The Inner Revolution
Words of Revolution, by Tom Skinner (Zondervan, 1970, 171 pp., $1.95), and How Black Is the Gospel?, by Tom Skinner (Lippincott, 1970, $4.95), are reviewed by Ralph Fasold, assistant professor of linguistics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Both these books are addressed to those who are profoundly dissatisfied with the status quo in the churches and in the wider society while both preserve an essentially evangelical Christian outlook. How Black Is the Gospel? seems addressed primarily to blacks of a militant bent. Words of Revolution, according to its introduction, is addressed to the “evangelical world,” to “radical young people,” to “young militant blacks,” and as a prophetic warning to “the establishment.” Skinner seems willing to be offensive to the first and last groups but comes to the young and the black as one of their own. To them, he presents two themes in each book. First, he offers them Christ as a “contemporary, gutsy revolutionary with hair on his chest and dirt under his fingernails.” Second, he dissociates himself from that predominating brand of white evangelicalism which he sees as seriously implicated in the prejudice, racism, and injustice found in modern American life.
A difficulty arises when we examine Skinner’s notion of a revolutionary Christ. In both books, he draws striking parallels and contrasts between Christ and Barabbas. Vivid, free-wheeling analogies abound in Skinner’s black-preacher style of writing, and in one of these, Barabbas is pictured as a violent insurrectionist hurling Molotov cocktails into the homes of the honky Romans and Uncle Tom Jews. Christ is a revolutionary who agrees with Barabbas about the evil and oppressiveness of the Roman occupation and, by extension, with the Black Panthers, the Yippies, and the SDS about the oppressiveness and evil of our own system. Where Christ disagreed with Barabbas, and would disagree with today’s radicals, is in the solution. The solution does not lie in the violent overthrow of the corrupt system—this would all too likely lead to the establishment of another system equally corrupt. The revolution necessary is a revolution within men’s minds and hearts; one that overcomes evil in political systems by overcoming evil in individuals. In Skinner’s analogy, the people demand the execution of Christ and the release of Barabbas because Christ’s revolution is too difficult to counteract. A violent insurrectionist can be overcome with superior military power, but “how do you stop a Man, who—without firing a shot—is getting revolutionary results?”
Here is Skinner’s dilemma. The revolutionary Christ he presents does not condone violent insurrection. The revolution he leads is a revolution of the inner man through commitment to Christ. But the people who would most ardently claim to have experienced this inner revolution, evangelical Christians, are by Skinner’s own admission deeply involved in the evil the revolution needs to overthrow. The solution seems to be part of the problem.
A contemporary revolutionary might be likely to point out that both Christ and Barabbas were failures, since the Roman Empire survived them both. When the empire finally did fall, it was largely through the work of the Goths and the Vandals, whose methods were far more Barabbas-like than Christ-like. Even an appeal to the kind of Christianity found in the early Church would not impress any of today’s radicals who are familiar with the very early history of the Church. Before we finish the Book of Acts, we read of two instances of prejudice and discrimination. First, a special committee had to be formed to see that Hellenic Jews were not being discriminated against compared to Hebraic Jews in the church’s relief program for widows (Acts 6:1–3). Then we read of a major church conference called to decide whether or not Gentile Christians had to judaize themselves completely to be accepted as bona fide members of the Christian community (Acts 15:1–20).
In short, there is nothing in the Gospel as evangelicals understand it, short of the second coming of Christ, that gives promise of the sweeping societal reforms that today’s radicals call for.
If Skinner’s appeal to his main audience seems likely to fail, there is considerable value in his writings for us who are middle-class, white, establishment-oriented Christians. It is a good experience for us to read How Black Is the Gospel? as a “shadow audience,” knowing full well that the author has black people in mind and not us at all. Perhaps reading these books will teach us how unimpressed black Christians often are with some of the beliefs many of us take as part of Christianity. For example, Skinner has little use for the notion that the founding fathers of America were God-fearing men who established the country on biblical principles. To a black Christian, many of this country’s founders were witch-hunters, slaveholders, and deists. Perhaps it will be good for us to consider soberly, as we read Skinner’s chapter on black history, how Christians used the New Testament as a weapon in the perpetuation of slavery. Perhaps we will be impressed with how silly our objections to integration based on the dangers of race-mixing sound to a black person. Perhaps reading these two books will help us to realize that a Christian outreach to blacks will not result in congregations of dark-skinned white evangelicals; we must be prepared to accept some of the black ethos and experience into our Christian outlook and practice.
For Tom Skinner, the inner revolution carried out by Jesus Christ means that he must have the sense of balance between love and justice that leads him to “love my white brother, even though he’s exploited me, even though he might be filled with injustice, even though he is born and raised with cultural prejudices, even though he may be out to take me.… But just because I love him does not mean … that I will not stand against his injustice.… But in doing so, I will do it with love and compassion and always in an attempt to reconcile him to me and to my Savior” (How Black is the Gospel?, p. 50). If the Gospel is black enough to bring this attitude to a black believer, if it is white enough to bring this kind of openness to a white believer, then the words of this Gospel are the most hopeful words of revolution we can ever expect to hear.
Two To Ponder
A Survey of the New Testament, by Robert H. Gundry (Zondervan, 1970, 400 pp., $6.95), and The New English Bible: Companion to the New Testament, by A. E. Harvey (Oxford, 1970, 850 pp., $9.95), are reviewed by Robert A. Guelich, associate professor of New Testament exegesis, Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.
The distinguishing feature of R. H. Gundry’s survey textbook for the New Testament (written from an “evangelical and conservative” position) is its novel format and arrangement of materials. Gundry has arranged background and introductory materials around the biblical text itself, so that the student, by reading the New Testament in conjunction with the textbook, will not lose sight of the primary source, the Scriptures. The book is replete with pertinent photographs, summary outlines, charts, maps, and suggestions for related reading, and each chapter begins and ends with leading questions to stimulate interest.
Part One sets the stage by offering a brief look at the political, religious, and social setting of the New Testament period, and concludes with remarks about the canon and text of the New Testament. Part Two focuses on “Jesus’ career” as the “crucial event.” After introductory comments on the life of Jesus and the Gospels, the author unfolds Jesus’ ministry by means of a harmonistic study of the Four Gospels. The validity of this approach to the Gospels is questionable, however, in light of contemporary gospel studies. One definite disadvantage is that a harmonistic approach tends to perpetuate the common misunderstanding of the intent of the evangelists—that it was biographical rather than kerygmatic-didactic. Part Three turns to the “aftermath” of Jesus’ career in light of the Church’s growth from Jerusalem to Rome under the influence of the Holy Spirit—in other words, the Book of Acts. Part Four then turns to the Epistles and the Apocalypse, as the explanations and implications of the “crucial event.”
Perhaps the main weakness is the author’s tendency to oversimplify and to make assertions about dubious material without giving support or viable alternatives. That “hate thy enemy” comes from rabbinical teaching; “Nazareth” is derived from netzer so that the “Branch-Messiah” would be from a “Branch-Town” (a convenient way to harmonize Matthew 2:22 with Isaiah 11:1); the “true purpose” of Mark was to “win converts to the Christian Faith”; the bridegroom’s delay in the parable was a matter of haggling over a larger dowry—these and other such assertions are questionable in a textbook for serious students. This tendency does not reflect the careful scholarship one has come to associate with the author’s other work.
The work by A. E. Harvey is also designed to be read concurrently with the Scriptures, as a “companion” volume to the New English Bible New Testament. It comes close to being a one-volume commentary. The author’s concern is to present material that would help the reader coming to the New Testament without any previous introduction, and so he avoids the more technical, intramural issues of introduction, backgrounds, and exegesis. Yet his popular exposition is anything but an over-simplification and reflects his astute awareness of the issues and their more technical implications. It would be the rare layman, and even the rare pastor, who could not profit from use of this companion volume.
Its main format follows the headings and divisions of the NEB. Bold type sets off the phrase or verse under consideration. Harvey’s choice of material for comment is judicious, and his comments are lucid and succinct, covering the exegetical gamut from lexical studies to religio-historical setting. Although the introductory comments are generally made in conjunction with the text, there is an excursus on the meaning of “New Testament” and how it came to be applied to the twenty-seven books. There is also a brief but adequate excursus on “Gospels” and another on “Letters.”
One can place this work within the broadly conservative context. Some of Harvey’s comments will be disturbing in certain conservative circles. For instance, he notes “discrepancies” among the Four Gospels as well as between Paul and Acts without attempting to harmonize or rationalize them. And he questions the Pauline authorship of Ephesians (while being reticent to deny it for the Pastorals) and the Petrine authorship of First and Second Peter. Yet one hopes this will not give cause for ignoring or rejecting the valuable contributions of this work. It is a solid, extremely helpful aid in bridging the gap between the reader and what the Bible said.
Are Most Histories Needed?
The Church of the Middle Ages, by Carl A. Volz (Concordia, 1970, 198 pp., $5.95), and The Church of the Renaissance and Reformation, by Karl H. Dannenfeldt (Concordia, 1970, 145 pp., $4.95), are reviewed by Charles Greenwood Thorne, Jr., research associate, Council for Religion in Independent Schools, New York City.
Concordia Press is publishing a “Church in History Series,” and these two volumes together cover the period 600–1600. Both discuss the fourteenth century, as it happens. Volz and Dannenfeldt are specialists in church history and on the subjects at hand. These volumes are straight histories with no thesis, set out in the same format with numerous headings within each chapter. Yet in method of handling the subject, the two authors differ distinctly. A series of books covering only factual ground can easily point up its contributors’ competence through comparison; argument is minimal, if present at all, and the assignment, as here, is for a narrative. Even if Dannenfeldt has not won the competition, Volz never got on the short list.
In The Church of the Middle Ages Volz moves chronologically from 600 to 1400 and with general accuracy from subject to subject, though the plethora of headings inside the chapters is annoying and useless if the story has its own propulsion and obvious limits, which is the reason for chapters themselves. Here the chapter headings are much too unspecific, save for perhaps the first two; furthermore, the vast complexity of the medieval church cannot be reduced to six headings, unless the six are far cleverer than these.
Then, the text is riddled with quotations; few pages are free of them. Usually the quotations are apt, but they should be in the notes and shorter. Moreover, a careful reading of the notes shows that the primary sources are taken from translations, yea quotations of quotations, and indeed from other histories of the period, not monographs. Volz has tried to write easily and with a concern for a link with the present, but the control is not tight and the impression is one of lightness. The facts are here and the choice is good (all the larger issues come in for a respectable treatment, save the Fourth Lateran Council and similar events that are difficult to reduce), but the execution is common garden, unimaginative.
Karl Dannenfeldt has lifted his narrative to a more lively and interpretative plane. Although he has to deal with only three centuries (1300–1600), as opposed to Volz’s eight, the entanglements of the period covered in The Church of the Renaissance and Reformation demand a double understanding in a way that the monolithic medieval church does not. His notes are markedly fewer and reveal more careful preparation, with minimal quotation that then is woven into the text. Genuine understanding of Luther and grace is displayed, and the discussion of humanism rings. He points up a worthwhile comparison between Luther and Zwingli, and the remarks on Trent are not only accurate but also just.
The difference between these two works involves judgment, writing, style, use of sources, and purpose. There is an aimlessness in Volz’s writing where there is an end in view crisply pursued in Dannenfeldt; the latter even gives a chapter to an epilogue when the former gives only a paragraph. Both works contain an index and an appendix of notable source readings.
One final observation: Both authors have included two pages of bibliography “for further reading,” and what irony there is here. The fault lies not with them but with the publisher primarily, for the question forever haunts, and it must, as to why more general histories on these and countless other subjects are needed when splendid updated ones exist already. Both men here have admitted their debts and defeats, for their own sources are listed here as well as in their notes, and, what is more, they have written less completely and skillfully than those they suggest, for yet another book, another series. When publishers begin to do what the author is expected to do, that is, make a genuine contribution to knowledge, then readers and libraries might be able to cope. The responsibility must be carried by both commissioner and commissioned.
A Devotional Exposition
Genesis, by Donald Grey Barnhouse (Zondervan, 1970, 208 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Samuel J. Schultz, professor of Bible and theology, Wheaton, College, Wheaton, Illinois.
The influence of this well-known Bible expositor is extended through the publication of this devotional commentary on Genesis. This volume ends with Chapter 22. A later volume will complete Genesis.
For those who listened to Dr. Barnhouse as he expounded the Scriptures, these comments on Genesis will sound familiar. The message of God’s Word is applied repeatedly to man’s relationship with God and the society in which man lives. Barnhouse makes use of various versions and often offers his own literal translation of the text in order to communicate his insight and understanding more effectively. Throughout he reflects a deep commitment to the Word of God as divinely inspired.
Repeatedly his comments are inter-related with the fuller revelation given in the rest of the Bible. This is especially true as he develops the theme of man’s salvation through Jesus Christ.
Since the core of the author’s comments is devotional, his use of the text suggests a corrective for prevailing misinterpretations. Note his attempt to “right a great wrong” in his statement on 9:22–25 concerning the curse pronounced on Canaan: “Any attempt to make black skin the fulfillment of this curse is unscholarly, prejudiced to the extreme and certainly without basis in the Bible.”
On the other hand, some of his statements need to be evaluated on the basis of modern scholarship. His assertion that Amraphel can be identified with Hammurabi and therefore chapter 14 “was proven historical” needs careful reappraisal in the light of current knowledge (cf. G. L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Moody, 1964, p. 204).
For ministers as well as laymen, this commentary is significant as the last volume written by Dr. Barnhouse. His exposition of these introductory chapters of the Bible should stimulate the reading of God’s Word with renewed interest and appreciation.
Astrology, Occultism and the Drug Culture, by Lambert T. Dolphin, Jr. (Good News, 1970, 64 pp., paperback, $.95), The Second Coming: Satanism in America, by Arthur Lyons (Dodd, Mead, 1970, 211 pp., $6.95), and The Case for Astrology, by John Anthony West and Jan Gerhard Toonder (Coward-McCann, 1970, 286 pp., $6.95). Interest in the occult is rising, and Christians should be aware of why. These three timely and important books explore most aspects of the occult.
Theology After Freud, by Peter Homans (Bobbs-Merrill, 1970, 254 pp., paperback). On the responses of Niebuhr and Tillich to Freud, along with evaluations of three lesser-known writers on Freud and Homans’s own thoughts.
Community Mental Health: The Role of Church and Temple, edited by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. (Abingdon, 1970, 288 pp., paperback, $4.25). Thirty-five chapters by almost as many authorities survey what is being, and can be, done. “Must” reading for those who are, or should be, involved.
Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 3, First Samuel-Nehemiah, and Volume 10, Acts-First Corinthians, Clifton J. Allen, general editor (Broadman, 1970, 397 and 506 pp., $7.50 each). Eight scholars offer brief but helpful comments. Despite controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention over portions of it, the series as a whole is useful.
Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control, by Paul Ramsey (Yale, 1970, 174 pp., $7.50). With deliberation, Dr. Ramsey examines genetic control, an increasingly important issue. We may be seeing the suicide of the species, not from environmental pollution but from the new biology. This book is vital for all Christians.
A Search for Meaning in Nature: A New Look at Creation and Evolution, by Richard M. Ritland (Pacific, 1970, 320 pp., paperback, $2.95). A calm, easy-to-read, somewhat random survey of biological theories and their relation to Scripture. Chapters include “What Is Life?,” “Frozen Mammoths,” “The ‘Missing Links’ Between Man and Ape.”
The Patient as Person, by Paul Ramsey (Yale, 1970, 283 pp., $10). Amid the plethora of books on medical ethics that merely skim the surface, this one solidly examines most aspects of the question—from the definition of death to organ transplantation.
Karl Barth and the Problem of War, by John H. Yoder (Abingdon, 1970, 141 pp., paperback, $2.95). A Mennonite scholar offers a valuable study as a basis for further discussion of this highly relevant topic.
The Living God, by R. T. France (Inter-Varsity, 1970, 128 pp., paperback, $1.50). A non-technical presentation of what the Bible says about God and the implications for us. The Old Testament is featured, but there is a good chapter on the New Testament basis for Trinitarianism.
For Instance …, edited by Donald T. Kauffman (Doubleday, 1970, 263 pp., $5.95). Contemporary illustrations made more useful by suggestive questions on their application and scriptural references.
Mobilizing for Saturation Evangelism, edited by Clyde W. Taylor and Wade T. Coggins (Evangelical Missions Information Service, 1970, 245 pp., $2.95, paperback). Papers presented at a 1969 Swiss conference of leaders in various in-depth evangelism campaigns around the world.
A Survey of Israel’s History, by Leon Wood (Zondervan, 1970, 444 pp., $7.50). A professor at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary offers a text on the Old Testament period. Thorough and well documented, but with a bit too much certainty on some disputable interpretations of the data.
The Fragmented Layman, by Thomas C. Campbell and Yoshio Fukuyama (Pilgrim, 1970, 252 pp., $12). A study based primarily on responses in 1964 from more than 8,000 members of the United Church of Christ following canonical social scientific methodology. Well done—more like it are needed.
Some of the above books will later be reviewed at greater length.
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