The Doctrine Of Christian Holiness
Christian Holiness, by Stephen Neill (Harper, 1960, 130 pp., $3), is reviewed by Paul S. Rees, Vice-President at large, World Vision, Inc.
The mood of this book is right. The author’s conclusions here and there may be open to question by one or another among us, but the spirit in which everything is written is that of a man deeply concerned because of the vast neglect from which the subject of holiness suffers in contemporary Christianity. Aware that “any doctrine of Christian holiness which tries to do justice to all aspects of the problem is bound to be marked by paradox and antithesis” (p. 9), our Anglican author makes no attempt to employ ridicule or caricature in dealing with viewpoints that are at variance with his own. He himself would learn—and has indeed learned—from those who would be called his dissenters.
The holiness of God is the root of all. It is indeed the mysterium tremendum. But even the Old Testament, stressing as it does the character of God as self-revealing, has little place for a holiness that is not ethical righteousness. In Jesus we see both the disclosure of this religious-ethical holiness and the offer of a relationship between sinful men and Himself in which, through total self-commitment on their part, they are taken up into His likeness.
At this point two principal errors are to be observed and, of course, avoided. The one is called “perfectionist,” the other “conformist.” Most of the perfectionist perversions or deviations singled out for objection would be as readily rejected by, let us say, such a perfectionist as John Wesley as they are by Bishop Neill. The defect in Wesley’s teaching, Neill feels, lies in its faulty concept of sin: “that sin is a thing which has to be taken out of a man like a cancer or a rotten tooth.” (The quotation is taken approvingly from British Methodist Sugden.) One doubts, however, if Mr. Wesley intended any such wooden or materialistic mode of thought. Does not St. Paul lay himself open to the same criticism when he uses such language as, “It is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within in me” (Rom. 7:17)?
It is interesting to note that with equal firmness the Bishop faults the “two nature” theory, which is stoutly maintained by many evangelical thinkers who are quick to disavow perfectionism. In this view the “old nature,” which is altogether bad, and the “new nature,” which is altogether good, co-exist in the Christian until death breaks the bond within which they have been held in opposition to each other.
Bishop Neill, in this reviewer’s judgment, would have rendered a distinguished service if he had given us a treatment of the “perfectionist elements in the New Testament” which he says are in fact found there, in the light of all those insights which have come to us through “depth psychology.” We are so committed to “schools” of sanctificationist thought that we are failing to grapple seriously with the paradox of perfection and imperfection, total surrender and unrecognized un-Christlikeness, astonishing victory and penitent abasement, as we find it in the New Testament. Our author’s criticisms are not pointless, but they lack an adequate counterpart and correction.
The other error discussed is “the conformist.” It is described as “the making of minimum demands which are out of relation to the real exigencies of the Gospel, and so of eliminating that dimension of ultimate demand and ultimate self-commitment which is the realm in which Christian holiness moves” (p. 44). “State religion” and “state churches” are particularly open to this danger. A kind of holiness is here produced which consists of “outward conformity” and which rests, therefore, on a basis of regulation and of law. In this scheme it is not too difficult to bring in multitudes of unconverted, uncommitted people and simply train them in “good churchmanship.” Thus by-passed is that grace which is forever God’s gift to the bankrupt and is forever bearing fruit in that genuine Christlikeness which is the opposite of self-righteousness.
The link between holiness and love is recognized in a chapter called “The Place of Holiness.” “Never a fugitive and cloistered virtue,” New Testament holiness must be experienced and expressed within the fellowship of the Church and, through that fellowship, within the alien context of the world. Penetration into the world, not withdrawal from it, is the order of grace under the Lordship of Christ. And to this end the Holy Spirit, who has been given to the Church, must be allowed in fact to govern the Church—again, of course, under Christ’s Lordship.
Timely and trenchant are Neill’s remarks in a concluding chapter titled, “What, Then, Do We Preach?” If we tell Christians, as we do in a well-known Catechism, that they “sin daily in words and deeds, by commission and omission,” what is to prevent their coming to adopt a defeatist attitude toward Christian living? Rightly, our author deplores this: “The idea of justification by faith is brought into the center of the Christian picture, sometimes almost to the exclusion of any doctrine of the living Christ and of the work of the Holy Spirit” (p. 114).
What then is the positive word the Church should proclaim? Christ as Lord—he must be given no lesser place. What else? The role of discipline, as the counterbalance and the confirmation of all spontaneity and immediacy in Christian experience. What else? The rejection, for good and all, of “the unbiblical division of life between the sacred and the secular; if we do not meet God in the most ordinary and banal of daily occupations we shall not meet Him anywhere.”
Criticisms by the reviewer are inescapable here and there. Although he is no authority on Bultmann, the latter’s radically defective view of the relation between revelation and history aborts any fruitful effort to link his name with an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s place in the Christian concept of time. Surely Bultmann is by no means unique in his insistence, along with Kierkegaard, that Jesus Christ is in some profound sense “our contemporary.”
And clearly there is little helpfulness in the statement that “Of course we are all bad,” with the “we” so employed as to apply indiscriminately to St. Francis and Al Capone, unless we bring such an observation into juxtaposition with the New Testament declaration that Barnabas, for example, “was a good man.” Admittedly, his estimate of himself would not have been cast in those terms, but this, more importantly, is God’s estimate of him as a man who was “full of the Holy Spirit.”
Let nothing adversely said detract from the fact that Stephen Neill has made, in firm yet irenic fashion, a probing contribution to the literature of Christian sanctity.
PAUL S. REES
Follow Me: Discipleship According to Saint Matthew, by Martin H. Franzmann (Concordia, 1961, 216 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Faris Daniel Whitesell, Professor of Practical Theology, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Here’s a splendid example of the type of expository preaching needed in our churches. Around the general theme of discipleship, the author opens up the whole book of Matthew in seven chapters, with material in each chapter for about four expository sermons. In dealing with everything in the Gospel of Matthew, he naturally has to pass over some sections lightly, but when he strikes an idea of major significance, he stops long enough to explain it and gather together all the other biblical material bearing on it, for example, Spirit, repentance, baptism of John, ransom, and so forth.
The exposition is loose and synthetic rather than close and exegetical, but the reader or hearer receives a graphic overall impression of where Matthew is taking him. Here and there are keen insights. “The disciples preserved the record of Jesus’ words and deeds, of course. But they do not appear in history as expositors of Jesus’ words; it is remarkable how rarely Jesus’ words are cited in the apostolic writings. They are His witnesses, witnesses to his Person and his history, his words and works in indissoluble unity.”
The book lacks illustrations from modern life, but the material is so suggestive that adequate illustrations will occur to the average expositor.
FARIS DANIEL WHITESELL
Toward Church Education
Church Education for Tomorrow, by Wesner Fallaw (Westminster, 1960, 219 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Cornelius Jaarsma, Professor of Education, Calvin College.
That the church has a teaching function is generally accepted, and clearly taught in Scripture. What the nature of the teaching function of the church should be and how it is to be carried out is nebulous and ill-defined in the minds of many church leaders, not to speak of the church membership in general. The author of this book addresses himself to this problem with clarity and purpose.
What should the church teach and how should she organize her instructional program to meet the needs of the youth of the church in our time? How can the church recruit competent personnel and educate them to assume the responsibility of teaching in the church school with effectiveness? Why is the Sunday school unequal to the responsibility? Why is the released-time program inadequate? These are the questions that this book tries to answer.
The church school must take the place of the Sunday school. It must be staffed with personnel under the leadership of a teacher-pastor, professionally educated as a teacher and theologically educated as a preacher. The preaching, teaching, and pastoral function should be brought into working relationship. A curriculum and methodology should be organized and made operative that meets readiness levels of learning in the development of youth.
Many fine things can be said about this timely volume. It is psychologically and sociologically oriented. Its theological message is Bible-centered and evangelical. The religious education ideas and ideals of theological liberalism are discarded on theological grounds while much of the educational theory of this movement soundly rooted in experimental education is retained. This is a book for today to prepare leaders for tomorrow.
There are some weaknesses in the book that a critical reader discovers. The discussion of person and personality is more in line with the doctrine of man implied in secular psychologies than in keeping with the teaching of Scripture. The author dismisses too easily the parochial and Christian day school solution to the educational problem. Here, as elsewhere, he gives evidence of a dualism of religion and culture rather than recognizing the Lordship of Christ for all of life.
Every pastor and seminary professor should read this work. The author has many pertinent suggestions on counseling, curriculum revision in church education, seminary curricula, and the like.
Basic Writings in Christian Education, edited by Kindig Brubaker Cully (Westminster, 1960, 350 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Harold C. Mason, Professor of Christian Education, Asbury Theological Seminary.
This anthology makes a handy and unique source book for use in courses in Christian education. It consists of 31 writings dating from the time of Clement of Alexandria about A.D. 200 to that of Luther, Calvin, Milton, Locke, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Herbart, Coe, and Dewey. One may read of baptismal regeneration, the age of accountability, discipline, rapport, memorization, authority and sources, revelation, individual differences, methods, nature of man, content and experience centered curricula.
The editor sees in all the writings a “continuity of Christian concern,” and in his introduction he seems to espouse “neo-supernaturalism” and “a newer biblical theology.”
HAROLD C. MASON
They Have Found the Secret, by V. Raymond Edman (Zondervan, 1960, 159 pp., $2.50), is reviewed by Alan Redpath, Pastor, Moody Church, Chicago.
There is a mark of reality about the experiences of these saints which is sadly lacking in Christian circles today. I verily believe that if Christian people could grasp the secret which they have discovered, there would be a mighty revival in the land.
The emphasis of this book upon the experience of the indwelling life of Christ transforming the child of God is one which is widely needed. It drives home the truth that an unholy life is simply the evidence of an unchanged heart, and an unchanged heart is a clear indication of an unsaved soul. The grace of God which does not make men different from what they were before they received Christ is a worthless counterfeit of reality. I was profoundly impressed by the message of this book. It should have a very wide circulation and bring blessing to thousands of lives.
Language, Logic and God, by Frederick Ferré (Harper, 1961, 184 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by William Young, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Rhode Island.
Contemporary English philosophy, influenced by Wittgenstein’s methods of linguistic analysis, approaches theism and Christianity by employing subtle logical techniques, at first sight trivial, but productive of far-reaching consequences. At last a book has appeared summarizing and evaluating the philosophy of religion that has been developed during the last decade at Oxford and by analytical philosophers elsewhere. The author distinguishes carefully between the verificational analysis of the logical positivists and the less restricted functional analysis in vogue at the present time. Cogent criticism of accounts of theological language in terms of analogy, obedience, and encounter is followed by discussions of “improper,” familiar, and unique functions of theological discourse and by a concluding chapter on the manifold logic of theism. The author’s theological position is unequivocally theistic, though it betrays influences of Scottish “neo-orthodoxy.” While critical of the linguistic nonsense uttered by Barthians, which he aptly brands as “logical docetism” (p. 89), Ferré infelicitously calls Calvin “a fountainhead of the logic of obedience” (p. 82), that is, the Word of God as espoused by Barth, Torrance, and Hendry.
More detailed replies to the arguments of Findlay (pp. 30–32, 48–50), of Wisdom (pp. 131–135), but most of all of Flew on Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom (pp. 116–120) are needed if the complexity of the issues discussed and the delicacy of the anlysis involved are to receive due justice. Flew has launched a devastating attack on the “free-will defence,” while Ferré ignores the Pelagian errors consequent on the denial that a free human action may be determined by God.
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