarly research on Dutch-Americans in general and on the Christian Reformed Church in particular.
As to this first publication of Heritage Hall, it is not really a book on church history; but as an account of circumstances in the Holland, Michigan area during the early history of the Christian Reformed Church, it furnishes interesting—and, to an extent, valuable—background information. Let me quote the summary which appears on the dust jacket:
The Graafschap Christian Reformed Church, begun in 1847, was one of the first churches established by the Dutch immigrants in western Michigan. By 1879, when the Reverend Roelof T. Kuiper arrived as its new pastor, the church was able to provide him with a comfortable parsonage and a reasonably good salary. Still, it must have been something of a sacrifice for Rev. Kuiper to leave Wildervank, the Netherlands, where he had served for twenty-five years, and take up residence in this distant and unfamiliar country. He was already fifty-three years old, a widower, and the father of seven children. By his own testimony there were many who asked him why he had chosen to leave, and as many more who wanted to know what America was really like.
In A Voice From America About America, first published in 1881, Rev. Kuiper attempts to answer those questions. He describes his trip, the appearance of the new country, the occupations available there, civic and governmental conditions, and the considerations to be kept in mind by others who might wish to follow him across the Atlantic. Challenges awaited the immigrant as well as rewards, and Rev. Kuiper tells of both.
The country, the people, and the customs he writes about are nearly a century old, and may seem as foreign to us as they must have seemed to those who first read this account. But today’s reader cannot help but be impressed by the faith and the courage exhibited in the lives of this man and his contemporaries. The brief acquaintance with them that this book offers may well contribute to a deeper appreciation of the rich heritage which is ours.
To one who is interested in the background, history, and outlook of the “old settlers,” this little book is, I think, more interesting than the above summary might seem to indicate.
Mr. E.R. Post (principal at Grand Rapids Christian in my high school days) has, in my judgment, done a commendable job of translation, though here and there the English rendering is a bit stilted, possibly in the interest of accuracy. Recommended.
Exposition of Psalms (New Reprint Edition), H.C. Leupold; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich.; 1010 pp., $8.95.
This is another expository work on the Old Testament by the well-known Lutheran scholar, Dr. Leupold. It is a rather extensive work, though not overly extensive in comparison with the vast amount of Scripture involved in the Book of Psalms.
In the opinion of this reviewer, a commentary on Psalms is by no means an easy undertaking. One of the big problems facing the expositor is that of doing justice to the personal, subjective, poetic element in the Psalms and at the same time doing justice to the deep and rich content. For the Psalms are by no means shallow, poetic out-gushings of feeling; but they are rich and warm and deeply spiritual just because they are the inspired expression of deep and rich truths. Another not insignificant problem for the expositor is that of preserving the unity of thought in the Psalms while doing justice to the details of meaning in the individual verses of each Psalm. It is also the opinion of this reviewer that Dr. Leupold does not completely solve these problems in his commentary. At least, my general impression is that this is not the author’s best commentary. One more negative impression made on this reviewer is that of brevity and of a running commentary, rather than of a thorough and unified work. And a final negative impression is that the author does not do complete justice in his exposition to the sharply antithetical note which abounds in the Psalms.
This review, however, must not end on a negative note. This is a helpful commentary. The approach of the author toward Scripture is a believing one and a very sober one. There is a serious and largely successful effort to let the Word of God speak, to make plain the meaning of the text by letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Pastors, Bible teachers, and other serious students of Holy Scripture can certainly profit from Dr. Leupold’s commentary.
Recommended for discreet use.