Sermons in Stones—and in Peanuts

The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short (John Knox, 1965, 127 pp., $1.50), is reviewed by J.D. Douglas, British editorial director, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In flagrant disregard of the national interest, this book has been sent for review across the Atlantic, where millions of Britons incredibly are living out their lives in invincible ignorance of Peanuts. Perhaps Charlie Brown is too much one of the American family to be regarded objectively; more likely, no American scholar would lightly undertake a review sure to be the subject of merciless scrutiny in the higher academic echelons.

The volume itself is an audacious project. Let no one imagine it will afford joy unalloyed, for there is a plot to trick the unsuspecting reader. The author has done us all a grave disservice by insinuating outrageous intellectual demands into the area of harmless diversion. With a tireless facility for seeing sermons in stones, Mr. Short (a Methodist minister) finds it veritable child’s play to contrive a biblical connection even for “Good grief!” (2 Cor. 7:10). Not surprisingly, the impression is sometimes received that he takes out of a cartoon something which its creator had not put in, and which no ordinary reader would comprehend without the sort of help Philip gave the Ethiopian eunuch. If periodically my belief is going to be “rudely clobbered” (I quote Linus), the clobbering might be efficacious; but every time I pick up Peanuts from now on I’ll be scrabbling around for theological profundity—and this is not what I read it for. Here, in fact, in most blatant form, is religion being “allowed to invade the sphere of private life.” It comes as a relief near the end to be assured that not every Peanuts cartoon is loaded with moral insight and spiritual uplift. Of one thing we can be sure: if such be present, Mr. Short will nail it.

Having betrayed both my appalling prejudice and my paucity of intellect, I confess to having come back to this little book again and again with the kind of respectful admiration one generally gives to a pioneer in his field. Short says rightly that art provides its own unique vocabulary. It can penetrate mental blocks, overcome prejudices, confront us with reality, suggest new questions, and offer a basis of conversation where a direct Christian approach couldn’t. Some people will resent having Peanuts explained, perhaps because of its “calculated trap for meditation” (p. 16), but most will see how pertinent it is to Paul’s “by all means” category. It fulfills Bishop Westcott’s condition that the place and office of art in religion must be ministerial, must point beyond the immediate effect. No one will dispute Mr. Schulz’s success in (I quote from Dr. Nathan Scott’s foreword) “turning a remarkably penetrating searchlight on the anxieties and evasions and duplicities that make up our common lot.” In his determination to illustrate this, Short here reproduces more than eighty cartoons. They are reinforced by J. D. Salinger, Irenaeus, Cardinal Newman, Luther, Kafka, and (of course) Beethoven, among the dozens of personalities conscripted into the service of this book, who help us toward that art of “reading between the lines” which so baffles the resourceful Lucy. The result is precisely what the publishers claim: a modern-day handbook of the Christian faith, illustrated with Peanuts.

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Charles Schulz himself says that “all kinds of people in religious work have written to thank me for preaching my own way through the strips. That is one of the things that keep me going.” Not least is this book significant for showing what we owe to Schulz. Let’s keep him going!


Essay In Church Definition

Ecumenics: The Science of the Church Universal, by John A. Mackay (Prentice-Hall, 1964, 294 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Everett L. Cattell, president, Malone College, Canton, Ohio.

John A. Mackay has a distinguished record in many fields, but none has received more of the outpouring of his brilliant talents than the movement to unity among Christians. Dr. Mackay, former president of Princeton Theological Seminary, occupied the Chair of Ecumenics from 1937 to 1959. Because of this and because of the subtitle of the book, “The Science of the Church Universal,” one naturally expects this to be a textbook. Such an expectation is hardly borne out, however. The style of the book is more that of the spoken word and is therefore somewhat given to redundancy. Instead of a textbook, what we really have is the crystallized fruit of the “author’s struggle over four decades to grapple with the ecumenical concept and its significance.” It would not be amiss to say that this book is essentially an essay in church definition.

Dr. Mackay comes down squarely on the side of a spiritual apprehension of the Church as the community of Christ. “People in whom Christ is a living Presence and through whom He works, constitute the soul of the worldwide community of faith. These Christ-possessed men and women give true churchly reality to Christian congregations, denominations, and traditions as structured expressions of Christ’s Church Universal.” Not only must the community of Christ be thought of as worldwide; it must also be “missionary.” “The Church, to be ‘in very deed the Church,’ must be ‘missionary by conviction and commitment and must make abundantly clear that it is so by the policy and program it adopts.” Hence “the theme of this book: The Church Universal as a world missionary Community.”

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The author gives a very helpful exposition of the biblical images of the church: The New Israel, the Flock of God, the Building, the Bride, and the Body. To these are added the biblical image of the Road and the Church as a Fellowship of the Road.

The principal bulk of the book is then given to a discussion of four major functions of the Church: worshiping, prophetic, redemptive, and unitive. Each is treated first with a positive and scriptural exposition, and then that position is set over against present realities. The worshiping function is set against a very enlightening exposition of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant forms of worship. The prophetic function is to give illumination to God’s way in the midst of the world’s darkness, e.g., in the face of Communism and secularism. The redemptive function is treated over against a critique of the effectiveness of the modern missionary movement as a mediator of redemption. In connection with evangelistic method there is an excellent discussion of two principles. One is the incarnational principle, which calls for the embodiment of truth. The other is called “the right to be heard,” a right gained by meeting men with excellence on their own secular ground and thus winning their attention to the Gospel. The unitive function of the Church is viewed against a survey of the spectrum of divergence among Christians and a survey of movements and means toward unity in our day.

The book closes with a chapter on the churches’ relations with the world.

It is difficult to evaluate this book. Ecumenism is an emotional subject today. Those who are caught up in the movement with enthusiasm and especially those who love this distinguished author (as we all do) will simply be thrilled. Those who oppose the movement will probably not even read it. Can anyone be truly objective in evaluating the book? To me it seems parts of the book are platitudinous. In the midst of this there are some excellent insights, a few of them fresh. I found some of the descriptions and criticisms of the Orthodox and Roman positions really instructive. My own bias will probably be shown by the fact that I missed any extended treatment of the vast block of conservative evangelicals who stand apart from the ecumenical movement, although Dr. Mackay does mention approvingly the work of Young Life, Billy Graham, and World Vision.

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Listening With One Ear

Proclaiming the Word, by Ronald E. Sleeth (Abingdon, 1964, 144 pp., $2.75), is reviewed by Carl Kromminga, associate professor of practical theology, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This book challenges the Protestant minister to engage in biblical preaching. “Biblical preaching is the proclamation of the kerygma (either explicitly or implicitly) through the exposition of specific scriptural material directed to contemporary life” (p. 42). The author rightly insists that the usual sermon addressed to the congregation should have roots in a thorough exegesis of a specific portion of the Bible, recognize the larger biblical context of the passage, honor the theological meaning underlying the passage, clarify the relation between the passage and the kerygma, and demonstrate its present-day relevance.

The author makes a worthy attempt to unite the techniques of expository and life-situation preaching. In doing this, he gives us a refreshing chapter on the importance of doctrine in preaching. He uses sample outlines and quotations from published sermons to illustrate his theoretical statements. After he has stated and developed his main thesis, he discusses the proper way to preach in controversy and describes the values for preaching to be found in modern literature.

This stimulating discussion of biblical preaching is marred by the author’s rather uncritical acceptance of the “dynamic” view of the Word advanced by many Protestant theologians today. The Bible is not the Word of God; the Word is in the Bible. When we existentially confront the faith-words of the biblical writers, those words become God’s personal Word to us. This view of the Bible is said to recognize the Bible as the Word of God “in the highest sense possible.” At the same time, it allows us to welcome the higher critic’s investigation of the Bible.

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The author does not tell us how we can accept those “findings” of higher criticism that contradict what the biblical writers claim to be historic fact and how we can at the same time interpret God’s saving action in history in a way that fully agrees with the biblical interpretation of that action. Biblical events and ideas cannot be separated in a way that allows us to keep the whole “idea” while we discard the event in the sense in which the biblical writers obviously understood “event.” Theology, in the strict sense of the term, is at stake here. The God who opened the sea for Israel to pass through is not the same God as the “God” who “somehow” in the dim and distant past led a motley band of Semites from Egypt to Palestine. Sleeth rightly insists on preaching that grows out of careful exegesis. It is also apparent that he really would reject much radical criticism of the Bible. But exegesis based on a hermeneutic that wants to hear God speak while it listens to a higher criticism that denies what God says can only furnish material for a sermon which cannot truly be called “proclamation of the Word of God.”

However, Proclaiming the Word has value as a corrective for preachers who think that only topical preaching can be relevant. It can also serve to remind preachers committed to the expository method that true preaching is preaching consciously designed to meet genuine human needs.


As Seen From The End

Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism, by George Eldon Ladd (Harper and Row, 1964, 367 pp., $3), is reviewed by Herman C. Waetjen, assistant professor of New Testament, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California.

The purpose of this book is to establish the thesis “that before the eschatological appearing of God’s Kingdom at the end of the age, God’s Kingdom has become dynamically active among men in Jesus’ person and mission.” This is acknowledged to be “the heart of his [Jesus’] proclamation and the key to his entire mission” (p. 135). For Professor Ladd it is the grand theme that not only unites the various aspects of Jesus’ teaching but also provides the vital link between that teaching and the beginnings of the Christian Church.

Here is an important and exhaustive study that exhibits both intensive and sweeping scholarship. It is a synthesis that pulls together many diverse and opposed strands of biblical investigation of eschatology. At the same time, as the subtitle indicates, it is also a biblical theology that presents the possibility of unifying all theological thought in the New Testament around and in a single motif. Thus the book ranks with Alan Richardson’s An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament and Floyd V. Filson’s Jesus Christ the Risen Lord. For Professor Ladd this single motif is the eschatological teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.

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The introduction, entitled “The Promise,” sketches the continuing debate on eschatology from Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer down to the present time. This is followed by a survey of the Old Testament prophets and inter-testamental apocalyptic in order to supply the necessary background for Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. The major part of the book is devoted to the theme of “Fulfillment.” John the Baptizer announces the imminence of the Kingdom. Jesus follows to proclaim “fulfillment without consummation.” The Kingdom that Jesus preaches and brings is defined as both a rule and a realm, but primarily a rule. As such it is a present as well as a future reality. In both the words and the deeds of Jesus, God’s rule is dynamically at work in the world. This is validated by Jesus’ pronouncements of forgiveness, his miracles of exorcism, and his parables.

In this connection it is strange that so little is said of Jesus’ works of healing and restoration. It is even stranger that nothing is said of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This appears to have no place in the eschatological teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God despite the fact that the Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ threefold prediction of his death and resurrection in direct relation to Peter’s messianic confession and the transfiguration. The reader is left to ponder unresolved questions: How are Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom, his death and resurrection, and the beginnings of the Church connected? Is the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom the complete and fully developed eschatology of biblical realism? Is Professor Ladd opting for the Jesus of history rather than the Christ of faith? The book, of course, is not intended to deal with that problem. But Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom is nevertheless abstracted from his death and resurrection. And, according to the New Testament, his death and resurrection are just the eschatological event that inaugurated “the fulfillment without consummation.” When the Church and its origins are considered, as they are here, the central event of the New Testament cannot be excluded.

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The last two chapters of the book deal with “Consummation.” “The Consummation of the Kingdom” presents Jesus’ teaching on the future aspects of God’s rule, and “The Abiding Values for Theology” comments on the manner in which this Kingdom of God theology can be translated for the present day and age.

The author has read, selected, abridged, and prepared an enormous amount of material for this book. As a result, there are many helpful summaries of various scholars’ positions. Sometimes, however, the reduction is too drastic, and confusion easily arises. And at least once a scholar is inaccurately quoted. Professor Ladd asserts on page 53 that “Frost is convinced that Amos does not announce a day rising out of history but an eschatology involving a cataclysmic irruption into history which will bring history to its end” (pp. 53 f.). Actually Frost says that the “simple hope of an improvement in the national fortunes was reversed by the message of coming judgment.…” But “both the Better Age hope and the prophetic Doom oracles are concerned with an event arising out of the ordinary processes of history and are not strictly eschatological; they envisaged an End, but not the End, an event not the eschaton” (p. 237).

There are also places where a little more qualification could prevent needless misunderstanding or where more precision might strengthen the author’s conclusions. For example, Isaiah 65:17 speaks of a new universe to be created that will replace the old. Professor Ladd comments, “This is no new thought but is the summation of a whole aspect of prophetic theology” (p. 56). Does this mean that all of the prophets—pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic—held to essentially the same eschatological conceptions? And when Hosea (4:3) declares that “the land mourns and all who dwell in it languish …,” he is speaking not of the world, as Professor Ladd interprets (p. 56), but merely of the territory of Israel.

Nevertheless, this is a book which every minister, theological student, and interested layman concerned about biblical theology should own. Its treatment is comprehensive, its bibliography extensive, and its price low. Most important, it presents the message of the New Testament writers, perhaps best summarized by the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians 15:25, 26: “For he [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

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Clear And Uncluttered

Christianity in the United States, by Earle E. Cairns (Moody, 1964, 192 pp., $.75, is reviewed by William Nigel Kerr, professor of church history, Gordon Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts.

Here is a book that successfully meets the need for which it was designed. Much work has been done in American church history; yet only recently is a genuine sense of religious heritage beginning to pervade our thinking. Often attempts to give historic authority to doctrine and polity have led to the assumption, especially in conservative groups, that there has been no alteration in religious forms. This volume will disabuse the reader of such ideas for, although written from the perspective of a “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints,” it sees the Church ever changing in an ever-changing world.

American Christianity is divided into three main periods: “American Religion in the Colonial Era” (1607–1775), “The Rise and Decline of Ecclesiastical Nationalism” (1776–1876), and “From Schism and Idealism to Absolutism and Ecumenicalisin” (1877 to the present). In each division Dr. Cairns is true to his purpose, “to link information and interpretation in an organization that puts the American Church in its secular setting so that students may have a brief, accurate account of the origins and development of American Christianity.” He avoids the twin extremes of extricating the Church from society as though it existed on an elevated platform and viewing the Church as merely a phase of natural societal development with nothing supernatural in its character.

This book, though a survey or handbook, has considerable scope. It is by no means merely an “evangelical” history of Puritanism, revivalism, and separationism. The author takes into account and weighs with fairness the effects of political and social phenomena. He shows the Church changing as a result of a tumultuous Civil War, reshaped by immigration and mass migration, alerted, alarmed, and sometimes disarmed by the rapid alteration of the intellectual climate. The reader sees the richly varied life of the churches and the creativity of religious leaders both within and outside the European strands that form the main structure. Some special treatment is given to cults peculiarly American.

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Upon completing the book, one is surprised first at the extent of material covered and secondly at the unclutteredness and clarity of the volume. The book is compact, yet avoids sketchiness. It stimulates the reader’s desire for more knowledge: this is abetted by a two-page annotated and sectionalized bibliography of significant reference works, collections of source materials, and historical interpretations. At the close of each chapter useful bibliographies appear with special references to applicable pages in C. E. Olmstead’s History of Religion in the United States (1960) and W. W. Sweet’s The Story of Religion in America (1950).

Dr. Cairns has given us an excellent study book for church and school. For the novice it is a superior “first book” in American Christianity. For both pastor and people it provides an orientation to the conditions of American Christianity that can help to give a new relevance to the witness of the Gospel.


Prophecy’S Changing Face

The Interpretation of Prophecy, by Patrick Fairbairn (Banner of Truth Trust, 1964, 532 pp., 23s.), is reviewed by Stephen S. Short, evangelist, Weston-super-Mare, England.

Of the three classical prophetical viewpoints, the one least in vogue today is postmillennialism. During the nineteenth century, however, it was held by some eminent evangelical scholars, among whom was Patrick Fairbairn. After his secession from the Church of Scotland at the Disruption of 1843, Fairbairn became professor of theology in the Free Church College at Aberdeen. then principal at the Free Church College at Glasgow, moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and a member of the panel entrusted with the production of the Old Testament of the Revised Version of the Bible.

This book was first published in 1856 and was revised in 1865; and now, a century later, it has been reprinted, prefaced by a biographical sketch of Fairbairn by Charles Walker. The prophetical position presented in this volume is not that which Fairbairn held originally. In 1840, in a thesis he wrote under the title, “The Future Prospect of the Jews,” he had contended for a literal interpretation of the “Israel prophecies” of the Old Testament; that he later abandoned this view is shown by the chapter in the present book entitled, “The Prophetical Future of the Jews.”

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Although certain of Fairbairn’s conclusions will not carry conviction with all (e.g., “the first resurrection” denoting “the mighty revival and spread of living godliness destined to characterize the latter days”), nobody could read this book without being immensely benefited. Its general plan is to elucidate, in the first 200 pages, the principles of prophetical interpretation, and then to apply those principles to the biblical prophecies, particularly those in Daniel and Revelation.


Book Briefs

Pascal’s Recovery of Man’s Wholeness, by Albert N. Wells (John Knox, 1965, 176 pp., $4.25). Pascal saw human existence as a series of three ascending levels which rightly related make for a “whole man.”

Handbook of Effective Church Letters, by Stewart Harral (Abingdon, 1965, 208 pp., $3.50). For ministers who want to write not only acceptable but effective letters.

Dante’s Inferno: As Told for Young People, by Joseph Tusiani (Ivan Obolensky, 1965, 90 pp., $4). A narrative that makes the Inferno intelligible to high school students.

The Other Side of the Coin: An American Perspective on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Alfred M. Lilienthal (Devin-Adair, 1965, 420 pp., $6.50). A critique of the “Israel First” approach of the United States government in its Near East affairs.

Freedom and Faith: New Approaches to Christian Education, by J. Gordon Chamberlin (Westminster, 1965, 156 pp., $3.95).

Why Wait Till Marriage?, by Evelyn Millis Duvall (Association, 1965, 128 pp., $2.95). Hard-headed and reasoned arguments for maintaining the mystery of our sexual beings until the time for its proper revelation. An unusually good book.

A Still Small Voice, by E. F. Engelbert (Eerdmans, 1964, 216 pp„ $3.50). Don’t let the title, the name of the church, or the theology of the jacket fool you. The pastor of the Martini Lutheran Church of Baltimore presents medium-size sermons that are long on evangelical biblical content.

The Church Tomorrow, by George H. Tavard (Herder and Herder, 1965, 190 pp., $3.95). A series of essays on various aspects of the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church; they indicate that the word “reform” should also become an accepted and much used word in Catholicism.

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German Existentialism, by Martin Heidegger (Philosophical Library, 1965, 58 pp., $2.75). A small collection of speeches in a slender volume that shows how Heidegger made his philosophy play footsie with Nazism. Grossly overpriced.

Ceremony and Celebration, by Paul H. D. Lang (Concordia, 1965, 191 pp., $4.25). An evangelical guide for Christian practice in corporate worship.

The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary, edited by Albert J. Nevins, M.M. (Grossett and Dunlap, 1965, 710 pp., $9.95). Explanations rather than definitions of more than 10,000 Catholic words and terms.

The Pill and Birth Regulation, edited by Leo Pyle (Helicon, 1964, 225 pp., $3.95). The Catholic debate, including statements, articles, and letters from the Pope, bishops, priests, and married and unmarried laity.

The Seventh Solitude: Man’s Isolation in Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche, by Ralph Harper (Johns Hopkins, 1965, 154 pp., $4.50).

A Christian Natural Theology, by John B. Cobb, Jr. (Westminster, 1965, 288 pp., $6.50). Against secular cosmology erosive of Christian faith, the associate professor of systematic theology at Southern California School of Theology projects a natural theology built on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, by Robert Dean Linder (Librairie Droz [Geneva, Switzerland], 1964, 218 pp., 7f.). The value of Viret’s political ideas derives from the fact he was one of Calvin’s closest associates.

The Encyclopedia of the Bible, edited by P. A. Marijnen (Prentice-Hall, 1965, 250 pp., $5.50). Compiled by a team of Protestant and Roman Catholic Dutch theologians in the conservative tradition. The material is well translated into clear, tight English. The coverage is limited and appears to follow no pattern (“Tübingen School” included, but not “election” or “predestination”). Original date of publication not given.

Hymn of the Universe, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Harper and Row, 1965, 158 pp., $3). Chiefly mystical psalm-like writings.

The Structure of Luke and Acts, by A. Q. Morton and G. H. C. MacGregor (Harper and Row, 1964, 155 pp., $3.50). Morton used a computer to prove that a number of Pauline letters were not written by Paul. Someone else took a writing of Morton and by the same method proved it was not written by Morton. Now we get a book which contends that the structure and content of Luke and Acts were in part determined by the size of the papyrus rolls on which they were written. One wonders what the Bible would have been like if the biblical writers could only have rolled paper the way we can.

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Memoirs: A Story of Renewal in the Denmark of Kierkegaard and Grundtvig, by Vilhelm Beck (Fortress, 1965, 192 pp., $2.25). The memoirs of a younger contemporary of N. F. S. Grundtvig and Sören Kierkegaard throw light on these men and the conflicts that raged between them. For the student of the melancholy, great Dane.

Christ’s Church: Evangelical, Catholic, and Reformed, by Bela Vassady (Eerdmans, 1965, 173 pp., $1.95). One of the few theological discussions and evaluations of the so-called Blake proposal; the author is a Reformed, Hungarian-trained theologian who is sympathetic to the ecumenical movement but not to the point of losing all critical powers. A valuable contribution in an important but almost deserted field.

The Mind of Kierkegaard, by James Collins (Regnery, 1965, 308 pp., $1.45). First published in 1953.

Music Activities for Retarded Children: A Handbook for Teachers and Parents, by David R. Ginglend and Winifred E. Stiles (Abingdon, 1965, 140 pp., $3.50).

Babylon by Choice, by Martin E. Marty (Friendship, 1965, 64 pp., $.75). Marty describes the urbane, secularistic, explosively changing city to which the Church must bring its mission. Good reading.

Fraternal Appeal to the American Churches, by Samuel Simon Schmucker (Fortress, 1965, 229 pp., $2.25). Although the author died in 1873, his book reveals a rare concern for both doctrinal orthodoxy and the unity of the Church. It is a book for those few who today share that concern. The chapter on the nature of the primitive Church’s union is particularly valuable.

The Crying Heart, by Clara Bernice Miller (Moody, 1965, 351 pp., $1.29). A warm story reflecting Amish life.

New Theology No. 2, edited by Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman (Macmillan, 1965, 316 pp., $1.95). Lively debate, new research, analytical reportage, and hard thinking characterize these eighteen recent articles.

The Lord from Heaven, by Leon Morris (Eerdmans, 1964, 112 pp., $1.45). A study of the New Testament teaching on the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

The Law and the Elements of the World, by A. J. Bandstra (Eerdmans, 1965, 209 pp., $4). A distinguished doctoral dissertation supporting the thesis that the Pauline phrase “the elements of the world” refers to the powers of the law and the flesh as operative before, and outside of, Christ.

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Christianity in a Divided Europe, by Hanns Lilje (Fortress, 1965, 41 pp., $.75). An informative essay that reveals the pains of the author’s heart.

Maker of Heaven and Earth, by Langdon Gilkey (Doubleday, 1965, 381 pp., $1.45). A clear presentation of the mythical understanding of creation, in which the concepts of analogy, revelation, and paradox are combined into one mode of speech about God. But the presentation is dark at the crucial point where creation is a divine historical act through which God speaks to man. First published in 1959.

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