The Facts Of Christ’S Life

Jesus: The Fact Behind the Faith, by C. Leslie Mitton (Eerdmans, 1974, 152 pp., $2.85 pb), and A Lawyer Among the Theologians, by Norman Anderson (Eerdmans, 1974, 240 pp., $3.95 pb), are reviewed by Charles C. Anderson, chairman, Division of Religion and Philosophy, Ottawa University, Ottawa, Kansas.

Life-of-Jesus research continues to attract a good deal of attention in print. These two books are somewhat unusual, one from the perspective of the public addressed, the other from the perspective of the discipline of the writer. C. Leslie Mitton is the editor of the Expository Times and an ordained Methodist minister who has done considerable writing on New Testament subjects. Norman Anderson is director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London and an Anglican layman who, in addition to his legal activities, has written and edited works in the field of religion, primarily comparative religion.

Mitton writes for ministers and school teachers, not for scholars. After a good, brief introductory chapter on the course of investigation in the twentieth century, and a second chapter demonstrating that our main source materials for the life of Jesus are the Gospels, he tackles the question of the historical accuracy of the Gospels. While he finds the skepticism of Bultmann unwarranted at many points, he is convinced that the early Christian community modified and even created incidents concerning Jesus and sayings attributed to him. Yet he insists that knowledge of the historical Jesus is important, and after listing his reasons for such a belief, he proceeds to enumerate criteria for distinguishing the historical from the nonhistorical, criteria similar to those noted frequently in recent works on the subject.

As a result he concludes that there are three classes of materials in the Gospels: (1) “those elements which may be accepted without credulity”; (2) “those which must be eliminated as nonhistorical”; and (3) an “indeterminate category” which he regards as “possible but uncertain.”

Against this background he treats in successive chapters aspects of Jesus’ “character and bearing that can be accepted as authentic,” historical facts that can be considered authentic, and the teaching of Jesus that may be regarded as authentic. In the second of these chapters there is a particularly good section on Papias’s remark that Peter was one of Mark’s sources of information. Mitton feels that this should be taken much more seriously than it has been in critical circles and proceeds to support his contention.

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Anderson’s book is a critique of many of the assumptions of higher-critical research. The first four chapters investigate the question of the historical Jesus, chapter five is a discussion of the atonement, and the final chapter is a commentary on John Robinson’s book, The Difference in Being a Christian Today.

Anderson’s treatment is valuable because it is the reaction of one who is not in the discipline of New Testament studies to the works of those who are. As C. S. Lewis noted, biblical criticism has become ingrown, and it is refreshing to hear from one who is willing to question some of its basic presuppositions. Anderson comes down much more assuredly on the side of the historical accuracy of the New Testament records than does Mitton. He is unwilling to accept the assertion that the presence of proclamation in the Gospels rules out historical reliability. He questions the assumption of a tremendous time gap between the life of Jesus and the writing of material contained in our Gospels. He observes that scholars of other disciplines accept the reliability of the accounts more readily than some theologians, and he notes the eye-witness character of many of the canonical gospel accounts as compared with those in the apocryphal gospels.

Over half of his treatment of the historical Jesus is concerned with the resurrection, because he rightly sees this as particularly important. The first of his two chapters here is on the basic historicity of the resurrection. He first presents Bultmann’s mythical view of the resurrection and allows Barth and Künneth to challenge it. He finds Barth’s criticism valuable, but questions his and others’ attempt to distinguish between ordinary history and supra-history.

In his second chapter on the resurrection Anderson treats the biblical evidence for it. He prefaces his remarks with the observation, “The attitude with which many contemporary theologians and biblical scholars approach that evidence seems to me to approximate much more closely to that of a counsel for the prosecution than that of a judge who tries to weigh the evidence.” He refutes purported contradictions in the New Testament record regarding the resurrection, e.g., the assumption that in Luke there is no allowance for Galilean appearances and an immediate ascension, and that there is no mention of an appearance to Peter in the Gospels except for an “awkward insertion” in Luke. He then investigates six matters of debate regarding Paul’s resurrection account in First Corinthians 15. He finds some of the issues inconsequential and others resolvable without a denial of the accuracy of the records.

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It is particularly appropriate that he, a lawyer, should write on the atonement. Here again he finds the New Testament portrayal convincing and rebuts modern criticisms of it.

While he finds certain values in Robinson’s book, he also notes numerous inadequacies in it as he observes, “One of the distinguishing marks of a Christian, in any age or generation, should surely be that, while he in no sense ignores the importance of the ‘life he now lives in the flesh,’ he is able to view this life, in some measure, in the context of eternity.”

Certain features of both books could have been improved. It is perplexing that Mitton does not deal with redaction criticism, and in view of his own mention of the rise in historical estimate of the Gospel of John, it is surprising that at many points he takes it so lightly. One could also hope that Anderson had read more continental and American authors, e.g., on the resurrection, but this may perhaps be excused in view of his disciplinary orientation.

Evangelicals would naturally prefer the approach of Anderson to the subject of inspiration of the Scriptures. He feels that the Holy Spirit aided the writers in the production of the books, although he does not take refuge in this as a means of avoiding biblical criticism. Mitton holds no such view and as a consequence falls back too often on what was likely to have happened in the first century Christian community.

Both books are well worth reading, Mitton’s for a summary of the current state of New Testament criticism on the subject, Anderson’s for instruction on where the inadequacies of many of these recent investigations lie.

Credible And Comprehensive

Philosophy of Religion, by Norman L. Geisler (Zondervan, 1974, 416 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Michael H. Macdonald, associate professor of German and philosophy, Seattle Pacific College, Seattle, Washington.

There are two basic ways to view the philosophy of religion. One is to give a historical survey of the main personalities, movements, and debates; the other is to consider some of the key problems, drawing from philosophical debates when appropriate. Norman Geisler’s Philosophy of Religion does the latter. (For more information concerning books on philosophy of religion see Colin Brown’s “A Note on Books” in Philosophy and the Christian Faith.) It is divided into four broad sections: God and experience, God and reason, God and language, and God and evil. After each of the seventeen chapters the author gives a brief summary, frequently repeating significant points.

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Geisler defines religious experience by identifying two fundamental factors: (1) an awareness of the Transcendent; and (2) a total commitment to it as something ultimate. He demonstrates, from the standpoint of both the believer and the non-believer, that man is “incurably religious,” and concludes that there is no good reason to doubt that men have many types of religious experiences. The question is whether these experiences correspond to anything outside the mind, i.e., whether they have any objective reference. Geisler attempts to show that they do.

Before turning to Geisler’s views on the traditional arguments for God’s existence, we should note that many philosophers today feel that natural theology, in the sense of a coherent knowledge of God and his relation to the world without reference to revelation, is a blind alley. And it must be admitted that all too often the Christian apologist has been in the position of a schoolboy who knows how the argument should come out and, not finding any sound proof, ends up by unsuccessfully improvising.

Yet the credibility of biblical theism would undeniably be enhanced were one able to state a formally valid theistic proof. A proof would at the very least be psychologically persuasive, and that alone should keep us going. Furthermore, the fact that a proof has not heretofore been stated does not mean there never will be one. Admittedly, however, theistic arguments can convince only those who take to complex abstract reasoning. It is very easy to lose one’s way among the arguments and to begin to build castles in the sky. Many are the nooks and crannies where abstract truth can seemingly be found and subsequently lost again.

Fortunately, Geisler is well aware that the traditional rationalistic arguments for the existence of God, even were they to hold water, would not bring us to the God of Christian faith and experience. He does not attempt to turn the Christian message into an esoteric philosophy, for men encounter God in their total personalities through the Gospel, not through abstruse theological arguments. Geisler points to the difference between “the basis of believing that there is a God and the basis for believing in God. One needs evidence to know that there is a God there, but he needs faith to commit himself to the God which the evidence indicates is really there.” Geisler thus attempts to build a bridge between those who stress God must be verified (the verificationists) and those who do not (the fideists).

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Geisler treats in detail the various proofs for God’s existence, e.g., the teleological, cosmological, ontological, and moral arguments. He gives a good history of each. His conclusion on the ontological argument merits note: he makes the somewhat startling observation that the final fatal criticism of the ontological argument is that it is logically quite possible that nothing even existed at all, including God. Yet while non-being is a logical possibility, something undeniably does exist, and with this observation the argument has gone from the a priori ontological to the a posteriori cosmological.

Geisler attempts to make a case for the existence of God based on man’s present experience as a finite, dependent being. Man expects to be able to fulfill his basic needs; he anticipates that there are solutions to his problems. Therefore the premise based on experience is that “what men really need really exists.” It is contrary to human experience to suppose that what men really need is not there; ergo God is. Nietzsche of course maintained that a belief or need, no matter how necessary it may be for the preservation of a species, has nothing to do with absolute reality and truth, and while Geisler is aware of this kind of “logical possibility,” he does not give it much weight. Yet even on the empirical level, this need for God has more to do with quality than duration (i.e., quantity) of life. There is a difference in kind between the need for water to quench one’s thirst and the existential need for God. The objects compared must be of a similar nature for a strong argument based on analogy, and since many of his analogies are dissimilar, the argument is, in the main, weak.

Turning to the so-called problem of evil, we can legitimately ask: Why does evil remain in the world at all? The allknowing God could have prevented it; the all-loving God should do away with it; and the all-powerful God has the ability to destroy it. The theist cannot deny its presence, and, after studying various alternatives, Geisler shows that we must affirm that God created free beings who would sin. Even if the theist maintains that God did not know what free beings would do, he did know what could happen, which in fact did happen. Geisler finds the basis for man’s greatest dignity and worth in that “God so loved him that he gave him the freedom to reject His love.”

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Geisler further admits that this is not, in the words of Leibniz, “the best of all possible worlds.” However, his “out” is that “it is the best of all possible ways to achieve the best of all possible worlds.” He contends that this imperfect moral world is “the necessary precondition for achieving the morally perfect world,” and, in Kantian fashion, he claims that the achievement of this goal is possible only if God is infinite, for nothing less could guarantee the outcome.

Further work is needed here. As Geisler admits, if one can make a case that this present world is not the best possible way to achieve the best possible moral world, then his answer to the problem fails. Is evil conclusively a necessary condition for a greater good? Why could the infinite God not have made man to understand imperfection fully without having to experience the process? Geisler’s answer is that even an omnipotent God cannot do what is impossible. Christ prayed: “… if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” We must assume it was not possible. I do not argue with this biblical example, but the aforementioned philosophical question remains: Why did not God make man to fully comprehend imperfection without having to experience it?

This book is meant for the serious student. It is an unemotional, scholarly, oftentimes computer-like analysis, which might be tedious to anyone but the devoted. It is not designed to be read through in bed with pleasure. Geisler has done his homework; he has digested and made use of the best scholarship. And he is non-evasive, not begging off even on the most difficult questions.

Geisler has entered this arena with a positive and comprehensive case of his own, and although I find some flaws in it, my more general evaluation is quite positive. The book deserves to be read and studied. Geisler has realized many of his objectives, even though it is clear that his solutions to the problems of philosophy of religion should continue to be critically discussed.

The Life Of Trueblood

While It Is Day: An Autobiography, by Elton Trueblood (Harper & Row, 1974, 170 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Lewis Rambo, graduate student, University of Chicago Divinity School, Chicago, Illinois.

David Elton Trueblood is probably one of the most widely read authors of religious books in the United States and is certainly one of the most influential figures in the church-renewal movement. Like his previous thirty-one books, this autobiography is lucid, as well as filled with a sense of urgency and vitality.

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Rather than writing a chronological account of his life, Trueblood writes chapters on various facets of his career; for example, he tells of his life as a professor, an author, a minister, a Yokefellow, a father. He also tells of his childhood in Iowa as the son of pioneering Quaker parents who instilled in him the love of learning, piety, and hard work. The sections of most interest to a wide audience concern his work as an author and as the founder of the Yokefellows.

Trueblood began his publishing career in 1935 with The Essence of Spiritual Religion. It was The Predicament of Modern Man (1944), however, that brought him to national prominence. The book dealt with the spiritual crisis facing the entire Western world, then embroiled in a war international in scope. The war was a symptom, according to Trueblood, of a deeper and more profound crisis: the loss of spiritual direction and the loss of meaning. Modern society was a “cut-flower civilization,” by which Trueblood meant a society that would die because it had been severed from its sustaining roots. His later books, such as The Life We Prize, The Company of the Committed, and Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish, seek to articulate specific remedies for the spiritual crisis of our time.

Trueblood founded the Yokefellows because he believed that small groups could effect profound and fundamental changes in the spiritual lives of individuals and churches. The small groups struggled not only with the intellectual issues involved in the spiritual crisis but also with the development of a devotional life based on such disciplines as prayer, daily Scripture reading, and mutual concern. From this work with small groups emerged a transdenominational, informal organization of men and women who sought to revitalize their local churches and to apply their faith to their jobs and family life. During the last two decades, under the leadership of Trueblood, the Yokefellows have established numerous institutes and retreat centers and expanded their work in many directions—the most dramatic being their successful work in penal institutions.

A brief review cannot do justice to the scope and diversity of the life and work of Elton Trueblood. It is enough to say that this book gives us a glimpse at his life from his own perspective and that he writes about himself and those who have influenced him with warmth and candor. In my opinion, the most noteworthy achievement of Elton Trueblood is that he has been able to maintain the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith while at the same time being unashamedly committed to a rich devotional life.

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Burundi: The Tragic Years, by Thomas Melady (Orbis, 110 pp., $4.95), and No Place to Stop Killing, by Norman Wingert (Moody, 125 pp., $1.95 pb). Perhaps as many as 5 per cent of the people of a central African republic were slaughtered in the spring of 1972 because they had some education and were of a different (and larger) ethnic group than their rulers. Numerous Christian leaders were slain. The then U. S. ambassador and an evangelical relief worker present factual, heart-rending accounts.

God’s Inerrant Word, edited by John Warwick Montgomery (Bethany Fellowship, 288 pp., $6.95). A dozen essays by the editor and six other theologians, including J. I. Packer and Clark Pinnock, capably defending the entire trustworthiness of Scripture.

All We’re Meant To Be, by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (Word, 233 pp., $6.95). A valuable contribution by evangelicals to the discussion about the role of women. It seeks to deal not only with the current scene but also with the relevant teachings and practices of Scripture.

Tolkien’s World, by Randel Helms (Houghton Mifflin, 167 pp., $5.95). Many Christians who have enjoyed reading Tolkien will want to read this book about his writings.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crusade, by Lee Fisher (Creation, 102 pp., $4.95). Anecdotes from Billy Graham’s ministry.

Explosion of People Evangelism, by Donald C. Palmer (Moody, 191 pp., $2.95 pb). Detailed case study of Pentecostal growth in Colombia.

The Beginning, by Les Woodson (Victor, 154 pp., $1.95 pb), The Art of Staying Off Dead-End Streets, by Richard DeHaan (Victor, 156 pp., $1.75 pb), The Prophet Isaiah, by Victor Buksbazen (Spearhead [475 White Horse Pike, Collingswood, N.J. 08107], 511 pp., $7.95), Daniel in Babylon, by Felix Zimmerman (Gibbs [2303 Roosevelt Road, Broadview, Ill. 60153], 195 pp., $4.95), The Freedom Letter, by Alan Johnson (Moody, 220 pp., $4.95), and Colossians and Philemon, by Ralph Martin (Attic, 174 pp., n.p.). Commentaries on, respectively, Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Daniel, Romans, Colossians, and Revelation, by evangelicals, for non-specialists. Martin’s is part of the New Century Bible and is especially noteworthy.

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Beyond the Exit Door, by Robert Vetter (David C. Cook, 109 pp., $1.25 pb), and Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, by John Claypool (Word, 104 pp., $3.95). There are a lot of books on healings. Here are two by mourners of the unhealed. The first is by Gordon-Conwell Seminary staff member whose wife dies of a malignancy, leaving three young children. The latter consists of four sermons by a Baptist pastor whose ten-year-old daughter died of leukemia. Honest sharing of struggles with grief.

The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600–1700), by Jaroslav Pelikan (University of Chicago, 329 pp., $16.50). The price is high but the value is greater for any who want to understand the Eastern churches. No other Westerner is better equipped than Pelikan, an orthodox Lutheran, to write on the subject. This is the second volume of his projected five-volume study, The Christian Tradition.

The Commonweal and American Catholicism, by Rodger Van Allen (Fortress, 218 pp., $4.50 pb). A very interesting study of the influence of Commonweal, a well-known, independently lay-sponsored weekly, now fifty years old.

Luther and the Peasants’ War, by Robert Crossley (Exposition, 164 pp., $8). Careful account of Luther’s actions and reactions by a history professor at St. Olaf. Well researched and written.

The Fervent Prayer, by J. Edwin Orr (Moody, 236 pp., $5.95). Report of the impact of America’s revival of 1858 on the rest of the world. Emphasizes the influence of Moody as an outgrowth of the movement. More for the amateur.

Gurdjieff: Making a New World, by J. G. Bennett (Harper & Row, 320 pp., $8.95). Although most of us have never heard of him, Gurdjieff founded a growing religious cult. A sympathetic treatment.

Medicine Power, by Brad Steiger (Doubleday, 226 pp., $6.95), and The People of the Center, by Carl Starkloff (Seabury, 144 pp., $4.95). America’s first ethnic group, the Indians, have their spiritual heritage reported sympathetically.

The Origin and Destiny of Man, by Francis Nigel Lee (Presbyterian and Reformed, 119 pp., $2.95. pb). Five lectures inaugurating the Memphis-based Christian Studies Center by its scholar-in-residence, a prolific author from South Africa.

The Most Revealing Book of the Bible, by Vernard Eller (Eerdmans, 214 pp., $3.95 pb), and A Personal Adventure in Prophecy, by Raymond Kincheloe (Tyndale, 214 pp., $6.95 and $2.95 pb). Two contrasting commentaries for the layman on the last book of the Bible. Eller’s purpose is more “to amble through it as a book to be read and enjoyed rather than treating it as corpse to be dissected or a cypher to be broken.” Kincheloe’s discussion facilitates intensive personal study but also incorporates many elements that Eller faults. Don’t read only one.

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Christian Love: Campus Style, by Phillip Giessler (Dillon/Liederbach, 180 pp., $4.95). Short letters from a pastor to a young college friend, adapted for daily reading by other students.

Demons, the Bible, and You, by Russell Hitt et al. (Timothy Books [Industrial Commons, Newtown, Pa. 18940], 128 pp., $1.75 pb). This is one of the better among countless recent books on Satan and his angels. Many of the ten chapters first appeared in Eternity.

Through It All, by Andrae Crouch (Word, 148 pp., $5.95), The Autobiography of William Jay (Banner of Truth, 586 pp., $7.95), The Quiet Prince, by Edwin Groenhoff (His International Service, 127 pp., $5.95), C. S. Lewis: A Biography, by Roger Green and Walter Hooper (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 320 pp., $6.95), Livingstone, by Elspeth Huxley (Saturday Review, 224 pp., $12.50), Uncle Cam, by James and Marti Hefley (Word, 272 pp., $6.95), Daws, by Betty Lee Skinner (Zondervan, 391 pp., $6.95), John Winebrenner, by Richard Kern (Central Publishing House [Box 2103, Harrisburg, Pa. 17105], 226 pp., $6.95, $4.95 pb), and God Made Them Great, by John Tallach (Banner of Truth, 135 pp., $4.95). Lives of several evangelical leaders of the past two centuries. Crouch is a leading gospel singer. Jay was an English pastor. Groenhoff tells of Mel Larson, an American editor and writer. Green and Hooper offer a major study of perhaps the most influential orthodox apologist of our time. Huxley’s book on Livingstone is accompanied by numerous illustrations. “Cam” and “Daws” were the founders of, respectively, two of the foremost specialized agencies of our time, Wycliffe Bible Translators and The Navigators. Winebrenner was a German-American revivalist who founded one of the groups denominated “Churches of God.” George Muller and Isobel Kuhn are among the five subjects of Tallach’s book.

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