In Honor Of W. C. Robinson
Soli Deo Gloria, edited by J. McDowell Richards (John Knox, 1968, 176 pp., $5), is reviewed by Glenn W. Baker, professor of New Testament, Gordon Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts.
This volume is offered as a tribute to Dr. William Childs Robinson on the occasion of his retirement from forty-one years of teaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. The esteem that this professor of church history, church polity, and apologetics enjoys among his colleagues is attested by the reputation of those who contribute to this Festschrift. Among the nine distinguished scholars who write are Dr. Robinson’s own two sons.
The introductory offering is by Oscar Cullmann, “The Relevance of Redemptive History.” The article has special interest because it includes corrections that Cullmann has made to his own system: redemptive history no longer is thought to move in a straight or unbroken line, nor is all of secular history considered redemptive. Nonetheless, Cullmann remains convinced of the superiority of his position, especially when viewed in the light of its modern counterparts:
In every way redemption history, far from interesting only the past and driving us back to an outmoded position, is an element of life which urges us forward, because it is capable of placing our modern time with all its prodigious progress within the continuity of a past history and the perspective of future history.
In the article “Jesus Is Lord,” F. F. Bruce denies that this confession owes its existence to Hellenistic Christianity (against W. Kramer) and that it was originally associated with the Parousia. The ascription of Lordship, he affirms, “can be accounted for only by the immediate impact which personal confrontation with Jesus—living, crucified, risen, and exalted—made on his followers.”
Bo Reicke, in “Paul’s Understanding of Righteousness,” argues that in Paul, justification is not primarily forensic and individual but is dynamic and collective, in accordance with Paul’s missionary concern.
George Ladd, in an excellent essay on “Paul and the Law,” shows that Paul’s problem before his conversion was not a sense of failure before the demands of the Law but pride and boasting because of the Law.
William Childs Robinson, Jr., in “Word and Power (1 Cor. 1:17–2:5),” affirms over against the NEB translators that in Paul’s preaching the “power of the cross” referred not to the way it was portrayed but to the effect it produced. It not only freed a man from the need for sinful self-assertion before God but allowed him to move more radically into his worldly existence.
In “Lampades in Matthew 25:1–13,” J. Jeremias finds from a study of Arabian wedding customs that lampades are not “house lamps” but “torches” carried in the wedding procession and used in the wedding dance.
James Robinson, writing on “World in Modern Theology and in New Testament Theology,” is concerned to move beyond Bultmann’s “understanding of existence” theology and anthropological orientation to one cast “primarily in terms of World.” This category, he believes, not only is useful for modern theology but, significantly, is already present and determining in the New Testament.
John Leith, in “John Calvin’s Polemic Against Idolatry,” shows that Calvin’s concern is no less appropriate for the twentieth century than it was for the sixteenth.
The final essay, “Theological Persuasion” by T. F. Torrance, touches on hermeneutics as well as the a priori of apologetics. Every minister will find in this last article particularly material that will inform him about his task of making the Gospel known.
These essays are heartily recommended.
Humanism Under Another Name
The Shaping of Modern Christian Thought, by Warren F. Groff and Donald E. Miller (World, 1968, 489 pp. $10), is reviewed by Milton D. Hunnex, professor of philosophy, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon.
The main value of this book lies in its function as a sourcebook that puts under one cover significant selections from recent thinkers who have shaped modern liberal Christian thought. The influence of thinkers like Heidegger or Freud on the radical left can hardly be denied. But conservative Christian thought is generally ignored.
The authors argue that Christian thought must develop in dialogue with the secular world if it is to be either Christian or relevant. Since conservative Christian thought does not measure up to their criterion, it holds no interest for them, whatever its historical or contemporary manifestations may be. For them Christian thought seems to have metamorphosed into secular thought as modern Christian thought.
The impression the reader gets is that radical secular theology is the current expression of Christian thought. A “new style of faith thinking” is making its appearance, the authors argue. It sees “Christian theology and ethics … as a process of thinking and acting [rather] than as a fixed set of accepted truths and moral rules.” The object is to “tune in” on what God is doing today, but the trouble is that the God that one tunes in on turns out to be the future of human community, and there is nothing to prevent this “ongoingness of the human community” that is God from fulfilling Marxist or any other set of non-biblical goals, since biblical goals are neither final nor authoritative.
For the authors, the Gospel is as contextually determined as is ethics, since it cannot be Christian or relevant apart from its secular meaning. Unable to accommodate biblical thought to recent philosophical speculation, the authors rewrite that thought “to recover,” they say, “the kind of cultural orientation that was the strength of Schleiermacher’s approach to theology.” Their conclusion is that “a new faith style is now both possible in our cultural context and required by it. That style [is] … responsible openness within historical change.”
But the “responsible openness” that characterizes their contextual theology is primarily a collection of nineteenth-century speculative philosophical ideas that equate God in one obscure way or another with history or the future of man. Indeed, this book—like so many of its kind today—rarely even hints at being biblical. This is because biblical supernaturalism is incompatible with a contemporary Christianity that takes secularity seriously. And where biblical ideas do crop up, they are strangely handled. “In the last analysis,” the authors write, “salvation comes, not through any objective fact of history, but by faith alone!”—which is like saying that “in the last analysis nourishment comes not through any kind of food, but by assimilation alone.” Was this what Paul or Luther had in mind?
Although the authors speak of a “responsible openness,” they seem nontheless to suggest a new dogmatism that says in effect that if one cannot accommodate oneself to a changing Gospel or a disappearing God, one is anti-factual, anti-historical, anti-ethical, and even anti-Christian. It is surely odd that it is the theologian and not ordinary non-theological scholarship or even ordinary discerning people who think that it is Heidegger rather than Paul, or Freud rather than Calvin, who gives us Christian truth.
The new dogmatism holds that nothing, not even God or his Gospel, abides. It takes nineteenth-century philosophical speculation more seriously than biblical kerygma. The Lord of life and history becomes the “ongoingness of human community”—a Hegelian derivative—and if he disappears from the consciousness of that community, his disappearance is to be taken as his present epiphany by a historically relevant Christian consciousness. The “new style of faith thinking” is one that “moves within the temporal process and is itself changed by it,” the authors contend.
What is left of the good news is the call for courage to find in human community the answer to life as far as it is to be found. But isn’t this what philosophical humanists have always said and said without the tortuously prolix language of the new theologian? The authors conclude that Christians must either fight on as an irrelevant minority cult discredited and defeated by the forces of secularity or find in secularity itself the meaning of God and Christian mission today. “Faith is responsible engagement,” they write. Its object is “a relatedness in the midst of time and historical circumstances.” It is not obedience or trust in the supernatural God of Abraham or even the Heavenly Father of Jesus.
One wishes that all that is said could have been said in a style that improved upon rather than added to the discouraging obscurity of so much current theological literature. One is also entitled to a greater regard for facts and alternatives that do not happen to fortify the authors’ convictions. Finally, one wishes that the claimed involvement of contemporary philosophy in the dialogue could have been genuine rather than the occasional dropping of names like Wittgenstein or John Wilson, whose fine little book, Language and Christian Belief, hardly supports the authors’ thesis.
Israel’S God Of History
The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel, by Robert C. Dentan (Seabury, 1968, 278 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by Robert B. Laurin, professor of Old Testament, California Baptist Theological Seminary, Covina.
After I had finished reading this book I thought: “That was well written, competent, sober, but for the most part so familiar!” Why then the book? Virtually everything can be found discussed in greater detail, and therefore many times more clearly, in the standard biblical theologies. Indeed, the author admits this when he writes in the preface: “It will be evident that there is little that is original in this book.” Yet, in spite of all this, the book is worth having and reading. Originality in biblical studies is a scarce commodity these days, and what most of us need anyway is to understand the contents and implications, of what has already been discovered. Dentan, professor of Old Testament at General Theological Seminary, has done a fine job of summarizing and highlighting the results of study on the knowledge of God in ancient Israel.
The doctrine of God, as Dentan rightly observes, is the pole around which all other Old Testament topics revolve, since that which was distinctive about Israel’s religion was the character of God. So to understand ancient Israel, one has to comprehend her understanding of God. This can be grasped in general, says Dentan, by recognizing that God to the Israelites had acted in the past, was acting in the present, and would act in the future. “This belief that God is to be met first of all in the world of history is Israel’s most remarkable contribution to theology.” The permanent contribution of the Old Testament, therefore, lies in this fact. It is only because events are tied together past, present, and future in the continuum of history that we can find meaning for ourselves in the Old Testament view of God. The God whom Israel met in the disasters and triumphs of her life is able to be our God when we are involved with similar historical forces. This is why it is important to understand the character of Israel’s God. The book is structured to delineate this character through the threefold rubric of God in the past, present, and future.
The book has its frailties and omissions. The chapter on God and the natural world is the weakest of the lot. It fails to provide sufficient details to clarify the author’s arguments. Dentan assumes the existence of a Hexateuch without mentioning the alternate and strong possibility of a Tetrateuch. One also finds various overstatements about what was possible in Israel’s use of language—no understanding of scientific analysis, no ability to use poetic images among the earliest Israelites. But the book has its strengths and contributions, and these predominate. The excellent use of tradition criticism clarifies many points. The final chapter on the permanent contribution of Old Testament insights is also valuable. And there is a fine opening discussion about the “mystery” of Israel—her name, the forms of her existence, and her remarkable persistence.
Eighty Poems On Jonah
You! Jonah!, by Thomas John Carlisle (Eerdmans, 1968, 45 pp., $1) is reviewed by Kenneth L. Pike, professor of linguistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
This book is biblical, hard hitting, contemporary—“therefore the common people heard him gladly.”
Five years ago, emotion was out of fashion; to talk about justice was not socially acceptable. Now the college cry, in a climate of moral debate, is for external justice. Internal excellence is less prized. Nevertheless, people in this new climate may, perhaps, listen to a sharp but gentle attack on spiritual callouses. We often are dulled and lulled by superb sermonettes from pen and pulpit. Something additional is needed, if the unbelieving common man is to hear the Word gladly—or at all.
Poetry once shook the world. It may again. This book stabbed at me—with hilarious sadness. But who would have thought anybody could do that by writing eighty poems about Jonah?
Discharge, O God,
from all perils
and all responsibilities
and I shall not even know
that I am dead.
The reversal of expectancies, the author’s deep search for me—like God’s working with Jonah in his inner struggle—overflows the whole book:
I was so obsessed
with what was going on
inside the whale
that I missed
seeing the drama
Carlisle’s poetry will help readers to understand not only Jonah’s predicament but their own as well.
Another On The Great Dane
Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship: A New Perspective, by Vernard Eller (Princeton, 1968, 445 pp., $12.50), is reviewed by William W. Bass, professor of philosophy, Biola College, La Mirada, California.
Contemporary theological discussion desperately needs new alternatives. Even if Dr. Eller did not specifically say in his last chapter that this book presents a serious thesis” about the current state of Christianity, the reader could surmise it from the depth and kind of his historical perspective. By carefully comparing the views of Sören Kierkegaard with those of a representative denominational group (the early Brethren, with which Eller is most familiar), he shows that Kierkegaard is best understood as related to the historical sectarian protest against the established Christian tradition. And Kierkegaard is better allowed to speak as the “greatest exponent” and most “shrewd analyst” of this temperament rather than as a theologian, psychologist, or philosopher.
Eller’s detailed, objective, and discerning investigation makes this a work of first-rate historical scholarship and a valuable treatment of Kierkegaard. Both expected topics (inwardness, immediacy, nonconformity, the simple life, creedalism, religiousness, and contemporaneousness) and the unexpected (clericalism, sacramentalism, universalism, and celibacy) are examined. Eller treats the individual, faith, community, and Christology with careful reference to sectarianism, differing interpretations, and Kierkegaard’s dialectic. Discussion is cast against a carefully sealed discrimination of church types and movements, which distinguishes between wholesome sectarianism and the theologically and morally lax varieties of cultic and sectarian community.
Eller sees in Kierkegaard a spokesman who can demand a hearing for this variety of Christianity in today’s troubled theological climate. His penetrating discussions on creeds, religiousness, and contemporaneousness (to which Eller relates the series of quests for Jesus) also show what Kierkegaard and the sectarians have to say to the hour. Kierkegaard’s anti-intellectualism is explained as an expected corrective to philosophically tainted Christianity rather than an inherent antagonist of the rational process, a fact that speaks to the milieu of the evangelical as well as to that of the newer theology.
The passages from Kierkegaard cited in the section on contemporaneousness show his indebtness to the traditional philosophical categories of the “Eternal” and the temporal. This concept of the eternal, timeless, or transcendent is precisely what is identified negatively with traditional Western metaphysics by the post-Christian discussion to which Eller would like to speak. Thus, while his book presents a classical and neglected alternative that is relevant for recent considerations, there is a basic problem with Kierkegaard’s formulation, one that may not be inherent in the Brethren writings. The solution to the current hiatus will probably be even more radical than that proposed by Eller and firmly related to the Hebrew concept of the Kingdom of God and eschatological events (Cox) and the temporality of God (Ogden). Eller’s term “Neo-Sectarianism” will probably be applicable to the emerging formulation, which may have many of the characteristics described in this book, but which will have succeeded better than Kierkegaard in dropping all philosophical categories.
Ministering to Prisoners and Their Families, by George C. Kandle and Henry H. Cassler (Prentice-Hall, 1968, 140 pp., $3.95). Telling of the inner and outer worlds of the prisoner, two prison chaplains propose a role for the pastor in helping the prisoner adjust to his situation and travel the hard road to responsible freedom.
An Introduction to Teilhard De Chardin, by N. M. Wildiers (Harper & Row, 1968, 191 pp., $6). A well-written guide to understanding the complex panorama of Teilhard’s theological-scientific thought. Shines new light on his intellectual and spiritual concepts of the universe.
Is the Last Supper Finished? Secular Light on a Sacred Meal, by Arthur A. Vogel (Sheed and Ward, 1968, 191 pp., $4.50). An Episcopal priest shines ecumenical light on the continuing reality of God’s presence, the bonds among “community, word, and body,” and the purpose of the sacrifice in making man God-like.
The Heart of the Gospel, by Joseph F. Green (Broadman, 1968, 128 pp., $1.50). A presentation of faith as the life-giving organ of the Gospel. Deals with challenging questions such as relevance, immortality, and biblical authority.
Great Men of the Bible and the Women in Their Lives, by G. Avery Lee (Word, 1968, 107 pp., $3.95). Who can find a virtuous woman? Dr. Lee tells about the women found by eight men of the Bible, including Jacob, Samson, David, and Paul.
Kierkegaard: The Difficulty of Being Christian, edited by Jacques Colette (University of Notre Dame, 1968, 256 pp., $5.95). Selections from Kierkegaard’s profound thought outline existence as a gift from God that must be persistently entrusted to God if one is to find a purpose in life.
Preface to Parish Renewal: A Study Guide for Laymen, by Wallace E. Fisher (Abingdon, 1968, 143 pp., $1.75). A valuable guide leading laymen and pastors to work together in fashioning a renewal program of radical change in persons, reflecting God’s purposes for his people as they are confronted by Scripture and Christian history.
Faith and Violence, by Thomas Merton (University of Notre Dame, 1968, 291 pp., $1.95). A Catholic monk asserts that a theology of love must seek to deal realistically with evil and injustice in the world by becoming a theology of resistance, emphasizing reason and communication. Treats such topics as Viet Nam, black power, and the death-of-God theology.
A History of Preaching, Volume 1, by Edwin Charles Dargan (Baker, 1968, 577 pp., $3.95). Reprint of a unique homiletical resource that considers the relation between preaching and world events from the Apostles through the sixteenth-century Reformers.
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, by William Law (Westminster, 1968, 158 pp., $1.45). This influential eighteenth-century Christian devotional classic (here abridged) gives practical instruction for victorious living.
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