End Of The Story: A Deepening Gloom

Religion in the Old Testament, by Robert H. Pfeiffer (Harper, 1961, 276 pp., $6.00), is reviewed by Oswald T. Allis, formerly Professor of Old Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa.

With the death of Dr. Pfeiffer, critical biblical scholarship lost one of its ablest representatives. As archaeologist and especially as biblical critic, his pen had been exceedingly busy. The bibliography compiled by his widow covers nearly 24 pages and lists a truly amazing array of books, articles, and reviews. His magnum opus, the Introduction to the Old Testament, was first published in 1941; and the present work which may be regarded as in a sense its sequel or complement was two-thirds finished when he laid down his pen. It has been completed, so far as was possible, from his own papers by his friend and close associate C. C. Forman of the Harvard Divinity School.

As an Old Testament critic it may be said of Dr. Pfeiffer that in general he adhered more closely to the Wellhausen tradition than do many of the critical scholars of today. Like Wellhausen and Robertson Smith he sought the origins of biblical religion among the Bedouins of Arabia.

Of two possible ways in which the religion of the Bible can be presented, as “the record of man’s groping after God” or as “the record of God’s progressive revelation of himself to man,” Dr. Pfeiffer chose the former (p. 8). There are obviously quite serious difficulties involved in such a choice. If we take the Bible as it stands, it is quite plain that it is the divine side which is by far the more important. The Bible is the Word of God, because its great aim is to record the self-revealing words and deeds of God. To ignore this God-ward side completely would make the Bible, to say the least, a very impoverished book. Hence the tendency with those who adopt this line of approach is to treat the God-ward side as merely an aspect of the human side; to say with G. A. Barton, “From the divine standpoint God reveals truth; from the human, man discovers it” (The Religion of Israel, 1918, p. 1), which practically amounts to saying that revelation and discovery are merely two names for the same thing. The tendency is thus to substitute a pantheizing immanentism for the robust theism of the Bible.

The human account of the development of Israel’s religion as it is presented in this volume presupposes of course the acceptance of that rearranging and redating or down-dating of the documents of the Old Testament which is generally accepted in critical circles. That the account which results differs radically from the divine account which the Bible itself gives is too well known to require detailed statement.

Article continues below

The two sides of the picture do not synchronize or harmonize. For example, according to the divine side four of the five books of the Pentateuch record God’s dealings with Israel through Moses. According to the human side as presented here, “Only one verse, the song of Miriam (Exod. 15:21), may be regarded as a contemporary source for the life of Moses, no laws in the Pentateuch can be ascribed to him beyond a shadow of doubt” (p. 45). Deuteronomy is regarded as one of the greatest of the Old Testament books. But it is represented as the culmination or nearly that of a long process of development. We read of “the profound influence of the prophets on the Deuteronomic Code” (p. 163); and we are told (p. 171) that Deuteronomy 4, which is regarded as clearly monotheistic, is “a post-exilic addition based on the Second Isaiah (540 B.C.).” For those who accept Deuteronomy’s express claims to be Mosaic, this equating, theologically, of this early book, with the writings of one whom the critics regard as one of the last and greatest of the prophets is a remarkable justification of the words of Malachi: “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” What the critics put near the end of Israel’s history, the Bible places near the beginning!

Significant of this human treatment of the religion of Israel is of course the claim that “the prophet was not concerned with predicting the future” (p. 117). According to Pfeiffer, prediction is a characteristic of apocalyptic, which arose as a late and debased form “after prophecy was dead.”

The three latest books of the canon are held to be Daniel, Job and Ecclesiastes. Daniel is an apocalypse, which places it outside the prophetic succession. The writer of Job “found refuge in agnosticism” (p. 222). The author of Ecclesiastes “is not only the most radical but the most original thinker in the entire Old Testament.” “Contemporary Judaism produced no orthodox philosopher capable of attacking the theoretical premises of the skepticism and eudaemonism of Ecclesiastes.” All it could do was to add “annotations,” such as 12:13, 14, in order to give a proper ending, as we may call it, to the book (p. 223).

So the story ends in frustration and “a deepening gloom” (p. 224). Yet we are assured that “the history of Old Testament religion is the history of a spiritual triumph.” It is to be noted, therefore, that in order to give this assurance the writer is obliged to bring in the divine side, which he has not set out to depict. To the hopeful words, “the dayspring will one day break,” he is forced to add, “For the God of Israel forever reveals himself and offers salvation and healing to his people.” A striking confession that without the divine side the human side must end in failure and despair! How much better it would have been if Dr. Pfeiffer could have devoted his great talents to giving his readers a picture which included both sides, with special emphasis on that divine factor which is wholly responsible for the unique history of ancient Israel and for its glorious fruition in New Testament Christianity!

Article continues below


A Puritan On Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer, by Thomas Watson (Banner of Truth, 1960, 241 pp., 8s.), is reviewed by F. K. Drayson of Cheshire, England.

This volume is the last of three volumes completing the reprinting of the author’s A Body of Divinity. Those who know Watson value his pithy comments which are full of sound doctrine and practical common sense. The book is in note form rather than running prose; but it is not difficult to read. The danger is that it may be read too quickly, for it contains much worthy of contemplation. And incidentally, the use of illustrations is masterly.

Prayer, says Watson, is a sine qua non for the Christian: “All that have got to heaven have crept thither upon their knees.” Answers to prayer are gifts of God’s grace: “We have not a bit of bread to put into our mouths unless God give it us.” Watson here expounds and applies the doctrine which underlies the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

He wrote in seventeenth century language, but only rarely does the book suffer from out-dated ideas and flashes of scholasticism. If only we had a twentieth-century Watson! He is of excellent value.


World Mission

Let My Heart Be Broken, by Richard Gehman (McGraw-Hill, 1960, 245 pp., $4.90), is reviewed by Edward James Caldwell, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, North Hollywood, California.

Let My Heart Be Broken reads like a contemporary chapter in the Book of Acts. It is an objective report of the way God has used a dedicated man, Robert W. Pierce, and the organization which he founded, World Vision, Inc., throughout the Far East. But since World Vision is a mission organization that cooperates with many existing churches and agencies, this is in a larger sense a report of the World Mission of many parts of the Church of Christ. An example of the wider emphasis and cooperative nature of World Vision is found in the chapter on Taegu, Korea, where “Bob” Pierce is quoted as saying, “The Presbyterian Church built this hospital in 1899.… Presbyterians have done wonderful things here in Taegu. They’ve got a college, they’ve got a high school for boys and one for girls, and they’ve got this hospital. It’s got a hundred ten beds in the main building, and there are between forty and fifty in the children’s hospital we built a couple of years ago. We now contribute about thirteen hundred dollars a month for the care of kids. We also pay the salary of a full-time missionary nurse, Kathy Cowan. It’s one of the projects I mainly wanted you to see.”

Article continues below

This book is a story about people, modern saints who are doing the work of Christ convincingly—such as, Irene Webster Smith (Sensei) in Japan and Mrs. Lillian Dickson in Formosa. Since it is a report of many who are carrying the witness of Christ to the Far East, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Formosa, and India, the book breathes a freshness and an excitement. It reminds us that World Vision itself is a modern miracle which reflects the dynamic and consecrated ability of its unusual founder and president, Bob Pierce.

The book is written in the style of a journal, recording the impressions of its author on his 30,000 mile trip with a World Vision team where he saw the work supported in whole or in part by World Vision and attended a series of pastors’ conferences under their auspices. Having had the privilege of taking a similar trip, I can attest the accuracy of his reporting. Of special interest is the fact that the author did not claim to be a Christian when he began his trip, but says at the end—“Lord, I came to this cause of Christ as something of a skeptic as well as a stranger. Except for my small technical ability to interpret events for mass audiences, I was hardly qualified or worthy. But through the instrument of the ministry of Dr. Pierce, and through what I observed of the people I met, I sit here now not as an alien but as a friend and, more meaningful perhaps, a believer.” And again—“ ‘God bless you.’ It is the first time I have ever said this phrase with sincerity. And as I say it, I realize that these people’s belief in Christ has changed my life. Something has happened to me which, as yet, I am unable to define or evaluate. But it has happened. It is tangible—almost as tangible as the flight bag over my shoulder, the reporter’s burden. The word burden makes me think of my new friends, and what I have learned from them, and how they literally have led me. I want to do something that will tell them what has happened to me, and then I realize that that is unnecessary. They know. All along, they knew it would happen. Bob Pierce punches my shoulder, then waves his hand. He is off again.”

Article continues below

The book is enhanced by photographs by the well-known news photographer, Richard Reinhold.


Favoring The Nonrational

The Limits of Reason, by George Boas (Harper, 1961, 162 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Gordon H. Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Butler University.

George Boas “is highly skeptical of the claims of logicians and scientists [and] more sympathetic to the nonrational modes of thinking” (p. 15). In the first half of the book he uses clever and interesting examples, of varying value, to show that nature is flux, concepts are artificial, and science is oversimplification. The meaning of reason changes, however. On one page reason is logic; on another “reason would tell us to make any sacrifice in order to avoid” World War III (p. 61). Now, this may be Communistic propaganda to demoralize the free nations, but it is not reason.

Then turning to linguistics the author teaches that all language is figurative because the basic terms are spatial. Creation ex nihilo is a myth. To condemn euthanasia and approve capital punishment is inconsistent. The astrophysicist has pushed back the entrance to heaven and the atomic physicist has opened the gates of hell. A literal statement, then, is a statement whose metaphorical character has been forgotten.

In conclusion, reason demands that everything be expressed in differential equations; that everything be linked together in a causal chain; and that everything be caught up in an invariant network of relations. Reason therefore excludes art and religion because the law of contradiction is inconsistent with change.


To Conquer Rebellion

The Kingdom of Love and the Pride of Life, by Edward John Carnell (Eerdmans, 1960, 164 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by W. Robert Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Bethel College.

As a commentary on the contemporary mood of life and thought, as a defense of the Christian faith, and as a suggestive guide to practical everyday living, this book is excellent. The author writes out of a knowledge born of diligence and a wisdom born of a humble walk with our Saviour. His breadth of understanding of philosophy, psychology, and theology is everywhere apparent, yet he writes in such a lucid and simple style as to be perfectly understandable to the general reader.

Article continues below

Taking as a starting point the admonition of Christ that we must become like a little child the author develops the conviction of the heart—“love is always kind and truthful.” This insight of a child is manifested in everything from his hunger for acceptance to his delight in the fairy tales where evil is defeated and love and kindness triumph. The book is woven around the narrative of John 11 where Jesus lovingly deals with the yearning concern of Mary and Martha by finally raising Lazarus from the dead.

The hunger of every soul for love, and the blessed reality of the Kingdom of His redemptive love need to be learned by all, including modern parents, the proud sophisticate, and the repentant sinner whose heart condemns him overmuch.

It is an antidote to the pride of life and power with which we are all afflicted, not excepting denominations and their leaders. As an apologist, the author does battle with the dragon of scepticism that lives in the cave of intellectual detachment and like David slays it with the smooth stone of the childlike conviction of the heart, kindness and truthfulness. The chapters titled “The Limits of Philosophy” and “The Limits of Science” need pondering by the philosopher who is prone to reject anything that cannot be conceptualized and by the scientist overly enamoured with the cult of objectivity.

How refreshing to read a book that is throughout tangent to life; that not only unmasks the pride of sophistication by speaking to the intellect but warms the heart through the insights of love; that not only stimulates the mind but brings one closer to Jesus Christ. Summing it up, here is a brilliant treatise for these times for classroom, church study, and home.


Religion And Law

Law and Civilization, by Palmer D. Edmunds (Public Affairs Press, 1959, 528 pp., $6), is reviewed by C. Gregg Singer, Professor of History at Catawba College.

The author, professor of law at the John Marshall Law School, writes with a clearly defined thesis, “that without law there cannot be civilization, and that civilization in its manifestations is geared to law” (p. 5). The author then develops his thesis by an appeal to history. Finding the origins of civilization in a synthesis between law and religion, he then examines the histories of Egypt, Babylon, ancient India, the development of Grecian culture, and points out the intimate relationship in each culture between law and religion. Rome developed the synthesis to new heights, and Edmunds places a great emphasis upon the contributions of Roman law to the development of Western civilization.

Article continues below

Of even greater importance is the role of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New Testament, in the growth of our modern conceptions of law. The author clearly recognizes the fact that religion gives to law and the whole legal structure a meaning and relation to justice which modern conceptions fail to achieve. But Edmunds makes little distinction between Christianity and the nonrevealed religions, and pays a higher tribute to Islam than is generally paid.

In a rather abrupt shift of emphasis the author then turns to the modern view that man is his own lawmaker, and that he no longer finds in religion the sanctions for his legal systems. The reviewer agrees that such a development has taken place, but the author makes a serious error in locating the origins of this contemporary conception of law in Hohenzollern Germany. He totally neglects the effects of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment on European and American legal theory, and he does not seem to realize that the belief that man is his own lawmaker lies at the very heart of the democratic philosophy. Edmunds is on much safer ground in his treatment of law in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Red China, and manages to bring to light a great deal of valuable insight on the legal systems of these countries. He is at his best in those chapters devoted to the common law in both England and the United States. However, in his chapter on constitutional evolution, the author comes dangerously close to a negation of his previous position in his seeming acceptance of a necessary relativism in contemporary jurisprudence in his defense of the position assumed by the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954).

The technical chapters are quite likely to overwhelm the average reader without giving him much insight into the relationship between law and civilization. Nevertheless, the book contains a wealth of information on ancient and modern legal systems that is not always available in one volume.


God’S Covenant In Christ

God’s Unfolding Purpose, by Suzanne de Dietrich, translated by Robert McAfee Brown (Westminster, 1961, 287 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by William C. Robinson, Professor of Historical Theology, Columbia Theological Seminary.

Article continues below

Titled Le Lessein de Dieu, and first appearing in 1957, this book does for the French something of what Wilhelm Vischer has done for the German readers, namely, to interpret the Bible by its main message: the covenant of God in Christ Jesus. The author reads creation as the work of the Triune God and sees the restoration of Isaac to Abraham as a prefiguring of the Resurrection. “The Word of promise called him out of nothing into life, and only the Word which raises the dead sustains his life. The patriarch … still possesses his son only in faith.” In rapid review the story of the Bible is read as God’s dealing with the witnessing community.

With the main drive of the book we are in hearty accord. Questions arise concerning details. The statement on Jesus’ dealing with the Sabbath is better on page 173 than on page 170. Critical positions are largely relegated to the notes—a wise procedure. Such positions are generally those of the higher critical school. For a bird’s-eye view of the book, note the following on the Resurrection:

“The risen Lord appears to the incredulous disciples. He gives them his peace, and he commands them to evangelize the world. The assurance of the resurrection is the foundation of the Church. And the Church proclaims to all the world that by Jesus and in Jesus ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). Everything that needed to be done has been done—that means everything for which Abraham and Moses were guided to the Promised Land; everything for which God had created a people for himself and entered into covenant relationship with them; everything for which the throne and the Temple had been built on Mt. Zion; everything that the prophets had believed and proclaimed; everything that the psalmists had believed and sung about; everything that God had prepared from the beginning of the world.… This assurance of fulfillment is the message of every page of the New Testament. All is fulfilled. The tomb is empty.”


Irenic Survey

Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe, vol. III, by Kenneth Scott Latourette (Harper, 1961, 527 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by Harold Lindsell, Professor of Missions, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Time has not dulled the pen of Dr. Latourette who brings his usual historical acumen to bear in this carefully documented survey of the Christian faith in the nineteenth century. About one half of the volume is devoted to the United States, and into this section of the book the author has woven many details of significance which cannot be found in other surveys of the same period. His writing is characterized by a warm evangelical spirit, and above all he is irenic in temperament.

Article continues below

For those who wish to have a fair treatment of movements and trends as widely different as Unitarianism and fundamentalism, they will find this book rewarding reading. Dr. Latourette has fairly appraised the Scofield Bible, Dwight L. Moody, Henry Clay Trumbull, George Muller, and J. Hudson Taylor. His treatment of the movement of liberalism is equally irenic. His excellent generalizations keep the reader from hanging in mid-air after the facts or the “stuff” of history have been recounted. There is a wealth of information contained in the pages of the volume, and minister and layman alike would profit by perusing it—a possible choice for one of the key books of 1961.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.