Clear Statement Of Priorities

Jesus and the Revolutionaries, by Oscar Cullmann (Harper and Row, 1970, 84 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Harold O. J. Brown, theological secretary, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Lausanne, Switzerland.

This short but timely work is an expansion of a lecture delivered in Paris on November 4, 1969. In it the author finds fault with those who rashly claim the authority of Jesus for their espousal of either revolution or the status quo. Both claims, he says, usually result from failure to place what Jesus actually did, said, and taught in its proper context, that is, in the social and political situation of his day. Professor Cullmann charges a host of modern interpreters with too little zeal for historical accuracy and too much eagerness to make Jesus speak for their own particular cause.

With his accustomed carefulness and sobriety, the author examines the relation between Jesus and the Zealot party on parties. While affirming the socially revolutionary implications of Jesus’ message, Professor Cullmann contends that Jesus promptly and vigorously rejected every attempt to make him into a this-worldly Messiah. The rebuke to Satan in Matthew 4 and to Peter in Matthew 16, as well as his statement to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), are all indicative of his persistent refusal to place political change in society ahead of personal change in individuals.

The various events in Jesus’ ministry which are used to support the currently fashionable contention that Jesus was a (political) revolutionary can be more adequately explained, Professor Cullmann believes, by placing them in their biblical and cultural context. Thus the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (to which the author ascribes a modest scale) saw the Lord seated upon a donkey, following Zechariah 9:9, and not upon a war-horse like a political Messiah. On the other hand, he was no yes-man for the political and social status quo: his critical attitude towards both the Romans and Herod earned him the enmity of the established authorities and paved the way for his condemnation. There was at least one former Zealot among his Twelve, but also one former tax-collector; in both cases, Cullmann emphasizes the former. Both the Zealots and those who collaborated with Rome had to accept a new set of loyalties, or at least of priorities, in order to follow him. Both uncritical approval of the status quo with its injustices and espousal of political and social revolution with its violence and false utopianism represent conformity to this world. The Christian is called to something different: to a transformation by the renewal of his mind (Rom. 12:2). In the author’s view, a personal change of heart and transformation of life must come first, but it must not come alone. Spiritual change has social, political, and economic consequences, but to reverse the priorities is to be false to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

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Cullmann frequently rejects the temptation to dismiss certain Gospel narratives, such as the cleansing of the Temple, as Gemindebildungen, but he does not categorically reject the possibility that the Gospels contain such fictional elaborations. In a general way he accepts the contention that Jesus’ ethical teachings reflect a mistaken expectation of an imminent end to the present world order, and goes on to argue that we should take over his message without weakening its eschatological radicalism, that is, without losing its rejection both of complacent self-satisfaction and of revolutionary utopianism. This recommendation sounds illogical if one accepts Cullmann’s concession that Jesus held a view that the end of the world was imminent and was, therefore, mistaken, but it is not necessary to concede this. Although he is very cautious in his acceptance of certain critical methods and conclusions, Professor Cullmann does leave open the possibility that the Gospels have erred in their presentation of Jesus’ history and even that he himself was mistaken on an important matter.

Deserves A Patient Reading

Sacra Doctrina: Reason and Revelation in Aquinas, by Per Erik Persson (Fortress, 1970, 317 pp., $9.75), is reviewed by Gordon H. Clark, professor of philosophy, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana.

This careful work of fine scholarship, with the bottom third of nearly every page covered with finer footnotes, aims to explain the relation between reason and sacra doctrina in Thomas Aquinas. This includes an exposition of Thomas’s idea of revelatio and its relation to Scripture, the status of elements derived from Greek philosophy, and the systematic principle in the structural framework of Christianity.

One of the points Persson makes is that an event, a miracle or a war, is not as such a revelation; nor is its observation: there must be interpretation of the event, for the cognitive content is all decisive. Faith is “an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth at the command of the will moved by God through grace.” All doctrina or teaching consists in the communication of knowledge by the use of words; but what is thus communicated is not the object about which the teacher speaks [the truth??] but concepts that signify the objective. Nevertheless Thomas identifies the contents of faith with the written words of Scripture.

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Most interestingly, the author notes several important points on which Thomas differs from modern Romanism; e.g., the papacy is founded not on Peter but on the content of Peter’s confession. “There is a clear distinction between Thomas and post-Tridentine Catholic theology.”

Since the concept of cause is one of the great confusions in the argument for God’s existence, one may be somewhat disappointed that Persson did not more fully explain Thomas’s substitution of Plato’s causa exemplaris for Aristotle’s formal cause. This omission may not be entirely his fault: he may have included everything Thomas says. At least he gives many delicate details; for example, is it true (footnote 199 on pp. 136, 137) that Thomas’s metaphysics provides a better foundation for the Trinity than Bonaventura’s neoplatonism? If pages 159 ff. are intended to give the remainder of the explanation, one can hardly fail to be impressed with the emptiness of the verbiage—Thomas’s, not the author’s—because to say that “God is in things as a cause is in its effect” explains neither God’s nor a cause’s inherence. See also Thomas’s amusing comment on Romans 8:1 in footnote 60 on page 241.

The work is a worthy contribution to Thomistic studies and deserves a patient reading.

Geology And Scripture

Rock Strata and the Bible Record, edited by Paul A. Zimmerman (Concordia, 1970, 209 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Donald C. Boardman, chairman, department of geology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

Evangelicals have been subjected to a number of books and papers putting forth the so-called “flood geology” approach to earth history. The thesis of flood geologists, usually, is that the earth is young, conditions were different at the time of creation than now, and that the greatest geological event was the Noahic flood which laid down many, if not all, of the rock strata in the earth’s crust. Flood geologists contend that accepting these viewpoints affirms belief in the literal interpretation of Scripture and disproves evolution.

Probably most scientists who are Christian and believe in the infallibility of the Bible also believe that the earth is very old. The latest conclusion, after study of the moon rocks, places the earth’s beginning about 4.6 billion years ago. These scientists also contend for a uniformity in natural laws, and many hold to some type of evolution to explain the life which has developed on the earth over the last billion or so years.

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It is obvious that these two views are poles apart, and if a person holds to one, it is difficult for him to see any merit in the position of a person at the opposite end of the axis. The result has been much contention, dividing groups, and doing much to hinder the work of the Church. In the midst of this polarization, it is encouraging to have a book that does not try to put everyone into small boxes.

About ten years ago seven men in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were appointed to a study committee which came to be known as the Rock Symposium. Funded by a grant from the church, these scholars—three biologists, two theologians, and two geologists—studied and discussed some aspects of science and theology, putting the results into eleven papers published under the title Rock Strata and the Bible Record.

According to the preface, the purpose of the book is to show the relationships of the truths of the Bible to the truths of science. In general, the papers take a more moderate position than has been held by many in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The book will probably not please anyone who holds extreme views regarding the origin and history of the earth and man. The authors oppose evolution, hold to a very literal interpretation of all Scripture, and believe the Noahic flood was universal. They believe that the earth is very old, that there is uniformity in nature, that the scientific methods of dating rocks are valid, and that there is little, if any, geological evidence for the Noahic flood.

Divided into five sections, the little volume begins by giving some theological and scientific guideposts. The chapter by Professor Robert Preus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, gives a Lutheran confessional approach to the doctrine of creation. Although the many references to the Augsburg Confession, Formula of Concord, and the Smalcald Articles may be strange to non-Lutherans, they are valuable in showing the development of Lutheran doctrine.

The chapter on uniformitarianism by Dr. Kenneth L. Currie of the Geological Survey of Canada is a good statement of the subject. It points out some of the mistakes made by scientists in the past but shows that there is a uniformity in nature which makes possible an objective approach to scientific study. A section on time gives the layman a good resumé of why theologians do not consider Ussher’s chronology valid. Those who wonder how geologists determine the age of the earth and different rock layers will find Dr. Currie’s chapter on age dating a valuable reference.

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The section on Noah’s Flood brings toegther the ideas of a number of people regarding this miracle. Dr. Paul Tychsen gives a very good short essay on the lack of geological evidence of a deluge such as Genesis describes.

Along with these assets, the book has weaknesses. Although this is a work that should be referred to many times, the lack of an index makes looking up what is said on a given subject difficult. More careful editing could have made the writing style of each chapter more consistent. More attention to equal presentation of the subjects would have been helpful; chapter lengths vary from eight to forty-six pages, and the chapter on human fossils is much too long in relationship to the others.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is to be congratulated for undertaking this project. It shows a confidence that the Word of God can be examined and will always stand. Only when one is afraid his own ideas can be disproved is he unwilling to listen to another viewpoint. Let us hope more authors will follow the example set by this volume.

A Concise Commentary

Ezekiel, by John B. Taylor (Inter-Varsity, 1969, 285 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Lester J. Kuyper, professor of Old Testament, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.

This commentary is clear and concise; the author’s apparent purpose was to condense within a brief commentary his previous extensive studies and writings about the prophecy of Ezekiel. Long discussions on difficult Hebrew texts where variations and emendations seem the only way to arrive at meaning are not to be found here. However, Taylor is fully aware of difficulties and offers his solution(s) within a sentence or two. Thus the reader who has little interest in textual matters is nonetheless given a key to understanding difficult passages.

The introduction deals with the book, the prophet, the historical background, the message of the prophet, and the original text. Taylor ascribes the book to a single author, the prophet Ezekiel, and notes reasons advanced by other scholars to support this view. The prophet’s ministry took place in Babylon, where he delivered all his oracles, including the visionary visit to Jerusalem (8:3–11:24). The problem of this visionary visit is fully discussed, together with the manner of prophetic inspiraton.

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In the RSV translaton of Ezekiel, one becomes aware of several appeals to the versions such as the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate and of translators’ corrections. These departures from the Hebrew text were necessary, the translators felt, to bring meaning to the text. Professor Taylor at times approves the changes. He is always concerned to establish accurate and meaningful translations of Hebrew words as he contrasts the renderings of various modern translations.

To do justice to the prophet’s message, the interpreter must take into account the special historical context in which the prophet speaks. Further, the concepts of individual responsibility and communal solidarity must be held in proper balance. This Taylor does in his exposition of Ezekiel 18. The prophet takes the despondent captives in Babylon to task for using the proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” by which the people were accusing God of injustice. Out of this setting the prophet develops one of the best sermons in the Bible on individual responsibility.

The understandng of any book of the Bible is much enhanced by incidental comments about words or phrases. In this volume these comments often become a backdrop against which the message of the prophet becomes more meaningful. Examples are those about Sheol, about soul, nephesh, and about righteousness, sedeq. The author shows himself well grounded in the language and thought forms of biblical Hebrew.

An index, even though restricted in size, would be desirable.

Shaky Moral Foundations

Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality, by Daniel Callahan (Macmillan, 1970, 524 pp. $14.95), is reviewed by John Warwick Montgomery, chairman, Division of Church History and History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

Of the present state of Roman Catholicism, crusty but perceptive Malcolm Muggeridge writes in Jesus Rediscovered: It “is now racing at breakneck speed to reproduce all the follies and fatuities of Protestantism, and will surely before long arrive at the same plight, with crazed clergy, empty churches, and total doctrinal confusion.… I used to suppose that the Roman Catholic Church, having so valiantly and obstinately defended its citadel against the assaults of a triumphant and vainglorious scientific materialism, would celebrate a well-deserved victory. Instead, to my amazement, just when the attacking forces were about to withdraw in disarray, the citadel’s defenders have opened their gates and emerged bearing white flags.” Callahan’s treatment of the abortion question stands in the front rank with those pushing the gates wide, and its white flag is held aloft for all to see.

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Abortion is a massive volume—the result of a Ford Foundation travel-study grant that enabled the author, well known for his Mind of the Catholic Layman, Secular City Debate, and 1961–1968 executive editorship of Commonweal, to examine abortion practices throughout the globe. The work deals with three major aspects of the subject: the medical (with stress on the “indications” for abortion, particularly those in the psychiatric and psychosocial realm), the legal (a discussion of the sociological patterns where abortion laws are “restrictive,” as in the United States and Latin America, “moderate,” as in Scandinavian countries, and “permissive,” as in Russia and Eastern-bloc Communist lands), and the ethical (an effort to establish criteria for moral decisions and for their practical implementation). As a reference work, the book has considerable value, especially in its survey of current abortion practice; detailed bibliographical citations to published literature and a careful index of names and subjects give the user of the volume access to a wide range of sources that would otherwise be hard to come by.

One hopes, however, that readers will not commit the author’s fundamental error: the venerable “sociologist’s fallacy”—what E. G. Moore called the “naturalistic fallacy”—whereby moral judgments bubble automatically from a cauldron stuffed with descriptive data. Here is one example among legion: in “seeking a new moral methodology,” Callahan refers to Latin-America slum conditions and concludes: “The physical meaning of an abortion in that context is, of course, the destruction of a conceptus, which for the moment we can, for the sake of argument, assume to be a ‘human being.’ But in the case of a mother with too many children and too few material, familial, social or psychological resources to care for them, the full human meaning of the act of abortion is preservation of the existing children.” It is this kind of moral decision by environmental pressure that the author sets over against what he terms “deductive arguments from general principles” (which being translated is “revelational absolutes”).

In contrast with a wide range of sociological, medical, and legal citations, few references are made to serious recent analyses of the abortion issue from the standpoint of biblical revelation. The Christian Medical Society’s symposium, Birth Control and the Christian, is cited but once—in a footnote—and then only to give the author an opportunity to distinguish his “developmental” view of the origin of the human person (some degree of development after conception must take place before an “individual human being” can legitimately be spoken of) from M. O. Vincent’s “genetic” view (the human being commences at conception, and abortion thus always constitutes the termination of a human life). Callahan advocates “an ideal law—most closely approximated in some of the East European countries”—that would “permit abortion on request up to that point where the medical danger of abortion becomes a concern (normally about twelve weeks)” and would “provide for free abortions for all women who desire an abortion, as well as free assistance of the kind needed to bear and raise a child if that option is chosen.”

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Abortion is dedicated to “Daniel Berrigan and Philip Berrigan, who know what it is to wrestle in the arena of law and conscience.” One wonders. Surely the Rome of the past was reactionary on many fronts, political (support of Latin-American dictatorships) and ethical (always save the unborn infant even at the cost of its mother’s life). But does one function better in the “arena of law and conscience”—to say nothing of the sphere of Christian belief—when one burns Selective Service files and no longer protects the pre-born child from the whims of its mother or from the social patterns of the day?

Modern World Vs. Ancient Ethics

Judaism and Ethics, edited by Daniel Jeremy Silver (Ktav, 1970, 338 pp., $10), is reviewed by Warren C. Young, professor of Christian philosophy, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oak Brook, Illinois.

This volume contains twenty essays on various ethical themes as they relate primarily to Reformed Judaism. All the essays are from the quarterly journal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which Silver edits.

The essays fall under four topics: “The Issues” (ethical issues today), “The Jewish Background,” “Social Action,” and “The Mission of Israel.” All but two are written by Jewish scholars. The Christian scholars who contribute are James Gustafson (“What Is the Contemporary Problematic of Ethics in Christianity?”) and Julian Hartt (“Modern Images of Man”), both professors at Yale Divinity School.

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Some of the articles in this collection deal with the historical background of Jewish ethics, such as the meaning of “Torah” and “Death and Burial,” while others are as contemporary as Viet Nam or the Six Day War.

A basic problem stands out. How can the modern Reformed Jew relate to modern issues and still be somewhat faithful to the ancient Jewish commands and prohibitions? Often the ancient teaching seems as strange to the modern Jew as to the Gentile. How can one be a child of the modern scientific cultural outlook and still root his ethics in the teachings that applied to a world of several thousand years ago?

Professor Samuel Sandmel presents the theological problem bluntly: “I guess what characterizes the C.C.A.R. is that of its members 90 per cent are naturalistic and 10 per cent theistic, and it is searching for a mandatory theology which it desires should be 100 per cent theistic and no per cent naturalistic.” If this is the actual situation (and Sandmel should know), it is difficult to see how the Hebrew revelation can have any significance for the Reformed Jew at all. The ethical verities of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can have little relevance if they have been relegated to the realm of pious human aspiration. Is this all that is left of the prophetic vision of Israel?

There are, though, two or three voices pleading still for a higher view of the ancient teaching. Rabbi Eugene Lipman stresses the need for a theistic foundation for ethics. Jewish ethics, he insists, must be founded on the Covenant of Sinai. It is the God of Sinai, not some process idea of God, that must be maintained, for “if God is process, He or It needs no partner, and Jewish civilization needs no theological purpose.” And in his penetrating essay “On the Theology of Jewish Survival,” Rabbi Steven S. Schwarzchild warns all of us, as well as his Jewish colleagues, by pleading, “I implore you and me and all of us not to prove Nietzsche to have been right—that morality is the rationalization of the weak.”

There is much of value for all of us in these essays, much that should make us pause and think. Is there to be any room for God in the modern world? Will there remain any foundation for ethics other than cultural determination or personal preference?

The translation is quite uneven and at times seems to follow the German original too closely, and the footnoting is rather inadequate. The book is small for the price, and this is not compensated by the inclusion of an appendix borrowed, with revisions, from the 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia. Nevertheless, this book remains a clear and enlightening contribution to the discussion of the social implications of the Gospel and is remarkable for the firmness and clarity with which it restates the New Testament order of priorities: transformation of human being first, change of social structures second.

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Newly Published

Some of the following books will later be reviewed at greater length.

A Call to Christian Character: Toward a Recovery of Biblical Piety, edited by Bruce Shelley (Zondervan, 1970, 186 pp., $4.95). Eleven teachers at Conservative Baptist Seminary each contribute a chapter. Half study piety in different parts of the Bible; the rest relate piety to various aspects of contemporary practical theology.

The New English Bible: Companion to the New Testament, by A. E. Harvey (Oxford and Cambridge, 1970, 850 pp., $9.95). This book is designed primarily to help first-time readers of the New Testament understand what is being said. The commentary follows the New English Bible.

The B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Classics, edited by David Patterson and Lily Edelman (Norton, 1970). A series projected to include about fifty volumes. The first three: selections from the Mishnah, Jewish folklore, and Rashi.

North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, Monrovia, Calif., 1970, 316 pp., $7.50 hardback, $4.50 paperback). This ninth edition of the directory is by far the best. A “must” for those seriously interested in the Church’s evangelistic task.

Science and Secularity: The Ethics of Technology, by Ian G. Barbour (Harper and Row, 1970, 151 pp., $4.95). The technological age calls for a new theology—a combination of science and nature—to bring religion back into acceptance (according to this author, anyway).

I Talked with Spirits, by Victor H. Ernest (Tyndale, 1970, 89 pp., $2.95). An important exposé of spiritism told by one who was once deeply involved with this phenomenon.

Scientology: The Now Religion, by George Malko (Delacorte, 1970, 205 pp., $5.95). A carefully researched work sure to be denounced by Scientologists but invaluable for those trying to help persons entangled in this false religion.

The Responsible Suburban Church, by Gaylord B. Noyce (Westminster, 1970, 176 pp., paperback, $3.50). A professor of pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School discusses the people and issues of suburbia, giving practical suggestions for those who ask, What shall we do?

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Prayer and Modern Man, by Jacques Ellul (Seabury, 1970, 178 pp., $4.95). Sensitive approach to the anxieties and deterrents to prayer found in “our technical, technicalized society.”

Christian Apologetics, by J. K. S. Reid (Eerdmans, 1970, 224 pp., paperback, $2.45). A history of apologetic literature from New Testament times to the present, helpful as an introduction for those who have no background in this field.

Getting Along with Difficult People, by Friedrich Schmitt (Fortress, 1970, 113 pp., paperback, $2.50). A keenly perceptive book with such topics as “Know-It-Alls,” “Helpers Who Need Help,” and “Love Under Fire.”

The Unhurried Chase, by Betty Carlson (Tyndale, 1970, 158 pp., $3.95). A delightful and truly inspiring autobiography of a close associate of L’Abri in Switzerland.

Barricades in Belfast: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland, by Max Hastings (Taplinger, 1970, 211 pp., $5.95). A young newsman gives an eyewitness and basically objective report of the civil strife in Northern Ireland.

The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, by John M. Allegro (Doubleday, 1970, 349 pp., $7.95). Although a full scholarly apparatus is present, and readers whose knowledge of Sumerian is weak might be momentarily awed, the author’s anti-Jewish and anti-Christian bias is so pronounced that only those who share his passion could be duped. Allegro contends that almost everything in the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Supper, is really a veiled reference to worshiping mushrooms. Informed scholars, regardless of their religious views, see the work as “an essay in fantasy rather than philology.” Doubleday has transmitted a literary hoax.

Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology, by Francis A. Schaeffer (Tyndale, 1970, 125 pp., paperback, $1.95). One cannot praise Dr. Schaeffer enough for his writings on twentieth-century thought. Here he turns to a problem facing us all—one that should be of the utmost concern for Christians—and gives clear biblical guidelines “which if followed would bring about substantial healing and restoration.”

Religion Without Wrappings, by David H. C. Read (Eerdmans, 1970, 216 pp., $4.95). This compilation of lively and thought-provoking sermons gets to the heart of the problems that confront the Christian in this “relevance-crazed” age.

A Survey of the New Testament, by Robert H. Gundry (Zondervan, 1970, 400 pp., $6.95). Average students will appreciate the format and writing style of this textbook. The information is accurate, but the impetus to think is lacking.

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The Growing Church Lobby in Washington, by James L. Adams (Eerdmans, 1970, 294 pp., $6.95). A fascinating account of the rise and strength of church lobbyists (or “social action secretaries or public affairs officials,” as they like to be called), researched while the author was an intern with CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Habitation of Dragons, by Keith Miller (Word, 1970, 188 pp., $4.95). Designed to be used as a daily devotional book. The author includes in each chapter personal observations, quotations from various sources (such as Bonhoeffer and Gandhi), as well as Bible verses suitable for the subject under discussion.

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