Contemporary Scandinavian Theology

Writing from Lund, Sweden, with the double competence of living in Scandinavia and being a scholar of ability, Dr. Gottfried Hornig gives us a survey of contemporary systematic theology. His article, “Systematische Theologie in Dänemark und Schweden” in the revived Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie (1959), sketches for us the kind of work being done by the leading scholars of theology in Denmark and Sweden. He begins his article by calling our attention to the continued intensive studies of Luther in both countries. This is followed by an exposition of how the Scandinavian scholars are participating in international theological scholarship and conversation.

Contrary to theologians in continental Europe, Swedish theologians are not being influenced by contemporary existential philosophies but by the analytic school. This gives them a different stance and point of criticism as they interact with continental scholars. Actually there is strong criticism of these “existential theologies”—and Hornig names Barth along with Brunner, Gogarten, and Bultmann as an existential theologian.

Catholics have spent much personnel and effort in attempting to influence the Scandinavian countries, but with scant success. The countries remain 95 percent Lutheran. There are hardly 50,000 Catholics in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Yet, a number of Lutheran scholars have become experts in Thomist thought and Catholic theology.

Turning to Denmark he calls our attention to the unusual fact that although we would expect Denmark to be overcome with German theology due to its geographical proximity, such is not the cast. Kierkegaard and Grundtvig have influenced German thought, and present-day Lutheran scholarship in Denmark is giving Barth, for example, very critical treatment.

Hornig picks out three men as representative theologians. Oestergaard-Nielsen has shown the contemporary relevance of Luther’s antimetaphysical theology grounded in the autonomous word of God. Loegstrup works outside the circle of Christianity; and with an analytic approach to ethics, he sees a value even in the great secularization of our day for it makes clear the distinction between a Christian ethic and the secular state and thus ends the hopeless mixing of things Christian and secular that has plagued Western civilization. A secularization of society is the only answer to the Catholic’s Corpus Christianum.

Prenter is an able Lutheran scholar who has given Barth’s theology a thorough check and finds that Barth’s claim to go back to the Fathers and the Reformers is not to be taken at face value. He claims that Barth is guilty of some biased interpretation (Umdeutung) of the theology of these two periods, and is actually more dominated by Plato than the Fathers or Reformers.

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Prenter is also critical of Barth’s doctrine of predestination which effaces the real distinction between the elect and nonelect and implies a universalism that is the negation of the meaning of our earthly existence. (“Das Evangelium der universalen Prädestination ist nicht die frohe Botschaft; denn es lehnt unser zeitliches Leben ab,”: “The gospel of universal predestination is not the happy witness [of the gospel]; for it denies our temporal life.”)

Turning to affairs in Sweden, Hornig says that the Swedish scholars are always busy with research in Luther and New Testament studies. However, the influence of Kierkegaard and modern existential philosophies is practically nil in Sweden. Again it is the school of analytic philosophy that is making itself felt.

Of special importance is Hornig’s observation that there is not one real Barthian convert in Sweden, and that Bultmann’s theses have hardly been noticed. Very sharp criticism of Barth is prevalent among the Swedish theologians.

Next, Hornig gives us the names of outstanding Luther-scholars and describes the character of their work. Systematic theologians, interested in Luther, but not experts in dogmatic history as such, write most of their historical theology in Sweden. Such men as Aulén and Nygren were the pioneers of the new Swedish theology. Although the theses of these men appear to be very similar to those of some neo-orthodox theologians, it is really a parallel development and not a case of the Swedes borrowing from the Swiss and Germans. The work of Erich Schaeder was really the more influential force in their thought.

Swedish theologians are not concerned with Kierkegaard and the paradox, but with the critical problems of theology raised by Kant and Schleiermacher. This has led them away from a typical neo-orthodox theological method to a method of their own known as motif-research. The leader of this new type of investigation is Nygren’s successor, G. Wingren. Wingren does not believe that there is a universal procedure valid for all theological problems, but only specific methods for specific problems. His main shots are aimed at Barth against whose method he opposes his own “phenomenological analysis and Scriptural exegesis.” When Barth interprets creation and law in a Christological manner, Wingren claims that he has destroyed the real meaning of these concepts. Rather than take Barth’s Christological point of departure, Wingren advocates an anthropological one. For, argues Wingren, unless we establish the meaning and function of the Law, there is nothing we can preach to in the heart of the unregenerate. Wingren is a Lutheran, and the Law-Gospel “dialectic” in Lutheran theology is one of its most impressive parts. Barth rejects the Lutheran view of Law, so Wingren spends much time in criticizing Barth’s view.

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In the field of ethics we have such scholars as Hillerdal and Eklund, both of which reject the Barthian ethic which is founded completely on the word of God and has little taste for philosophical ethics. Eklund is a sharp student of modern analytic philosophy and rejects completely theological ethics or ethics wholly revelational. There can be no “leap into the dark” kind of faith. He objects to the orthodox doctrine of faith as faith in a doctrine and the existential faith as something that has no substantiation in the New Testament. Faith is a combination of experience, an assent to a theory or an assumption, and a practical attitude of trust. Rather than being disinterested in matters of fact, as existentialists claim to be, faith (according to the New Testament) is intensely interested in fact. All forms of irrationalism and intellectualism are contrary to the New Testament. In this connection Eklund is very sharp with neo-orthodoxy, as the latter attempts to give a respectably scientific character to positions inherently unworthy of it. The Bible does not support the skeptical spirit of neo-orthodoxy towards human reason.

Theology must free itself from the influence of Kierkegaard and Barthianism (“der pseudowissenschaftlichen Agitation des Barthianism!”). In fact, Schweitzer has asked the more fundamenatl question than Barth: in modern theology it is the relationship between symbol and substance, picture and reality (Symbol und Sache, Bild und Wirklichkeit).

In New Testament studies there is the commentary of Nygren on Romans and the thorough commentary on Galatians by Bring.

The most practical problems of 1957 and 1958 was whether women should be ordained (an issue somewhat complicated by the Lutheran view of the sacraments). There were stout representatives for both sides. In patristic studies, the past few years have been given over to studies in Augustine and Aquinas. One of the most interesting features of the latter is Per Erik Persson’s thesis that Aquinas really believed in sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Therefore Aquinas, not Luther, is the first to propound this thesis, and the post-Aquinas development of Roman Catholic theology has been away from the view of Aquinas in spite of the modern movement in Catholicism of neo-Thomism.

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Devotional Reading

Life Crucified, by Oswald C. J. Hoffmann (Eerdmans, 1959, 125 pp., $2.50), is reviewed by John R. Richardson, Minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia.

This suggestive study, appearing as last year’s selection in Eerdmans Annual Lenten Series, provides the reader with a rich and rewarding exposition and practical application of Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” Here is a realistic and reasonable call to vital Christian living, developed from a study into the meaning of the cross of Christ for Christian experience today.

The book abounds with Scripture passages appropriately used. Pertinent real-life illustrations from the author’s own teaching and preaching (The Lutheran Hour radio program) ministry enhance the forcefulness of the 14 chapters. The chapters on living one day at a time and on prayer are worth much more than the price of the book. The reader is challenged to walk the way of the Cross in all of life, to live in day-by-day fellowship with the Crucified One, and really to participate in His cross life as well as His cross death.

The perceptive reader will want to restudy the New Testament doctrine of the Incarnation and compare the same with certain passages of Hoffmann, such as, “The spectacle of all human history is that God offered Himself in behalf of His enemies” (p. 82); “In Christ, God made Himself responsible for everything wrong in life” (p. 99); and also earlier in the book, “Faith in Jesus Christ gradually brings about a change which replaces bitterness with love … love helps to bear the burdens of the world. It acts that way because it is an extension of the limitless Love which bore our griefs” (p. 37). In the opinion of this reviewer, such statements weaken the total teaching value of an otherwise excellent book. As a corrective, the reader may refer to Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, chapters on the Unipersonality of Christ and The States of Christ, the State of Humiliation (pp. 321–343). Here the reader is correctly reminded, “The deity cannot share in human weaknesses; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead” (Berkhof, p. 324).

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But the average reader may not wish to bother himself with some of the finer points of difference between Lutheran and other Reformed theology. Even so, Dr. Hoffmann has given the Christian world some powerful devotional reading for any season of the year—solid stuff to strengthen Christian life and character from youth to maturity.


Critical Of Easy Answers

God’s Image and Man’s Imagination, by Erdman Harris (Scribner’s, 1959, 236 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Harold B. Kuhn, Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Asbury Theological Seminary.

The relation between God’s nature and man’s understanding of him has engaged thinkers since Augustine. Professor Harris raises this issue against the backdrop of the current freedom with which the Deity is mentioned. This volume seeks to discover a middle way for the comprehension of God’s nature, to be sought between the extremes of “supernaturalistic anthropomorphisms” and an attenuated “cosmic” theism.

Starting with the evident lack of congruity between an infinite nature and any finite grasp of that nature, our author examines the various images of God which are held by the naive Theist, the critical Theist, the Bible itself, Tradition, the Godly, the Guided, Cults and Sects, the Righteous, Hymn and Song, and by Man Under God’s Tutelage. Dr. Harris is rightly critical of the flippant images in current parlance, such as “The Man Upstairs” or “the Athlete’s Friend.” But he is inclined to condemn out of hand any anthropomorphisms, and at times gives the impression of complete nonsympathy with anything other than the philosopher’s understanding of God.

The work takes for granted that all religious language is symbolic. Man the artist seeks, through creative imagination, to satisfy his deepest longings with symbols. Certainly this element does exist within the area of man’s religion. But one is left, especially after reading the chapter titled, “The God of the Bible,” to ask himself whether Revelation was as greatly inhibited and baffled by human idiocyncrasies as the chapter suggests? It is not made clear whether there has been a genuine divine disclosure, or whether ‘revelation’ is the product of man’s imagination taking “its most daring surmise into the unknown.”

The exploration of these questions, together with that of the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity, is pursued with few theological inhibitions, since the author professes to operate within the context of conventional theological liberalism. The volume bristles with ideas that challenge equanimity in the face of much of current religious life and expression. The author is critical of easy answers and seeks to trace Christian theological propositions to the common spring of dedication and reverence in human life. In so doing, he seems to this reviewer to have succumbed to the tendency to emphasize subjective responses and formulations to the point at which one major question is by-passed. It is the question of whether we may have a reasonably true and adequate image of God; and if we can is there a source beyond mere speculative imagination that can inform us with reasonable accuracy in such matters?

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A Memorial

John Calvin, Contemporary Prophet, a symposium edited by Jacob T. Hoogstra (Baker, 1959, 257 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by Paul Jewett, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

The occasion of this book is the 450th anniversary of the birth of Calvin and the 400th anniversary of the last edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is a memorial in the form of a symposium devoted to brief essays by Reformed scholars from all parts of the world. The general thrust is to show what kind of Christianity the great Geneva Reformer gave his life and his labors to defend and propagate. Besides the introduction, the book contains 13 essays subsumed under three parts. The first part consists of three essays on the humility of Calvin in his prophetic office. The second part consists of one essay on the pen of the prophet, and the third is made up of nine essays on various facets of Calvin’s thought, such as, his view of the inspiration of Scripture, the kingdom of God, ecumenicity, missions, the Roman church, the social order, the political order, and aspects and facets of his thought particularly relevant to the contemporary discussion.

The style of writing is quite uneven, and one is particularly aware that the English is less than great literature in certain passages translated from the Dutch. The contributors obviously are enthusiastic about John Calvin. Though the reviewer shares this enthusiasm, he gets the feeling from time to time that the portrait of Calvin is too flatteringly drawn. Calvin is called in the preface “the highest peak in the Reformation range,” and if everything in this book is to be taken at its face value, then he was undoubtedly that.

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The chapters on Calvin’s views of ecumenicity and foreign missions are especially pertinent, since material like this will help to dissipate the myth that Calvin was a heresy hunter, a controversialist who could not live with anyone who disagreed with him, and that above all he was lost in theological debates and did not care for the heathen who were damned anyway because the number of the elect was too small to be worth missionary effort. On the whole the book is a good one, easy to read, and full of pertinent information.


Mass Evangelism

Modern Revivalism, Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham, by William G. McLoughlin, Jr. (Ronald Press Co., 1959, 530 pp., $6.50), is reviewed by Timothy L. Smith, Chairman of the History Department, East Texas State College.

This volume is a history of professional mass evangelism in America since 1825. Professor McLoughlin’s first publication in this field was a life of Billy Sunday, and in many ways his new book expresses the same point of view. Here, however, he develops fully a sophisticated sociological hypothesis concerning the forces back of great periods of “awakening” in American religious history.

McLoughlin believes that national mass awakenings have originated in periods when a basic theological reorientation was taking place, accompanied by extensive ecclesiastical conflict, a deep sense of social and spiritual cleavage “welling up of pietistic dissatisfaction with the prevailing order” and, at the same time, a feeling on the part of those outside the churches that Christianity somehow could solve their problems. Religion, then, and particularly that form of Protestantism displayed in “modern revivalism” (professional mass evangelism), is a relatively inert institution whose development is determined by social change. Paradoxically, however, the author evaluates any particular revivalist in terms of the degree to which he promotes desirable social reforms.

No thoughtful evangelical can fail to receive much profit from this book. The chapters on Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday are based upon broad research in private papers, as well as in published materials, and bring to light many new facets of their careers. Of special importance are Professor McLoughlin’s careful study of the changing techniques of mass evangelism; his penetrating discussions of the role and motives of business men who sponsored “citywide” campaigns; and his sensitivity to the fact that the revival movement in each of the four “great awakening” periods of American history was but one in a manifold series of religious readjustments to social change.

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Careful students of American church history may question whether the delineation of these four periods is valid. Other scholars have shown that the “second” great awakening certainly did not stop in 1835, but progressed steadily, under the leadership of both professional and pastoral evangelists, right down through the Civil War years to Moody’s day. Moreover, the revivalism of Moody’s era seems to have continued without a break of any sort into the twentieth century, by which time it had developed various patterns, as McLoughlin makes clear. The question is pivotal for the central thesis of the book is that there were “periods” of revival which require sociological explanation.

One of the author’s major achievements of the book is his careful discussion of the way the preaching of the great professional evangelists was related to the current theological scene. Thus he shows that Charles G. Finney’s preaching demonstrated and furthered the rapid abandonment of the older Calvinism; Moody’s call to the “heartfelt,” old-time religion was an antiphony to the emergence of progressive theology; Billy Sunday’s war on the saloon was a kind of parody of the social gospel; and Billy Graham’s revival movement is a popular expression of the same kind of spiritual concern expressed on a more sophisticated level by neo-orthodoxy. Although Mr. McLoughlin is unsympathetic toward the revivalists, he never fails to see that they have been an authentic part of the response of American Christianity to successive major challenges.

Considerably less successful is the author’s effort to explain various forms of revivalism in terms of social psychology. The discussion of middle class leadership of the revivals of the period when J. Wilbur Chapman and Billy Sunday were in their prime, for example, applies Richard Hofstadter’s theory of the “status revolution” to the revival movements, but the evidence presented is far too scanty to support the point. The description of the various kinds of personal and social insecurity which he believes explains the growth of independent fundamentalists and holiness groups in the 1930’s is without documentary evidence altogether. The question in fact recurs throughout one’s reading of the book: many volumes which purport to be “objective” historical treatises properly intermix generalizations based upon sound and extensive research with others founded upon more or less wishful speculation?

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This question becomes particularly pressing when the author bases comments about the affairs of Christianity generally upon testimony from the professional evangelists alone. The chapter on Sam Jones is a case in point. Using only the evidence of Sam Jones’ statements, McLoughlin declares that a “major reformation” in the Protestantism of the post-Civil War South took place. “Heart religion” gave way to a piety based on resolution and decision; thereafter, only Negroes and small splinter sects indulged in religious emotionalism. This passage turns out to be a sharply critical analysis of what McLoughlin regards as Jones’ abortive and inadequate program for social action. Certainly, anyone acquainted with the history of southern religion during the past 50 years would seriously doubt that emotionalism ever passed from the scene. The religious periodicals of the South for any period of time covered by Sam Jones’ ministry show how superficial was his effect and how shortlived was any “reformation” which he may have brought to pass.

Interestingly enough, the book neglects those forms of Protestant evangelism which during this same period were most effectively coming to grips with the social problem. Sam Jones is scarcely typical of the large company of Methodist evangelists, for example. The author does not discuss General William Booth, nor other leaders of the widespread city mission movement. He ignores the widely discussed war on white slavery in which numerous women sponsors of rescue homes played a vital part. His statements about Wesleyan holiness groups are so inappropriate or inaccurate as to raise the question whether he did any serious research in the primary source materials covering their history at all.

The chapter describing Billy Graham’s work is most unfortunate. The religious as distinct from the socio-psychological explanations of his career is practically ignored. Furthermore, Wheaton College is not a Bible school, and is west, not south of Chicago. It happens to be the largest liberal arts college in the state of Illinois, and is probably as demanding in its admissions standards as any college in America. Its department of anthropology, well known for its contributions to effective preparation of foreign missionaries, will survive McLoughlin’s suggestion that here, as a major, Graham learned only that evolution is not true. The passage on the financial arrangements of Graham’s campaigns, suggesting a parallel between his personal motivation and that of Billy Sunday, is simply antirevival propaganda, not history. Moreover, reading of the Boston newspapers during Graham’s first meeting there makes it plain that the campaign in the Puritan City was as important as that of Los Angeles in establishing the evangelist’s fame, and that his personal sincerity and spiritual strength won the admiration of responsible persons within and outside the churches.

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These errors prompt one to search the book carefully for statements not substantiated by facts. The interplay of American and British evangelism began long before 1865 (p. 153). Neither Moody nor Finney believed that “a truly converted Christian was free from sin and all its temptations”—nor did any “perfectionist” so believe (p. 169). There is not a shred of evidence that “the great majority of southern churchmen were in full accord” with Jones’ assertion that “the purpose of muscular Christianity was to raise the devil” (p. 298–299). Premillennialism was by no means always pessimistic and unconcerned with social reform (p. 343). Nor did what McLoughlin identifies as the third great awakening, from 1875 to 1915, begin as a conflict between scientific scholarship and revealed religion (p. 452).

It is to be hoped that future historians of the various evangelical and revival movements will devote as much patience to all aspects of the story as Mr. McLoughlin has to the revival methods of Finney and Sunday.


Baptist Perspective

Baptist Concepts of the Church, edited by Winthrop S. Hudson (Judson Press, 1959, 236 pp., $3), is reviewed by George Eldon Ladd, Professor of Biblical Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Many Baptists in America feel that the doctrine of the church, so far as the visible church is concerned, begins and ends with the “autonomy of the local church.” This emphasis ignores an important element in the New Testament teaching. The Church universal (shall we say, the “invisible Church”) is the temple of God where God dwells through his Spirit (Eph. 2:22); but the local, visible congregation in Corinth, with its sinfulness, its divisiveness and even its false doctrine (1 Cor. 15:12) is also the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), and Paul speaks in fearful terms of those who injure the temple of God.

American Baptists are concerned about the doctrine of the church. In 1954, the first national theological conference ever conducted by the American Baptist Convention discussed general topics of theological importance. In 1959, a second national theological conference was held at which these papers were presented.

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The book contains eight essays by different authors which are designed to provide historical perspective for Baptists in their study of ecclesiology. It begins with the views of the Particular (Calvinists) Baptists and their confession of faith adopted in 1689 and enlarged in 1742 by the addition of two articles from an English confession prepared by Benjamin and Elias Reach. Other essays discuss the views of the great Baptist Calvinistic theologian, John Gill, and of Andrew Fuller, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, the individualism of Francis Wayland, and the rise and character of Landmarkism which is still prevalent in parts of America. The volume concludes with a summarizing essay on “Shifting Patterns of Church Order in the Twentieth Century” and an appendix on “Dispensationalist Ecclesiology.” These essays present valuable and stimulating background material for the contemporary discussion.


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