Man-Centered Theology

The Old Testament and Theology, by G. Ernest Wright (Harper & Row, 1969, 190 pp., $6), is reviewed by Gleason L. Archer, professor of Old Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

The distinguished archaeologist G. Ernest Wright, author of several outstanding studies in Old Testament theology and history, here sets forth his view of the Bible as revelation. It accords with the general perspective of Harvard Divinity School, of which he is a prominent representative.

Wright’s approach may be characterized as basically neo-orthodox, though hardly as self-assured as that of Karl Barth or Emil Brunner. He defines theology, not as “the rational content of faith,” but as “a human activity dealing with the basic issues of intrapersonal, transpersonal life,” “a searching for God as he has been and is relating himself to us in our specific time and place,” “an activity that demands and is continual conversation with one’s peers, past and present.” “Theological activity is reasoning, reflective, interpretative,” he says, “seeking those vital structures of meaning that hold life together, that release our freedom and power for creativity.”

It appears, then, that theology is pretty largely a human activity, a function of man as a reflective being capable of philosophic inquiry into metaphysical truth; it is hardly to be considered as a record of God himself taking the initiative in revealing himself and his saving truth for the redemption of mankind. Reinforcing this concept are the final sentences in the book:

As regards the truth of the canonical Scripture, it would appear that we must settle for a much humbler quest than for absolute certainty in epistemology. It would be a quest for those factors of organization of experience which provide most meaning and most creativity, while they humble one before mystery we cannot penetrate. They can never be concrete tests of validity, because God has not committed his truth to respond adequately to our tests.

Wright apparently views the Bible as nothing more than a culturally conditioned record of man’s search after God, containing recital of God’s activity on behalf of his people, accompanied by an explanation (doubtless of purely human origin) of the meaning of these events. As for the principle by which ancient Israel selected which of its religious writings should be considered canonical, Wright understands it to be the living faith or the predominating theology controlling the minds of the generation that did the choosing: “Selection of the canonical books can be understood in the light of the theology dominating a given people at a given time.”

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Such an interpretation of biblical authority would reduce Scripture to the level of any other religious document belonging to any faith in any part of the world. Man is left with the awesome responsibility of passing judgment upon this purported self-disclosure of God and deciding for himself what portions of it are valid and trustworthy and what portions are to be rejected. He must remain his own ultimate court of appeal in deciding upon matters of metaphysical truth, for he has no trustworthy, objective revelation from God in the written Scripture (except, perchance, as the Holy Spirit may impress some truth—essentially unverifiable truth—upon his heart). It would even seem that some of the guiding concepts of the Pentateuch were partly borrowed from neighboring Near Eastern cultures. For example, the Deuteronomic title “the God of the Fathers” was probably taken over from a title given to El in the Amorite theology. This would explain why Jeroboam chose the El-bull symbol for cultic purposes, as more ancient than Jerusalem’s Yahwism.

Many interesting and helpful observations are included in this slender volume, some of them significant departures from the conventional liberal interpretation of Old Testament data. For example, Wright deduces from Mendenhall’s studies of the second-millennium Hittite suzerainty treaties that Israel thought of itself as governed directly by Yahweh as its divine Emperor, somewhat like the Hittite overlord in the treaties. He says we may conclude that Israelite monotheism derived, not from some abstract reduction of many gods to one, but from the overlord concept embodied in the suzerainty treaties. Moreover, since the relationship of “love” is often mentioned as that between suzerain and vassal in the Hittite documents, we may understand this emphasis in Deuteronomy as being of second-millennium origin, even though that book may have passed through North Israelite, Josianic, and post-Josianic reworking in the process of achieving its final written form. As for the prediction of supreme elevation of the Temple-mountain in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4, this oracle might well have been earlier than either prophet, says Wright, since it may have been derived from the cosmic mountain of the abode of the gods in Ugaritic mythology.

Space will not permit a more detailed discussion of this interesting work, but suffice it to say that it contains some perceptive comparisons between Bultmann and Tillich (pp. 160–162), with John Calvin pressed into service as teaching the analogical, symbolical nature of biblical revelation. Granted his presuppositions, Professor Wright conducts a very intelligent and able discussion of these varying interpretations, and seems to lean away from the extreme demythologizing of the Bultmannian approach.

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Pastor’S Role As ‘Shepherd’

The New Shape of Pastoral Theology, edited by William B. Oglesby, Jr. (Abingdon, 1969, 383 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Willard S. Harley, professor of psychology and director of counseling, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

This Festschrift in honor of Seward Hiltner, by his former students and colleagues, explores “various aspects and factors in pastoral theology which have been set in motion or enhanced by Hiltner’s own experiences and publications.” The names of many of the twenty-four contributors are familiar to those conversant with current pastoral psychology and the psychology of religion. The intent of the book is to facilitate discussion among theological students and pastors.

Hiltner, a pace-setter in pastoral theology, conceived of the pastor’s role as “shepherding,” a concept in which the caring, helping, healing, and sustaining aspects of the ministry are centered. He fused the legacy of Boisen’s clinical approach to theology with the philosophical approach of the Chicago School.

While parts of the book are wordy, abound in name-dropping, and give the impression that the writers were fulfilling an assignment, there are sections of fresh air that in themselves make the book of value to the student of pastoral theology.

The first ten of the twenty-four articles treat pastoral theology historically, geographically, and philosophically as it relates to current psychology, existentialism, the search for identity, and the urban crisis.

The next five consider the implications of pastoral theology for theological education. Included is the place of field experience, clinical training, and pastoral supervision, as well as the integration of practical and pastoral theology.

The last nine articles show the application of the shepherding concept in counseling, group sharing, campus ministry, intraprofessional relationships, and pastoral blessing.

Throughout the book there is a recognition of the “new shape” of pastoral theology, the changing role of the pastor in today’s world. He is seen as becoming more involved in social and civic matters. James N. Lapsley, providing a historical perspective, suggests three directions in which pastoral theology needs to grow: (1) less attention to “theology and psychology” and more to pastoral care, (2) increased attention to the communal (tribal) life of the church rather than the individualism of one-to-one relationships, (3) more philosophical sophistication, particularly in communicating its position in metaphysics.

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Robert Bonthius sees the urbanization of the pastor’s role. The pastor’s ministry is to “sick cities,” to institutions as well as individuals; he is to attend to “a dying community (not to mention death dealing institutions like war).…” Quoting Niebuhr, Bonthius suggests that the God-church-world sequence become God-world-church. The pastor is encouraged to address himself to the issues of racism, human reaction in industrial relations, business and professional ethics—to have “one foot in secular agencies striving for change and one foot in ecclesiastical structures striving for change.” Again, “The churches must renounce all ‘come structures’ of church life … which try to persuade the world to become a part of the church;” “it is the world which must be allowed to provide the agenda for the churches.”

The book abounds in thought-provoking and creative concepts, some of them controversial. It is strong in its treatment of a wide scope of parish needs; it is weak in its failure to integrate the various suggested roles with the evangelistic functions of the pastor.

One wonders how the pastor who is not a superman will find the time and energy to fill the “new shape” while continuing many of the roles vital to the church not mentioned here.

The ‘Turned-On’ Generation

Purple-Violet-Squish, by David Wilkerson (Zondervan, 1969, 152 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by Jack A. Chisolm, associate minister, First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

David Wilkerson has given us another exciting but disturbing report on the “turned-on” generation. The book is exciting because it is an honest appraisal of the hip teen-age subculture, disturbing because it shows that our young people have not seen in us over-thirties (“the wrinkles”) values that are lasting, and therefore are turning to bizarre avenues, mainly drugs, to try to find some meaning in life.

The literary style of the book is most helpful in giving one a feel for the teenage scene and will not appear superficial if the reader lets it speak to him. The brief sermon on Samson in the chapter “God Is Groovy, Man” is an imaginative attempt to speak to the teen-age mind.

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Wilkerson has some hard words for the new breed of ministers who identify so much with the teen drug scene that it is difficult to know when drugs turn off and God turns on. He shouts “never” to those who want to adopt the dress styles and long hair and beards of the young in order to show love. I think that he shows a bit of cultural bias—i.e., the “fundamentalist mentality”—at this point. Commendably, however, he seems able to keep this mentality under control most of the time. Certainly his approach has been successful. I wish he would share more of the influence of the “charismatic dimension” upon those who have been helped, but maybe that is material for another book.

Wilkerson introduces his reader to the varieties of youthful rebellion, as seen in the Hippies, the Yippies, the Freebie Gypsies, the Jim Chromies, and others. This will be very helpful for those who want to understand the various trends and reactions in evidence today. And we are shown not only the problem of the teen-age drug scene but also the solution—a dynamic encounter with the Creator God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Only then can a person become whole and see life in true perspective.

This is a book that should be read by both the over-thirties and the underthirties. One could wish that a copy could be given to every teen-ager in America today.

Book Briefs

Tortured for His Faith, by Haralan Popov (Zondervan, 1970, 156 pp., paperback, $.75). A Bulgarian pastor who spent over thirteen years in Communist prisons tells his story.

The Work of Christ, by I. Howard Marshall (Zondervan, 1970, 128 pp., paperback, $1.95). A summary of the New Testament teaching dealing with the various aspects of the work of Christ.

Symposium on Creation II, by Donald W. Patten and others (Baker, 1970, 151 pp., paperback, $1.95). This second of a projected series of Symposiums on Creation strongly affirms the scriptural creation account.

The Four Gospels, by David Brown (Banner of Truth Trust, 1969, 486 pp., 35s). Originally a part of the well-known Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary.

The Upper Room, by J. C. Ryle (Banner of Truth Trust, 1970, 467 pp., 25s). Reprint of a miscellaneous selection of papers, originally presented as sermons and lectures.

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