Evangelicals: A Vital Force
The New Evangelical Theology, by Millard Erickson (Revell, 1968, 250 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Richard N. Longenecker, associate professor of New Testament history and theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
Writing in the popular idiom, Millard Erickson, chairman of the Department of Bible and Philosophy at Wheaton College (Illinois), has done for “new evangelicalism” what William Hordern, his doctoral mentor, did for the various forms of neo-liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology. And like Hordern’s book, The New Evangelical Theology ought to be on the required reading list of every Christian layman and beginning theological student who wants to understand the theological lines and issues as they are drawn today.
After broadly describing the threat to orthodoxy that has arisen during the past two centuries in the natural sciences, philosophy, and biblical criticism, Dr. Erickson focuses his attention upon five men who have been in large measure the spokesmen of new evangelicalism since 1946: Harold J. Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry, Edward J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm, and Billy Graham. A few others are identified, but only in passing. Taking these five as the forefront of a distinguishable movement, Erickson describes their motivating concerns, their commitment to Scripture as formal authority, their doctrinal system, the type of apologetic they employ, and their efforts to develop a Christian ethic. He concludes by speaking of trends within the movement, reactions from the right and left, strengths and weaknesses, and the future.
His thesis is that new evangelicalism is a vital factor on the American scene today; that it is carrying on both the content and the spirit of vital orthodoxy of an earlier day; and that it continues to emphasize scholarship and a positive statement of its position, and accepts a certain latitude within its ranks—while, at the same time, it deals with some problems that continue to cling to it and also with certain issues it has not yet adequately faced—then its future should be one of continuing strength and growth. Erickson develops his thesis fairly and well.
One point that I found somewhat disturbing was his use of “evangelical.” Now certainly this word has a diversity of meaning in the world of theology. But in America it seems to be (or, at least, should be) used with two somewhat varying ideas in mind: (1) a set of concerns and attitudes related to the needs of the present day, in continuity with vital orthodoxy of the past, and generally distinguishable from later fundamentalism, coupled with an orthodox Christology and an orthodox view of the Scriptures; and (2) a somewhat loosely fitted system of conservative theology, probably “a Calvinism [more] of mood than of system,” to be distinguished in part from such other systems as Reformed, Lutheran, Wesleyan, dispensational, or Pentecostal. Erickson uses ‘evangelical’ to mean both, ostensibly because the men who he is presenting are evangelical by both definitions (as he himself probably is also). But these definitions, though certainly not mutually exclusive, cannot be assumed to be automatically identical. Is it not somewhat misleading to speak of new evangelicalism primarily along the lines of the second definition, as do chapters 3 (“Doctrinal Content”) and 4 (“Apologetic Orientation”)? New evangelicalism has greater doctrinal diversity within it than is here represented. Although I myself follow Erickson in his doctrinal explication (though not his apologetic), I wonder what a new evangelical (as in definition one) who is also Reformed, for example, will make of that third chapter. Would it not be better to define new evangelicalism along the lines of the first definition, and recognize the second as a sub-category within the movement? I propose that Erickson really has two topics going: (1) new evangelicalism, definition one, which he treats in chapters 1, 2, and 6, and (2) evangelical theology, definition two, which he considers in chapters 3, 4, and 5.
I also have a question about the breadth of selection in the work. Without doubt, the five men presented must appear at the head of any listing of prominent new evangelicals. Certainly they are among the most vocal, and all who espouse like concerns stand heavily in their debt. But what of their predecessors? What of their colleagues? And what of the stimulation from certain like-minded scholars in Britain and on the continent? Personally, I would have appreciated a fuller treatment along. these lines; though perhaps it is up to each of us to complete the record—as to both details of the past and the future task.
Finally by way of criticism, there seems to be some problem in the presentation of an evangelical position on the inspiration of the Bible, for in certain statements Erickson appears to be both more rigid and more flexible than any of the five he seeks to represent. To define verbal inspiration as “God so controlled the Scripture writer that each word he chose was precisely that which God would have him write, and no other” (p. 63, italics mine) is to relegate Ramm’s insistence on the “dynamic or flexible” relation between thoughts and words to the category of “one possible variant” (p. 65) and to verge extremely close to a theory of dictation. On the other hand, to say repeatedly that plenary inspiration means that even incidental statements bearing on science are true, and then, without further interaction, to identify as a possibility within evangelical thought the view that inerrancy relates to matters pertaining only to salvation, and no more, is to insert some ambiguity.
With these few qualifications—and some are relatively minor in comparison with the work’s general excellence—this volume is highly commended. Not all readers will agree with the doctrinal and apologetic explications of chapters 3 and 4, but all with profit immensely from Erickson’s description and evaluation of new evangelicalism. It will be most helpful to its intended audience: the general Christian public and neophyte theological students.
Theology In Fiction
Adversity and Grace, edited by Nathan A. Scott, Jr., (University of Chicago, 1968, 269 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Ann Paton, associate professor of English, Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
Adversity and Grace is aptly titled: the reader here encounters adversity and needs grace. These eight critical essays on contemporary fiction viewed from a theological perspective were each written by a different hand and hence exhibit a variety of styles—pungent and pedestrian, lucid and merely loose. And the title implies a unity that just isn’t there.
I can’t see why Nathan Scott, Jr., the editor, devotes so much of his introduction to defending what needs no defense: the theologian’s scrutiny of literature. After all, does not Christianity take all life as its province? Scott develops two main ideas: (1) that interest in humanistic studies is an outgrowth of modern theology; (2) that theology can learn something about itself from literature. Taking Bonhoeffer as “the great weathervane of contemporary theology,” he states Bonhoeffer’s position that the time of “religion” is gone and God must be spoken of in “non-religious” ways. So Christ is witnessed to in all apprehensions of truth, wherever they may arise, in whatever intellectual or cultural form. Fine. But can Scott really think that this conclusion, so tortuously arrived at, is the exclusive possession of the new theologies?
He then goes on to say that while the arts reflect the times, they do more than that. Fiction is the experimental arm of theoretical theology. The novelist, the dramatist, the poet show how a particular faith looks under the stress of experience. Again, to teachers of literature, this is nothing new.
Still, it is very useful to have these ideas set down systematically. Scott can write incisively and lucidly. About literature, he does so. But when he explains theology, his vocabulary floats out of sight, trailing his tangled syntax behind.
Two of the essays deal specifically with grace. Implicitly, grace is Saul Bellow’s theme. Scott convincingly shows that, though Bellow is not indebted to any dogmatic tradition, his deepest engagement is with a fundamentally religious posture: that there is a dimension of human experience where striving and strain are of no avail, and that “in returning and rest we shall be saved.” Grace is explicitly Salinger’s concern. James T. Livingston identifies religious tensions in Salinger’s work, his treatment of the sacred, the nature of his religious vision, and the perversions of Christian faith in Franny and Zooey.
Of the essays not particularly tied to either adversity or grace, two are brilliant. Norman Mailer commands attention because he is a conspicuous novelist and now also claims to be a philosopher. Mailer may think he is a Moses, but he looks more like Goliath here when David Hesla lays him flat with the hard truth: as a novelist, Mailer stands tall; as a thinker, he flops. Preston Browning’s analysis of Flannery O’Connor shows her crusading against shallow secularism in modern Christianity. Her tactic: to unleash in story after story twisted, God-haunted criminals who, being without veneer, lay bare ingrained evil.
Other essays deal with writers Heller, Pynchon, Powers, and Styron. Henry Rago’s end-piece on the theory of poetry gets lost in clouds of sign, symbol, and metaphor until finally three of his own poems do what he could not adequately describe.
All the scholars who contribute to this volume are well versed in both theology and literature. May their tribe increase, so that eventually pulpit and classroom alike can awaken the educated public to awareness of the vital relation of faith to literary works.
High View Of The Bible
The Bible—The Living Word of Revelation, edited by Merrill C. Tenney (Zondervan, 1968, 288 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by J. Murray Marshall, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Flushing, New York.
Merrill C. Tenney, dean of the Graduate School of Wheaton College, has enlisted a top-flight team of evangelical scholars to grapple with what is probably the most basic theological issue of the century. On the team, along with Tenney himself, are Packer of Oxford, Kantzer and Montgomery of Trinity (Deerfield, Illinois), Harris of Covenant, Young of Westminster, Woudstra of Calvin, Pinnock of New Orleans, Gerstner of Pittsburgh, and Walvoord of Dallas. Their subject: the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
For a majority of theologians this issue has long been deemed settled—but not in favor of the high view of Scripture associated with orthodox Christianity. Contemporary theology usually accords the Bible a place of esteem but denies that it is a communicated disclosure from God valuable as objective in and of itself and therefore worthy of the implicit confidence of man. Because it has thus discredited the authority of Scripture, modern theology is susceptible to such excesses as the “death of God” expressions and to tragic confusion in faith and morals.
Yet a remnant of scholars argue vigorously and cogently that the Bible is God’s Word written, thoroughly trustworthy and binding in authority. The complexity of their task is evident in the wide variety of approaches used in this symposium. These include examining what the Bible says about itself, spelling out the philosophical concept of revelation, tracing the relation of revelation to theology as a whole, evaluating the forms of current thought on revelation and authority, and dealing with questions (such as inerrancy) that arise within the framework of the general evangelical position.
When ten men work independently on the same general subject, some repetitiveness and unevenness in style are bound to occur. On the whole, however, Tenney has pulled the team together well, producing not just a succession of stabs at the problem but an over-all impact that raises the issue to the place of prominence it must have. Evangelical scholars must not let liberal scholars get away with their devaluation of scriptural authority.
Tenney and his confreres have shown us that the case can be argued, but this book by its very character as a symposium shows us that more must be done. Pinnock puts it this way: “The moment is right for a careful restatement of the evangelical position on the inspiration of the New Testament, true to the deepest currents of Biblical teaching.” It is to be hoped that from among this group of evangelical theologians or others of their kind one will arise who will state the case for the evangelical view of the Bible comprehensively and convincingly for our times.
Montgomery feels not only that the time is right but also that there might be a receptive mood. He cites the conclusions of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a twentieth-century philosopher who said “the sense of the world must lie outside the world.” Montgomery’s words are important: “Today, as never before, philosophical thought manifests a passion for objective, empirical truth, and the ordinary-language philosophers, whose work stems from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, are stressing the importance of verbal expression in conveying truth. Evangelicals of the second half of the twentieth century have an unparalleled opportunity to affirm the philosophical relevance of their high view of Scripture.”
One hopes that these essays will get a wide reading, not just among evangelicals but also among others who are compelled to see the poverty of any theological system that denies a revealed theology. And one hopes also that some evangelical scholar will pick up the challenge laid down by Pinnock and Montgomery. Meanwhile, “the Word of the Lord endureth forever.”
‘Fair And Honorable’ Apartheid?
A Plea For Understanding: A Reply to the Reformed Church in America, by W. A. Landman (Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, 1968, 144 pp., $1.50), is reviewed by Howard G. Hageman, minister, The North Church, Newark, New Jersey.
In 1967 the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America sent a communication to its sister church in South Africa expressing concern over the racial policies of that country and their apparent support by the church. Dr. Landman, director of the information bureau of the Dutch Reformed Church, wrote a reply that, together with a number of appendices, has been published as a booklet.
This exchange is a good illustration of how many discussions of the South African question miss the central point. The American letter was written in ignorance of many of the facts of the situation and made its case largely on the reports of witnesses whose impartiality and creditibility can often be called into question. In his reply Landman has no difficulty in challenging the misconceptions and exaggerations that characterize the American appeal, in impugning its witnesses, and in ending his case with a flourish by asking what the Reformed Church in America was doing about racism between 1937 and 1954.
If it were just a matter of keeping score, there would be no question that the South African has won on points. Unfortunately, however, the main question remains to be asked and answered. Not that there are not other minor questions one would like to ask. If, for example, one accepts the South African thesis that “separate development” is dictated purely by cultural and linguistic differences, then what accounts for the systematic divorce of the Cape Colored (who have nothing but the pigmentation of their skin to distinguish them from the white) from white society? What does Landman’s church say about this?
But here is the real question. The Dutch Reformed Church has officially declared that it approves the official policy of the government “provided that it is applied in a fair and honorable way, without affecting or injuring the dignity of the person.” Then will Dr. Landman please tell what share the Bantu has had in planning his own destiny in his own country, what share the representatives of the new Bantustans will have in determining the policies of South Africa? How many representatives from Trans-Kei, the much advertised Bantustan, sit in the parliament in Cape Town, for example? What has his church had to say about questions like these, which surely involve “the dignity of the person” at its most sensitive point?
Instead of concentrating on the weaknesses of the American appeal, one wishes that Landman had fully exegeted his own text in the light of the actual situation. When the Liberal Party must disband because racially mixed meetings are impossible, when people are detained under a polite form of house arrest without so much as a trial, one still has to ask what the Dutch Reformed Church understands by “a fair and honorable way” that does not affect or injure “the dignity of the person.”
Hope For Political Conservatism
The Future of Conservatism by M. Stanton Evans (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968, 304 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by C. Gregg Singer, chairman, Department of History, Catawba College, Salisbury, North Carolina.
This latest contribution by Stanton Evans, the very able editor of the Indianapolis News, to the growing bulk of conservative literature is timely and valuable. Evans’s basic thesis is that conservatism must be a powerful force in the future of the nation. But he does not stop there. He advances to the next logical argument, that it not only must be a patent factor in American political life but also can be. He then launches into a study of how conservatism can make itself felt in the 1968 election. This involves him in a long discussion of the relation between conservatism in general and the Republican party in particular from the election of 1940 through the election of 1964. This historical approach to the problems involved in this year’s conventions and election leads Evans to arrive at some very interesting conclusions and to offer some unusual suggestions for conservatives both inside and outside the Republican party.
The basic argument of this book is fairly simple: The Republican party is the true home of conservatism, and its future is closely tied to the conservative cause. Evans admits that there is a tension between the party’s legislative leadership and its recent presidential candidates. The one exception to this was Barry Goldwater. Evans offers some interesting insights into the 1964 campaign and indicts the American press and TV for flagrant misrepresentation of the conservative cause and the candidacy of Barry Goldwater. In this campaign the battle between the liberal and conservative forces within the Republican party came to a head, according to Evans, and this battle is important because it reflects the battle that is taking place within the country as a whole today. Thus what happens within the Republican party is of great importance for the future of American freedom under the Constitution.
On the basis of his quite thorough analyses of the 1964 and 1966 elections, Evans concludes that in 1968 (1) only a conservative can truly unite the Republican party, and (2), a conservative Republican nominee can successfully attract the large number of conservatives in the country. The argument is quite convincing. This book will give conservatives in all the parties a new feeling of solidarity and a realization that they do not stand alone. Evans would replace the feeling of defeatism with the conviction that victory is within the conservative grasp if only the right strategy is used in 1968.
From the Rock to the Gates of Hell, by Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., (Baker, 1968, 127 pp., $3.95). Blackwood examines the Church—a divine society and a human organization—in the light of Scripture and with the assistance of Bonhoeffer, Calvin, George MacLeod, and Gregor Siefer.
Stir What You’ve Got!, by Raymond E. Balcomb (Abingdon, 1968, 160 pp., $3.50). Well-written sermons on stewardship.
From Boxcar to Pulpit, by Robert Sandidge Weldon (Exposition, 1968, 146 pp., $5). A penetrating autobiographical account of a man’s journey from the hopeless valleys of alcoholism to the meaningful summits of Christian ministry.
The New People, by Charles E. Winick, (Pegasus, 1968, 384 pp., $7.50). A professor of anthropology and sociology offers a popular appraisal of the desexualization trend in America in which many masculine and feminine differences are being blurred.
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