Christian Freedom

The Christian Concept of Freedom, by Henry Stob, Grand Rapids International, 1957. 52 pp., $1.25.

This is an important book. It is a slender volume, but in it the author discusses an important topic in an excellent way. The author is professor of Ethics and Apologetics at Calvin Seminary. The book contains two lectures, “The Liberty of Man,” and “The Liberty of Conscience.”

The first lecture stresses the Christian concept of freedom as the means by which man may attain his true place in life “under God who made him and above the nature he is called upon to rule” (p. 32). The author states that “the Christian faith is the taproot of our civilization and by that token is the source of what we have come to regard as one of its most hallowed traditions, the tradition of freedom” (p. 15). Against this definition of freedom, Dr. Stob ably examines the failings of Greek humanism, mediaeval and renaissance philosophy, and Marxist materialism.

The secret of true freedom, says Dr. Stob, is an enigma to the secular mind. But the man of faith knows that freedom begins only when men bow in reverent obedience before God. Christians “bow at this one point and therefore are free at every other … free of nature and on an equality with men.” Dr. Stob continues, “That is why we are deaf to communism; we have no ear for economic determinism. That is why we resist to the death all tyranny; having given our allegiance to the King of Kings we count no man our master—neither the man on horseback, nor the … man in the mitred cap. We stand in awe neither of the man in the Cadillac nor of the man in overalls. We are not intimidated by academic nonsense, and we do not bow before the sacred cow of science. We are free men” (pp. 32–33).

While the first lecture deals with political and social freedom, the second is concerned with problems of the Christian conscience. “Conscience is nothing if not that through which man becomes aware of obligation,” writes Dr. Stob, but conscience does not tell us “what the nature of the Good is to which it is bound.” The Christian believes that a person cannot “in any uncritical sense let conscience be his guide.… It is the Word of God, specifically the Bible, which is the ultimate guide” (pp. 41–45, passim). The Bible commands us to love, “to leave no area of our life unsurrendered to our Lord, no duty to our fellows unfulfilled” (p. 47).

The Christian Concept of Freedom deserves widespread reading. Dr. Stob brings to the discussion of his timely topic both scholarly insight and historical understanding. The language is clear. Best of all, the discussion is drawn from and based on the Scriptures.

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Postwar British Theology

The Box and the Puppets, by Nathaniel Micklem, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1957. 13s/6d.

The reminiscences of the former principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, are full of interest for their self-disclosure of one who made a significant contribution to British theology. Of even greater interest is the light they throw on the religious life of English Nonconformity during the present century and on personalities past and present who helped to mould theological opinion.

Educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford, and subsequently at Mansfield College in the days of A. M. Fairbairn, W. B. Selbie, James Moffatt and J. Vernon Bartlet, Micklem became a “Nonconformist because of principle and not because of the seductive claims of contemporary Dissent.” His early years were academic rather than pastoral and in 1927 he was appointed to the New Testament Chair in Queens Theological College, Kingston, Ontario.

On returning to England four years later Micklem was shocked by the extent to which liberal theology had developed in his denomination. The Blackheath group led by Frank Lenwood (author of Jesus—Lord or Leader) had produced a statement of faith which they proposed to substitute for the old beliefs, and Micklem incurred the odium of being regarded as a reactionary by a considerable body of opinion in the Congregational church. “If the Congregational churches suffered more than most from the rationalism and anti-supernaturalism of the day, they were not alone.” While regarded as conservative by many, Micklem found himself defending Eric Roberts, a Baptist minister who in the early thirties was removed from his charge by the Baptist Union of Scotland for views hardly distinguishable from Unitarian. He considered the theology of liberalism of that time was inadequate to its faith.

It is significant that following the uncertainty of the early thirties a remarkable change took place, especially from 1937 onward, from which time candidates “seemed to have in the main a far clearer understanding and a far deeper experience of evangelical religion than their predecessors. I believe that my impression would be confirmed by other college principals in office then. I cannot account for this except as an unpredictable blowing of the Spirit.” In a slightly different context, the author later remarked, “The hope of the Free Churches lies under God in the men who since 1939 (roughly) have been entering the ministry.” And again, “Not all the changes have been wholly good; a reaction to ‘Fundamentalism’ in some quarters and in others a virtual repudiation of the Age of Reason are disquieting: but that there has been something like a new consciousness of the Gospel and a deepening grasp upon its implications in many places is not to be doubted.”

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In short, Micklem largely typifies postwar British theology, disillusioned by the liberalism which sapped its vitality in the generation just past, and yet not sure of the ground to which it is inclined to return. It is altogether a refreshing autobiography with much to encourage thankfulness—and some things to regret.


Freedom And Christianity

God, Gold, and Government by Howard E. Kershner, Prentice-Hall, 1957. 146 pp. $2.95.

This book is an expansion of lectures the author gave at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1955 as part of the American Heritage Series. The subject matter is of paramount importance: the relationships between Christianity, on the one hand, and government and economic life on the other. Dr. Kershner, who is also the editor of Christian Economics and the president of the Christian Freedom Foundation, writes with great passion and evident sincerity, and has done a most commendable job in presenting his subject in a convincing and interesting manner. His book is full of good illustrations and excellent quotations.

Dr. Kershner is at his best in driving home the absolute necessity of having a truly honest and trusted monetary system. For Dr. Kershner, this is the gold standard. He lays a heavy charge on all governments and public servants who connive to steal a people’s substance and rob them of their confidence by “legal theft” and “legislative dishonesty.” The consequences of such monetary immorality he spells out most clearly, and his conclusion is hardly escapable, that we must restore the soundness of our dollar or face imminent danger of economic disaster.

His chapter on the virtues of the profit motive is fine. It will unfortunately mean more to a communist reader than to most of us. We take the profit motive for granted, perhaps to our peril. The communist cannot take it for granted, and he knows from sad experience how right Dr. Kershner is about it.

In some places Dr. Kershner has not written fully enough and is liable to considerable misinterpretation. For example, serious students of socialism and communism will probably feel that Dr. Kershner’s words about slum clearance do not by any means indicate an appreciation of what socialists and communists propose to do with the problem. And one might wish that Dr. Kershner had written more on the relationship of big corporations to Christianity.

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It may not have been intentional on his part, and may in fact be quite contrary to what he really believes, but Dr. Kershner leaves the impression that, in his opinion, freedom, political and economic, came first, and afterward Christianity. If this is Dr. Kershner’s opinion, he is wrong. Difficult as it has been, Christianity has previously survived and grown without freedom, and can again, if need be. There can be Christianity without freedom. It was born among slaves and first appeared among the remote villages of a captive nation. But where have representative government, freedom and free-enterprise survived without Christianity?

For millions of people today, as well as in the past, there is not the conflict between obedience to God and obedience to the state which Dr. Kershner labors so heavily. And what of those for whom the voice of the state is, and always has been, the “voice of God?” And what of St. Paul’s injunction to Christians to “be subject to the higher powers?” “The powers that be are ordained of God,” says he. Dr. Kershner needs to outline much more clearly just what the relations between a Christian and his government should be, and what the relations between a Christian and his God should be also.

There is in vogue today a most amazing patronizing attitude toward Christianity, especially by the noncommunist West. It ought to be rejected, and such patronizing should be stopped. Christ does not need our patronage. Before us all he stands as the Judge. We may take comfort in the fact that our enemies are definitely anti-Christian, but we should err greatly if we allowed such comfort to becloud the fact that some of our own thinking and conduct may be anti-Christian also. For we are assured in Scripture, “There is no respect of persons with him.”


Reference Work

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross, Oxford, 1957. 1,492 pp., $17.50

A new and comprehensive reference work, conceived and produced in accordance with the standards of the Oxford University Press, cannot be regarded as other than an event of major importance.

All who confess to an interest in the historical affairs and personalities of the Christian church will welcome the achievement of this Dictionary and will acknowledge their indebtedness to Professor Cross as the editorial designer and fashioner of so great a project. Regarding the scope of the volume, the editor offers the following remarks:

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“If in the present work fuller attention has been paid to Western Christendom than to later Eastern Orthodoxy, to Christianity in Britain than to that of the Continent, to the events of the nineteenth century than to those of the tenth, this disproportion is only relative. In any case it may be presumed that the reader will welcome fuller information on matters at closer range.

“If on the other hand, to some readers outside Europe it seems that insufficient attention has been given to the non-European lands where Christianity is now firmly planted, it must be recalled that the church’s connection with Mediterranean and European countries is of far longer standing, and this fact is necessarily reflected in the subject-matter of a work in which the treatment is historical.”

The range of this work is extensive, the entries are concise and informative, and have been followed by bibliographies which, though not intended to be exhaustive, in some cases might with advantage have been more up to date. If there is a bias, it is certainly on the Roman Catholic rather than the Protestant side; and where scriptural questions are involved, it is on the critical rather than the conservative side. Inaccuracies may be detected here and there—for instance, the Church Association is spoken of as though still in existence as a separate entity, whereas in 1950 it was amalgamated with the National Church League (not mentioned) to form the Church Society (not mentioned.

But the value of this new Dictionary is beyond question. It will be consulted with pleasure and profit for years to come.


Reality Of Hell

The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment by Harry Buis, Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadelphia, 1957. $2.75.

Here is a scholarly yet practical discussion of interest to any Christian who desires to mediate God’s Word to modern man. The subject of sin, punishment and hell vs. obedience, redemption and heaven is the theme of Divine revelation. First we have the choice, then the responsibility to proclaim the alternatives facing the human soul.

This subject is too lightly skipped over in most of our preaching and teaching today. And yet, in the words of Richard Baxter, “If the wrath of God be so light, why did the Son of God himself make so great a matter of it?”

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This author has done a masterful piece of research and has assembled chronologically the best thought on this subject from the Old Testament, the inter-testamental period, New Testament, pre-Reformation, the Reformation and on up to date. He includes the present-day conservative position, and discussions on infant salvation and damnation, on the heathen who have not heard the Gospel, and on the denials by the cults. He discusses Annihilationism, Universalism and the historic Christian doctrine held by our denominations.

There is abundant quotation material here for preaching, and some good theological word-study and exegesis. Here are some quotations. Augustine confessed, “Thy right hand was continually ready to pluck me out of the mire, and to wash me thoroughly, and I knew it not; nor did anything call me back from a yet deeper gulf of carnal pleasures, but the fear of death and of thy judgment to come; which, amid all my changes, never departed my breast.”

“Is not God then also merciful?” asks the Heidelberg Catechism; and it answers, “God is indeed merciful, but also just, therefore his justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.”

He who knows and trusts his Bible understands that Jesus the lover of our souls is the person responsible for this doctrine. “He is the being with whom all opponents of this theological tenet are in conflict. Neither the Christian church, nor the Christian ministry are the authors of it,” says the author.

Bishop John Ryle of Liverpool said, “Let others hold their peace about hell if they will—I dare not do so. I see it plainly in Scripture, and I must speak of it. I fear that thousands are on that broad road that leads to it, and I would fain arouse them to a sense of the peril before them.”

Present-day conservative theology holds that “Hell is a reality, but the concepts such as fire must be taken symbolically, as symbols of a very real and very serious spiritual fact. The liberal fails to understand our position when he thinks we take these symbols literally. On the other hand, the ultra-conservative literalist must be made to understand that we have in no way abandoned the belief in eternal punishment when we advocate such a symbolical interpretation.”


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