Area Of Agreement
Ecumenism and the Evangelical, by J. Marcellus Kik, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957. $3.50.
Explicitly in the case of “ecumenism” and implicitly in the case of “evangelical,” the author acknowledges that a wider area of agreement in definition is a desideratum devoutly to be wished. He nevertheless proceeds on the reasonable assumption that the whole ecumenical development whose principal symbol is the World Council of Churches has reached a stage where it needs to be more thoroughly assessed by those who take seriously the Christianity of the historic creeds.
A brief consideration of ecumenical moods and motives launches the discussion on its way, following which certain “evangelical apprehensions” are put forward: ecumenism’s generally weak or ambiguous Christology, its tendency to attenuate theological concern in general, its drift toward an inclusiveness that minimizes differences, its growing fondness for the ecclesiological concept of the Church as a visible society, and its often aggressive insistence on the “sinfulness” of denominationalism.
It is held that the “authority of Scripture” is accorded too feeble a place within the framework of the ecumenical movement. “Those who reject the authority of Scripture and deny its uniqueness as the infallible revelation of God’s mind and will, are confined to the position of giving authority to religious experience or to the position of agnosticism” (p. 32). Anglicans, with their emphasis upon the authority of the church and of churchly tradition, would almost certainly demur, but the main contention is well argued that ecumenism’s anchorage to Scripture is far more dubious than that of the separate churches and their historic confessions.
Rejected emphatically is the notion that our Lord’s high-priestly prayer, “that they may be one,” must be interpreted to mean “a single comprehensive organization of the churches” (p. 46). Much is made of the Pauline concept of attaining “unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” as set forth in Ephesians. The Holy Spirit is the great unifier, and his ministry in this regard consists principally in bringing the church to a oneness of witness concerning Jesus Christ: “his pre-existence, incarnation, earthly life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, present reign and coming again” (p. 52). It is the “conflict of voices” within the visible church respecting these central matters that constitutes more of a scandal than the existence of denominational groups.
If this objective unity is seriously lacking, so too is the subjective; and the question is not improperly raised: “Could it be possible that absence of spiritual union in Christ has caused modern day stress on external union?” (p. 62).
Exploring the meaning of the ancient and honorable phrase, “The Holy Catholic Church,” the author cautions against the trend toward a narrowly ecclesiastical interpretation of “catholic.” The incongruity in the sentence is a reflection of the more serious incongruity in the structure of the argument put forward, for example, by Professor Knox when he says, “I simply cannot conceive of the union of Christendom except on the ground of a polity which … involves the full acceptance of the historic episcopate” (The Early Church, pp. 142, 143). It is held that far more important than such an impossible basis of unity as this is the unifying of the people of God around the holy disciplines, private and corporate, on which the New Testament speaks firmly.
The significance of such biblical figures of organic unity as “temple” and “body” are worked out along familiar lines, following which the reader is given a look at the contemporary scene vis a vis the existing inter-church and/or inter-believer councils and cooperative agencies, notably the National Council of Churches, the World Council, the International Council of Christian Churches, the American Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Fellowship, and the National Association of Evangelicals. With a better than average measure of objectivity, these are assessed as to their doctrinal orientation and commitment, their inclusiveness or exclusiveness, and their prevailing temper. On a few particulars a more meticulous accuracy would have enhanced the presentation, as, for example, the calculated use of “vicarious” rather than “substitutionary” in the NAE statement of faith (p. 126) and the misdating of the time when NAE officially defined its policy on evangelism so as to make it clear that the task of evangelism was that of the churches and not that of NAE as such. As correctly reported by the editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY in the issue of January 20, 1958, this date was 1943, not 1950.
As might be expected, the author finds it formidably difficult to explain the highly disedifying spectacle of evangelical division and fragmentation. “Ecumenism will never in a thousand and one years achieve the goal of Christian unity until it settles the question of authority” (p. 136). Suppose we agree. But then evangelicals have presumably settled this question. The authority of Scripture is their battle cry. And the result? Along with a creditable amount of informed good will, we have discreditable amounts of division plus divisiveness, sects plus sectarianism, independence plus independency. The author’s plea, therefore, for a vastly more serious coming to grips with the whole concept of the “Church” by those who call themselves “evangelical” is urgently timely.
The book concludes with a chapter called “The Coming Great Church.” The eschatology of this “curtain-dropping” chapter will raise many an eyebrow. Perhaps one should make it stronger: it will raise some theological blood pressure. This reviewer is not prepared to accept the non-premillenarian assumptions of the author, but he is prepared to welcome the fine-tempered discussion of the prophetic Scriptures from a point of view too often totally ignored or inadequately handled by those who have committed themselves to contemporary dispensationalism. In any event, the question may fairly be raised as to whether this particular outlook on the future of the Church is organically bound up with the issues of unity and ecumenicity.
Waiving this point, what seems to me to put us in Mr. Kik’s debt is the practical thesis that ecumenists, however unsatisfactory their theology may be, are often more zealous than “evangelicals” to interpret and to implement the meaning of the Church and the mystery of its oneness.
God’S Work In Prison
Prison Is My Parish, by George Burnham, Revell, 1957. $2.95.
The engaging story of Chaplain Park Tucker is beautifully told in this volume by the well-known journalist, George Burnham. What Mr. Burnham did for Billy Graham and his work, he has now done for the chaplain of Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. This is an amazing story of a man who was rescued from death in the bowels of the earth and who now is giving his life to rescue others from darkness.
Director of U. S. Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett, in the introduction to this volume writes, “Every once in a while a book is published which combines in its appeal a document of human interest and a commentary on our social institutions. This story of Chaplain Tucker is such a book. The successful attempt to raise himself above the economic level into which he was born is not in itself uncommon in our American life, but the quality of his simple religious faith that dominates the book makes the story worth telling.” Director Bennett also points out that from the life and work of Chaplain Tucker we can see the importance of spiritual counselling for men in prison. Chaplain Tucker has a deep and sympathetic understanding of the man in prison and his problems, and a sincere willingness to assist him in finding his proper place when he returns as he must, to our communities. Mixed with the story of tragedy is a delightful sense of humor exhibited by the chaplain.
The finest portions of this volume are the sections devoted to examples of the marvelous redemptive power of Christ. Many instances are set forth to demonstrate that Christ is still able to save unto the uttermost. In the narration of these inspiring stories, Chaplain Tucker is careful to see that all the glory must go to Christ. His comment is “Park Tucker just happened to be on hand when God was at work.”
The final chapter is written by Mrs. Tucker, the chaplain’s wife. She tells of their romance that began at Wheaton College when she was a homesick freshman. She delineates God’s providence in their lives and closes by asking, “How can Park and I ever doubt God’s simple question in the Bible, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ ”
This is indeed a captivating story. It is moving and inspiring and should be a source of real encouragement to young people who have handicaps and need to understand what the grace of God can do to enable them to achieve real success in life. The Christian life is not always easy, but it is thrilling and satisfying.
JOHN R. RICHARDSON
Now Then, by David E. Mason, Broadman, 1957. 96 pp., $1.75.
In this small volume, 86 object lessons have been gathered, each in the form of a modern “parable.” They were originally given to the author’s Louisiana Baptist congregation through the medium of his weekly bulletin.
Pungent with meaning and pointed in application, these one-page moral admonitions range from the solemn to the sardonical, with occasional flashes of delightful humor throughout. He draws upon situations in every area of life and uses these forcefully to drive home his thoughts. He often provokes a chuckle, as when he advocates legalizing thievery to encourage a decrease in crime, then taxing it to provide more schools and jails, the latter to hold the non-tax paying thieves.
For light reading, this volume is most refreshing and, except for one place where the author holds up Albert Schweitzer as the ideal of Christian piety, is wholly commendable, especially to laymen.
JOHN C. NEVILLE
Out Lord and Saviour, His Life and Teachings, by Philip Carrington, Seabury, 1958. $1.75.
What the reader obtains from this little book will depend upon what he brings to it, which is the case in so many instances of modern religious writing. We owe much to Anglican scholarship. There have been notable expositors and exegets among them, whose major concern has been the simplification of the Word of God. But Philip Carrington is not one of these. He has sought to produce a layman’s volume on the life of Christ “in the words of the evangelists” (p. 17). The great mass of words, however, are those of the bishop and not of any translation of Holy Writ.
The uncritical reader will be charmed by the gracious humor, the vivid dramatic style, and the facile expression of one who writes well. The history is set in 12 brief, topical chapters. No one can read them without wishing that he might know Bishop Carrington. The alarming feature of what he has written is found in his almost complete unawareness that there is anything wrong with his Christology. In his attempt to get away from the mustiness so often found in doctrinal emphases, he has achieved the effect of being doctrinally flat. The Jesus that he proclaims is “the Man … center of the gospel,” make no mistake of it. He is not the God-man of proper Christian doctrine. From start to finish there is no portrayal of the one who bore our sins in his body up to the tree. He is the master psychiatrist of all time, whose divinity—what there may be of it—is veiled in the charmingly told, if quite imaginary, story of the Man who, when faced with human psychoses, blandly banishes them by his superlative techniques. For “the acts of Jesus are what we call miracles” (p. 36).
The author is sure that for history we have not Jesus’ exact words (p. 50), and implies that imagination can make up for exactitude. The historically minded will cringe at the airy fashion in which he dismisses the critical and analytical problems which beset any New Testament historian. More than once he has misquoted a Scripture location, as in the case where he places the “myth, or parable, in which (man) loses his claim to eternal life” in the second of Genesis. This kind of loose handling marks many passages.
However, to the sermonizer the bishop can be most useful, for his gift of fancy suggests many areas in which the imagination may properly be allowed to wander. It is his lack of sound doctrine that makes his work distressful reading.
But, for those who know the Gospel, and the Christ of the Gospel, it may be worthwhile to own and use this volume. Obviously, Bishop Carrington has not departed far from historico-critical emphases that must have dominated his seminary days. Possibly he finds in their loose and unscientific assumptions a foil for those unique personality factors which can normally be found in a man who has been the successful ecclesiastical leader of ecclesiastics.
WALTER VAIL WATSON
Unitarianism on the Pacific Coast, by Arnold Crompton, Beacon Press, 1957. 182 pp., $4.50.
The author of this interesting study has for 12 years been the minister of the First Unitarian Church in Oakland, California. He has been intimately connected with the work of the Unitarian denomination and its theological seminary in Berkeley, the Starr King School of Theology. He has had access to the sources in his research activities and has rendered a labor of love in his survey of the first 60 years of Unitarianism on the west coast.
The book is well written and generally irenic in its outlook and treatment. The price tag is out of line with the length of the volume. The book is filled with the same type of experiences which the history of any denomination reveals—hardships, financial stress, disaffection, schism, and all the rest. It is the story of sinful men whose best impulses are colored by their Adamic inheritance. Yet, the author of this volume would hardly agree.
One must be impressed by the influence which the Unitarians have exercised—an influence far beyond their numerical significance. Presidents of institutions like California and Stanford have been numbered among their people. A galaxy of honored names flow across the pages of the volume—men who were scholars in their own right and whose influences have extended far and wide. Among them are to be found fathers and sons, and the names of some of these men sound like a roster of Who’s Who. Channing, Starr King, James Freeman Clarke, John Fiske, the Eliots of Harvard, Edward Everett Hale and others. One is impressed by the close connection of the western Unitarian movement with the seed bed of the movement, Harvard College and Boston, Massachusetts.
In spite of the honored names one cannot help but observe that Unitarianism cannot be identified with historic Christianity except as a heresy. This sect has genuinely supported ideas of freedom and liberty. But in so doing it has lost any true connection with the Christian faith, and this raises the question whether it is entitled to the use of the name Christian at all. No one in this age of enlightenment would refuse these people the right to worship God according to their own beliefs. Nor would any wish to circumscribe their liberties. But one is equally hard put to say, even wishfully, that they are in the stream of the historic Christian faith.
Commentary on Genesis, by R. S. Candlish, 2 vols., Zondervan. $10.95.
The author’s name will be sufficient endorsement of this work for many readers. The one-time principal of New College, Edinburgh, was a leader in the Free Church movement in Scotland and a theological giant among Presbyterians. As such he was an exponent of the covenant theology which is presented here with firmness and yet with winsomeness.
Strictly speaking, these two volumes are not a commentary but rather a series of expositions covering the entire book of Genesis. The method used is not that of word-by-word exegesis but rather the careful examination of passages, sometimes brief and sometimes extended, so as to bring out the meaning and application to the Christian reader. Since there is no quotation of the Hebrew, the work contains no obscurity or difficulty for any Bible student.
The two chief excellences of the Commentary on Genesis, in the reviewer’s opinion, are that it interprets Genesis in the light of the whole of biblical revelation and that it is thoroughly Messianic in its approach. Some readers will not see in Joseph as distinct a type of Christ as does Candlish. Others among evangelicals may be disappointed that the author has found so few types in Genesis.
The scholar will not find in this work a precise exegesis of the Hebrew text but the theologian will find a detailed explanation of the meaning of the text. The preacher will not find in it any ready-made sermons but he will find the material of which good sermons are made. This commentary is highly recommended as one which is likely to prove more fruitful for the pastor’s use than many commentaries on Genesis which have appeared since Candlish first appeared in 1868.
DAVID W. KERR
Foundations, A Baptist Journal of History and Theology, ed. by George D. Younger, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, N. Y., 1958. $3.00 per year.
A new American Baptist historical and theological quarterly appeared in January as successor to The Chronicle, a history journal. More broadly based than its predecessor, its stated purpose is to widen the search for “those foundations on which we Baptists have built.”
A new channel is here provided for continuing the discussion and self-examination begun recently by American Baptists in theological conference. No one school of thought is to be promoted but rather a variety of opinions encouraged, while at the same time a middle course is to be steered between “skepticism” and “dogmatism.” The end hoped for is more agreement among Baptists as well as more understanding between Baptist and other denominations.
The reader is introduced through attractive format to an interesting group of articles displaying on the whole a good level of scholarship, most of which appears to be quite ecumenically conscious—indicating a major thrust of the journal.
The initial article by Daniel D. Williams, only one by other than a Baptist, finds the mysterious expansive power of the Baptists in a personal experience of the Gospel which is “easily intelligible, vividly symbolized,” and Spirit-produced, rather than in any unity of theology, ordinances or polity, of which he notes there is little. Associate Editor Winthrop S. Hudson attempts to show that extreme Baptist individualism is not true to historic Baptist polity, which gave Associations authority over local congregations. Also critical of modern Baptist polity is V. E. Devadutt, whose article carries implicit approval of Baptist inclusion in the proposed church union of North India.
In similar fashion Lynn Leavenworth is heard wondering aloud about rather low Baptist views not only of polity but also the ministry and ordinances. He feels answers are to be gained through “discussion across the ecumenical front.”
Baptist reaction to such views will be traditionally mixed. Some will applaud the idea of curbing what they regard as Baptist excesses, while others will feel that Baptist distinctives are being whittled away. They will ask whether they wish to be brought more in line doctrinally with other churches and whether this is actually a return to their heritage or perhaps a drifting from ancient moorings.
A somewhat different note is struck in the article by Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. He believes that ecumenical interests and Baptist convictions do not necessarily conflict. The only worthy norm, in either case, is the authoritative Scripture. Hope is offered for greater Baptist unity not so much through ecumenical spirit or erasure of doctrinal distinctives as by a “reburnished regard for authoritative biblical imperatives.” Other writers also call for a return to the Scriptures, though Editor Younger expresses wariness of “authoritarianism.”
A rather more ecumenical spirit might well prevail in the book review section where in this initial issue criticism often limited itself to pointing out deviations from Baptist distinctives.
It is to be hoped that this promising journal will renew and enliven conversation among the many diverse groups of Baptists and stir also a long-awaited revival of Baptist theological literature. These are worthy goals.
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