Three Views Of The Congregation
Is the Day of the Denomination Dead?, by Elmer L. Towns (Nelson, 1973, 160 pp., $5.95), Will All the King’s Men …, edited by Robert Carvill (Wedge [229 College Street, Toronto 2B, Ontario, Canada], 1972, 255 pp., $3.95 pb), and The Base Church, by Charles M. Olsen (Forum House, 1973, 167 pp., $4.95), are reviewed by Dale A. Sanders, pastor, Barnam-Moose Lake United Methodist Church, Moose Lake, Minnesota.

The future and nature of the Church is the subject of wide interest in these uncertain days, and all three of these volumes address themselves to this interest. But if these books were comrades, they would quickly fall out.

Elmer Towns, fundamentalist, would initiate the falling out as a test of tribal loyalty. The pedagogical doyen of American fundamentalism has written the most readable of the three, but also the most vexing. What Towns presents is a vigorous style of American Christianity that purports to be New Testament Christianity of the earliest strain adapted to modern times. The word is adapted, not adjusted. The adaptation is not in principles or practices but pragmatic. Three B’s here: Bible principles, Baptist practices, and the bus.

This is a breezy survey of the nation’s largest, fast growing, mostly severely independent Baptist churches. This is not a review of dying mainline denominations. Nor is it, as the ads misleadingly put it, a call to a “long-needed awakening” in the moribund bodies. Towns is a propagandist rather than an analyst.

He is also the amanuensis of negativism, one of the enduring fruits of fundamentalism. That negativism rests on frustrated individualism and the erosion of Americanism. Dallas Billington, late pastor of the huge Akron Baptist Temple, is described as the “epitome of rugged individualism.” Jack Hyles, pastor of Hammond, Indiana, First Baptist, “speaks with bitterness in his voice” about denominationalism. The dozen Baptists presented here have built self-contained ecclesiastical mini-empires that provide all the services of a denomination without being one.

Herein is the problem of Towns’s thesis: Do we have here New Testament Christianity or an American variant? Or are these churches the gathering places of the disappointed? Whatever they are, they are a vital alternative to institutional bigness that is unresponsive and unwieldy.

Towns’s sketch of theological liberalism’s advance (chapter 6) is about the most useful I have seen for the average layman, but errors are present. It is doubtful that Towns has a good grasp of Ernst Troeltsch or Moberg’s elucidation of the same. It is disturbing that whole categories of explosive Christian growth are mentioned in the most cursory manner, if at all. The Pentecostals, of course, are heartily disliked by the ultrafundamentalists. One suspects the reason is not subjectivism per se but the threat to pastoral authority that it poses. There are also numbers of mainline-related churches that are experiencing great and even astounding growth. Towns makes no mention of, for example, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He favorably quotes Dr. Robert Schuller of California’s Garden Grove Community Church without telling us of that congregation’s ties with the Reformed Church of America. The service Towns performs is to chronicle one super-aggressive branch of the Christian tree that is showing signs of a spring blossoming all over.

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Towns quotes two men whose opinions appear in the second volume, a collection of essays. The viewpoints of John Olthuis and Hendrik Hart couldn’t be more different, though Towns cites them as if they were on his side.

This collection is Reformed rather than Baptistic; world-penetrating rather than world-abandoning; concerned with man in community rather than man as rugged individualist; Christian evangelical radical rather than American separatist patriot; and, on that touchstone of fundamentalism, eschatologically poles apart.

Will All the King’s Men … is a sequel to the highly controversial Out of Concern For the Church and is a clearly reasoned theological plea for a new reformation among the Reformed, especially the Christian Reformed. The bomb was dropped first, and the crater is smoothed with this addition and clarification. The five authors of the first volume are all here in the second, along with two new contributors. Most are associated with the graduate-level Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. There are strong political and social overtones from the Canadian experience.

I was impressed by the strength of conviction that animates each writer’s style. All are good, some gifted. Each is driving for a church that is formative, or at least has to be reckoned with, in the affairs of civilized men. They decry the despiritualizing of Christianity that has emasculated its Master and message. These Reformed men are not revivalists, nor conventional renewalists, but biblical radicals. However, they are not to be confused with revolutionaries. Christian radicals are Kingdom optimists while revolutionaries are utopian pessimists.

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The esthete in the group is Calvin Seerveld. He writes in a Reformed realist mode that some might mistake for excitably pious existentialism. He pleads for a revitalized, loosened-up liturgy. Children are invited to sing refreshing biblical texts, and we are provided brief samples in the text, but taste may be stretched even for the radical evangelical parent, whose child is asked to sing three times from Amos: “The virgin Israel lies prone on her own ground hurled, unhelped, and utterly alone.”

Christians of all communions can benefit greatly from reading Will All the King’s Men.…

The last volume is the least interesting. Charles Olsen is director of Project Base Church, which is part of the Institute of Church Renewal (ICR). ICR had United Methodist origins but is found in many denominations through Lay Witness Renewal and the like. It is theologically eclectic. Revivalists will view ICR as compromising and the radicals as insipid. Both are correct.

Olsen is not a friend of the ordinary church. At least Towns’s Baptists are gigantically church-centered, and the Reformed cultus-oriented. Olsen writes: “People need both the intimacy of the small group and the contagious spirit of the large crowd. (They may not, however, need the larger group experience weekly—six to twelve times a year may be enough).”


Memo For 1976, by Wesley Pippert (InterVarsity, 1974, 120 pp., $1.95 pb). Sound, practical advice on participation in the political arena from an evangelical who has been both inside as press aide to Senator Charles Percy and outside as an observer and reporter for UPI. Biblical and well written.

Vital Doctrines of the Faith, by Malcolm Furness (Eerdmans, 128 pp., $2.45 pb). Concise, biblical examination of the key doctrines of God, man, sin, salvation, and eschatology. Straightforward explanation for the serious-minded, growing Christian who wants an overview of the general teachings of Scripture.

Church—Who Needs It?, by David Allan Hubbard (Regal, 145 pp., $1.25 pb). Fourteen valuable radio messages on worship.

The Philosophy of Jesus: Real Love, by Jules A. DeLanghe (Dorrance, 141 pp., $4.95). An attempt to get “back to original Christianity” through a philosophical evaluation of Jesus’ teaching on love.

Love Makes the World Go Round, by Keith Huttenlocker (Warner, 128 pp., $2.50 pb). Presents the principles of love and gives specific examples for putting love into action.

Against the Tide, by Angus Kinnear (Christian Literature Crusade, 191 pp., n.p.). Sympathetic biography of Watchman Nee, a foremost Chinese Christian, many of whose writings have become extremely popular in the West.

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The Hammer of the Lord, by Colin Morris (Abingdon, 160 pp., $4.75). Call for a sort of Christian hope in a world in despair. Little explicit biblical basis provided.

The Bible and Future Events, by Leon Wood (Zondervan, 208 pp., $2.95 pb) and Population, Pollution, and Prophecy, by Leslie Woodson (Revell, 159 pp., $4.95). Two popular treatments.

Game Free, by Thomas Oden (Harper & Row, 163 pp., $5.95). Exploration of transactional analysis (I’m OKYou’re OK psychology) and its insights into human relations, in the light of Scripture. Seeks to provide a biblically based “transactional theology.”

Me, You, and God, by George Edmonson (Word, 158 pp., $4.95). While sharing his own experience, a pastor provides a six-month program for Bible study, discussion, and experimentation in group dynamics.

Secrecy in the Church, by Richard Ostling (Harper & Row, 173 pp., $6.95). A Time religion reporter and former CHRISTIANITY TODAY news editor insists upon people’s right to know about the activities not only of their civil government but also of their churches. Cites many examples of what he considers improper attempts by churches to conceal data.

Tramp For the Lord, by Corrie Ten Boom (Revell, 192 pp., $5.95). A sequel to the best-selling The Hiding Place, telling of Miss Ten Boom’s worldwide ministry since her release from a Nazi prison.

God’s Tribesman, by James and Marti Hefley (Holman, 152 pp., $5.95). Inspiring story of Rochunga Pudaite, a Christian from India who struggled for the education to translate the Bible for his own people and now has an even wider ministry of Scripture distribution.

The Last Enemy, by Richard Doss (Harper & Row, 104 pp., $4.95). A thorough and challenging look at a Christian’s understanding of death. Dwells specifically with the significance of death and life after death from the theological perspectives. Geared to the serious layman and the pastor.

Run and Not Be Weary, by Dwight L. Carlson (Revell, 220 pp., $4.95). An earnest look at the problem of fatigue in the Christian’s life. Practical solutions offered by an M.D. who has studied and wrestled personally with the problem. Points out many obvious but often overlooked causes and solutions.

Jonathan, Oh, Jonathan!, by Lee Neil Isett (Time-Light, 85 pp., $1.25 pb). Christian refutation of the message of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

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Ambassador For Christ, by William Barclay (Judson, 183 pp., $1.95 pb). The well-known author’s first book, a biography of Paul, is reissued with slight revisions.

For Women Only, edited by Evelyn R. Petersen and J. Allan Petersen (Tyndale, 296 pp., $1.95 pb). Collection of articles on women and their roles by more than sixty authors such as Eugenia Price, Ruth Bell Graham, Gladys Hunt, Catherine Marshall, and Rosalind Rinker.

Everyone a Minister, by Oscar Feucht (Family Library and Concordia, 158 pp., $.95). Exhortation to congregations to avoid stultifying division into “clergy” and “laity” in favor of a truly practicing priesthood of all believers. Many quotations from similar books.

Jesus Christ: Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World, edited by David Howard (InterVarsity, 252 pp., $2.95 pb). Now everyone can share in the tremendous student missionary convention held in Urbana, Illinois, at the close of 1973, by reading and reflecting on these twenty-three messages delivered to the thousands assembled there. A very important book.

John Elias: Life and Letters, by Edward Morgan (Banner of Truth, 417 pp., $7.95). Account of an early nineteenth-century Welsh evangelist by one of his contemporaries.

How to Solve Conflicts, by George Sweeting (Moody, 153 pp., $3.95). Studies from the Book of James by the president of Moody Bible Institute. Intended not as a commentary, but rather as a “practical discussion.”

Beyond the Crystal Ball, by Merrill E. Unger (Moody, 189 pp., $2.50 pb). Explores occult practices and their relation to scriptural teaching, especially prophecy.

The Devil’s Bride, by Martin Ebon (Harper & Row, 245 pp., $6.95). Survey of various ways of dealing with demon possession throughout history. Stresses the psychological approach. Vague on Christ and demons.

The Bitter Harvest, by Albert Menendez (Luce, 228 pp., $7.50). A staff member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State offers a documented study of the last seven years of religious battles in Northern Ireland. He contends that the longstanding maintenance of separate Protestant and Catholic school systems contributes to the bitterness between the communities and accordingly proposes that the schools be religiously integrated.

The French Achievement, by Robert McHealey (Paulist, 150 pp., $3.95 pb). Examination of the practical outworking of state support to private, religious schools in France. Draws parallels for possibilities in the states. The author, a Presbyterian seminary professor, should next study how state support of religious schools has worked in Presbyterian-dominated Ulster.

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Ireland: Where Time Stands Till, by Pat Nevin (Our Sunday Visitor, 224 pp., $3.95 pb). A personal description of the troubled isle. Contends that the violence is political, not religious: the conflict would rage even if both sides were of the same denomination, given the same circumstances otherwise. One hopes this is so; it is certainly embarrassing to assume that sincerely religious men could behave, in the name of God, as the Northern Irish are doing.

Christians in Persia, by Robin Waterfield (Barnes and Noble, 192 pp., n.p.). Concise history of Christianity in Iran from the second century on, but with special reference to the activities of recent decades.

The Ethics of Genetic Control, by Joseph Fletcher (Anchor, 218 pp., $1.95 pb). The author of Situation Ethics concludes that it is up to man to make his species “better” by artificial manipulation.

Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians, by John Calvin (Banner of Truth, 705 pp., $9.95). Calvin was primarily a preacher, although his role as reformer, theologian, and commentator has been more lauded.

To God Be the Glory: Sermons in Honor of George Arthur Buttrick, edited by Theodore A. Gill (Abingdon, 159 pp., $5.50). Anthology of sermons by Buttrick’s fellow preachers and teachers to commemorate his eightieth birthday.

A Theology of the Old Testament, by John L. McKenzie (Doubleday, 336 pp., $7.95). One of the best-known Roman Catholic biblical scholars presents an overview of his studies. The arrangement is topical: cult, revelation, history, nature, wisdom, institutions, and Israel’s future. The book is representative of prevailing academic opinion.

How Catholics Look at Jews, by Claire Hucket Bishop (Paulist, 164 pp., $4.50 pb), and Your People, My People, by A. Roy Eckardt (Quadrangle, 275 pp., $8.95). Two ecumenical attempts to arrest anti-Semitism and promote friendly Judeo-Christian relations. The first surveys the prejudice and injustice Jews have suffered from Italian, Spanish, and French Catholic education, exposed from within the church itself. The second, by an ardently pro-Israel college professor, offers an overview of modern historical Christian response, especially in Europe. His handling of the New Testament is defective. Both books present alternatives encompassing “Christian love” in action.

Man the Choicemaker, by Elizabeth Boyden Howes and Sheila Moon (Westminster, 218 pp., $9). An attempt to integrate depth psychology and the Scriptures, viewing much of the latter as religious myth. The emphasis is on man the doer.

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The Interaction of Law and Religion, by Harold J. Berman (Abingdon, 174 pp., $4.95). Four rather general lectures dealing with religion and law, including their influence on each other throughout Western history.

The author loves diagrams, is more or less communal Jungian, and is big on consciousness jargon. Most quoted material is social psychology and is heavy on types like Roszak, Toffler, and Maslow. The theologian is Emil Brunner, up to a point. Olsen mentions L’Abri fellowship and Francis Schaeffer but shows not an iota of comprehension of what the evangelical dynamic is. Evangelicals can use to their own advantage some of the functionalist constructs. Olsen’s exegesis of Ephesians as a biblical base compares poorly with that of Ray Stedman in Body Life (Regal).

Buy the Dutchmen, borrow Towns, bypass Olsen.

Setting The Stage

The Middle East and the Aegean Region, c. 1800–1380 B.C., edited by I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, N. G. L. Hammond, and E. Sollberger (Cambridge, 1973, 868 pp., $27.50), is reviewed by Carl Edwin Armerding, associate professor of Old Testament, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

This is Volume II, Part 1 of the third edition of the first two volumes of the monumental Cambridge Ancient History. It covers the period from about the time of Joseph to the eve of the Exodus (assuming the later dating). Although, in the nature of the case, there are few references to biblical events or persons (during this period Israel was first a single family, then a nation of bond-slaves, and finally a relatively insignificant band of conquerors from the desert), there are few periods when the history of the ancient Near East is more determinative for an understanding of biblical events. The very fact that Israel is not yet an independent entity makes the history and customs of those among whom she dwelt the more significant. For Israel was alternatively a part of Canaan and Egypt. She partook of customs illustrated in second-millennium tablets and monuments from Hurrian and Canaanite cities. She developed her own legal traditions in a world regulated by Babylonian and Hittite law, and it is the dynamic tension between Israel’s revelation and the world of her neighbors that provides the background for the entire biblical account from Genesis 12 through Joshua.

This volume divides its attention about evenly between the world of Egypt, Syria-Palestine, and the Aegean world, with somewhat less attention to Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia, and Cyprus. As befits a modern historical work, both political and military history are included, but major attention is given to cultural and literary trends, with materials drawn from both archaeological and literary sources.

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The third edition is a completely new treatment of the material (see my review of Volume I, Part 2 in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, May 12, 1972, pp. 21–24). As with previous volumes, the chapters in this book have been appearing consistently in fascicle form since 1961, and a fair amount of revision of earlier fascicles was required (but not always accomplished) to make the work completely fresh. The finished volume boasts a number of fine additions in plates or text-figures that were missing in the fascicles, though for the major plates accompanying the text we shall still have to await the issuance of a special volume. Finally, the new book contains a complete set of chronological tables in place of the fragmentary ones at the end of each fascicle.

Chapter one, “Northern Mesopotamia and Syria,” by J-R. Kupper, describes the Mari period, and biblical students will be especially interested in the presence of both “Benjaminites” and “Habiru” as part of the Amorite population among the West Semites of the area. Kupper opts for 1800–1775 B.C. as the dates for the great Hammurabi dynasty, a fact that has some implications for biblical chronology. In chapter two Egypt from the late XIIth Dynasty through the time of the Hyksos kings is discussed, but the chapter should have been revised since its original appearance in 1962. Chapter three, the work of Palestinian archaeologist Kathleen M. Kenyon, treats the remains of Middle Bronze Age Palestine (she begins by rejecting W. F. Albright’s contention that his so-called “MB I” period is really a part of the Bronze Age), and the new edition is complete with several helpful line drawings of pottery of the period. It is a disappointment, however, to see not a single addition to her original bibliography (published 1966), even for cities like Hazor and Jericho, although her later chapter eleven (published 1971) updates the bibliography to 1969.

Several chapters, including four, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, cover the history of Greece, Crete, the islands of the Aegean, and Cyprus. This is a major part of the book, and it is as well produced as any. Although biblical students tend to consider this part of the Mediterranean world somewhat remote from the biblical world, it is clear now (and evident in these chapters) that the Aegean peoples were in almost constant communication with the Eastern rim of the Great Sea, and much that they did and wrote (major attention is given to the Linear Scripts A and B) has great import for the student of biblical history. In chapter thirteen the discussion of writing and the rise of epic poetry (the Homeric epic) is full of significance for biblical critical scholarship. It should be pointed out that there may be parallels between Greece, in which a “literate” period of the late Mycenean world was followed by a “Dark Age,” and Israel, in which claims for writing by Moses and his contemporaries precede the decentralized period of the Judges with its epic elements. Whether the conclusion (p. 607) that “the mere existence of oral epic poetry like Homer’s … is itself evidence … that the Dark Age was illiterate” is valid, is still open to question, and the matter has obvious implications for the problem of oral and written sources in the Bible.

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Chapter five, with its detailed résumé of the period of Hammurabi, is naturally of interest. That ruler’s Law Code is still the most complete analogue to the Mosaic legislation, and in this chapter the late C. J. Gadd explores the ramifications of that code for every aspect of society. Chapter ten, covering Syria and Northern Mesopotamia for the period down through 1440 B.C., gives details of the Hurrians (the biblical “Horites,” formerly misinterpreted as cave-dwellers), details the wars between Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Hittites in the high period of the Canaanite city-state, and generally sets the stage for the time when the band of Israelites under Joshua would challenge that world for supremacy at the end of the Bronze Age.

Two chapters (six and fifteen) tell the story of the great Hittite empire, remnants of which are referred to in the Bible. (These references were once considered to be legendary by skeptical Bible scholars.) More than one custom illuminated by Hittite tablets has its analogous form in biblical times, and I was especially intrigued by the mention of the role of the Hittite Queen-mother and the matrilineal descent of the kingship that prevailed in the earlier period. The question of the office of Queen-mother in Israel has long fascinated Old Testament scholars, and O. R. Gurney’s summary of the Hittite evidence will keep that interest alive.

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Another major section on Egypt (chapter nine) takes the account from the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty through the time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III (considered by some scholars to be the Pharoah of the Exodus) down to the beginning of the Amarna Age. In more than one hundred pages, W. C. Hayes expands on almost every aspect of society, and I found the section describing the plight and condition of Egyptian slaves to be most helpful, though no evidence of XVIII Dynasty slave-building activity in the Delta has yet been uncovered.

Finally, there is a second archaeological survey of Palestine, again by Kenyon, and covering the period known roughly as Late Bronze I. This chapter, unlike her earlier one, is fully up to date, and features surveys of discoveries at such important Palestinian cities as Megiddo, Hazor, Bethshan, Shechem, Jerusalem, Gibeon, Bethel, Gezer, and Lachish.

Naturally, there is much that a review of this sort does not cover. Sections on Persia will be of interest to a more limited audience, while many of the details passed over here will be debated extensively by historians. But enough has been said to show that this volume, which now takes its place as the standard in its field, will have a strong appeal to the biblical student seeking a proper understanding of the world in which God’s chosen people was born. The bibliographic aids alone, for the student doing further research, will make the volume worth the rather healthy price. We congratulate editors and publishers for another fine addition to a vital series

Don’T Lose Your Balance

Look Out! The Pentecostals Are Coming, by C. Peter Wagner (Creation, 1973, 196 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by James Patterson, Ph.D. student, Princeton Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

One of today’s most thriving religious movements is Pentecostalism in the countries south of the United States. A Fuller Seminary missiologist who formerly served in Latin America has sought to capture the spirit of this phenomenon in a highly provocative, popularized account. His main concern is to understand why Pentecostalism has sustained high rates of church growth, to the extent that it now encompasses two-thirds of Latin American Protestantism.

The chief virtue of Wagner’s work is its challenge to those concerned with church renewal. Through his description of the “mother-daughter churches,” “seminaries in the streets,” Pentecostal worship, and healing, he documents a movement that has achieved both vitality and indigenization. He presents a stern rebuke to the more traditional, missionary-dominated churches.

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American evangelicals might not be so impressed with some other aspects of Latin American Pentecostalism that Wagner enthusiastically portrays. Examples include sanctuaries seating 25,000, congregational shouting during prayer, strict cultural codes, and an aversion to theological education. Consider his comment on preaching:

Pentecostal preaching is not intellectual, but emotional; it is not rational, but experimental; it is not exegetical, but allegorical; it is not doctrinal, but practical; it is not directed as much to the head as to the heart. The result of Pentecostal preaching is not that you learn more, but rather that you feel better [p. 118].

Wagner’s weakest chapter is “Are Pentecostals on a ‘Social Strike’?” At a time when American evangelicals are awakening to their social and political responsibilities, Wagner uses Dean Kelley’s (Why Conservative Churches Are Growing) conclusions to excuse Latin American Pentecostals from social involvement. There is no hint of criticism of the Pentecostals’ lack of a prophetic stance, which is curious, given Wagner’s article on revolution in the January, 1973, issue of Missiology.

Overall, Wagner’s book tends to read like a propaganda piece. It would be difficult to imagine a Pentecostal (which Wagner is not) writing a stronger apologetic. He seems to be concerned only with drawing lessons from the movement; this approach leads to a disappointing book. In every work of God’s Spirit there are both genuine and counterfeit manifestations. Jonathan Edwards realized this in evaluating the Great Awakening of which he was a part. But unlike Edwards, Wagner makes no attempt to discern the spirits. This book lacks balance, something not true of Wagner’s earlier works. The evangelical world still awaits a substantive study of the Pentecostals in Latin America.


One of the best buys among scholarly journals is the Calvin Theological Journal, now in its ninth year of publication by Calvin Seminary. While there are, naturally, many articles on Calvin, other topics treated in the last three issues include the rise of the Jesus movement, the experience of dying, the philosophy of Augustine, and the stylistic qualities of Hebrew poetry. There are also numerous book reviews. (2 issues/year; $2/year; 3233 Burton St., S.E., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49506.)

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