Biblical Perspective On The Race Issue

A Biblical Perspective on the Race Problem, by Thomas O. Figart (Baker, 1973, 185 pp., $1.95 pb), and Break Down the Walls, by Johannes Verkuyl (Eerdmans, 1973, 168 pp., $2.95 pb), are reviewed by Patricia Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Both Thomas Figart, head of the Bible-theology department at Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Bible College, and Johannes Verkuyl, head of the mission and evangelism department at the Free University, Amsterdam, confront the arguments of segregationists with biblical teachings that seem to indicate the Lord’s desire for the unity of mankind. Verkuyl does so by pointing out that ha-Adam of Genesis 1 and 2 is a species name rather than a personal name, thus distinguishing the Genesis story from tribal or national myths. Also, by comparing Pentecost with the account of Babel, he shows the reconciling ministry of the Gospel: language is used to create a fellowship of believers rather than erect barriers and disperse peoples. Finally, he reveals Jesus as the one who breaks down the walls of hostility between races and who calls us to help build the Father’s kingdom, God’s ecumenopolis, where justice dwells.

Figart approaches the portrayal of the unity of man by concentrating on matters that Verkuyl often describes as beside the point or introductory. He dwells on the origin of the races, discussing whether or not the dispersion at Babel caused gradual or immediate anthropological changes along with the abrupt linguistic multiplication. He examines the Noahic curse on Canaan, concluding with Verkuyl that no racial overtones are implied in the passage, though Figart stresses that the Canaanites were Caucasoid, not Negroid, and Verkuyl that the term Canaanite referred to a political-geographical distinction as found through the “table of nations” in Genesis 10.

In tracing the race problem in the New Testament, Figar illuminates the cause of the Jewish-Samaritan conflict, placing the origin in the Old Testament rivalry between northern and southern Israel. But I feel he makes a giant leap in concluding a rebuke of all racial militancy from the Lord’s refusal to heed the plea by James and John for the fiery destruction of the Samaritans. I’m not advocating racial militancy, but I think it is a rather long issue to be decided so easily on the basis of that text alone. Figart appears to be trying to touch on every conceivable aspect of racial problems and differences; some more concentrated attention would have been welcome.

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The distinguishing feature of Verkuyl’s study is his excellent treatment of apartheid as practiced in South Africa. Using documents stating the policies of such groups as the National Party and the Afrikaner Brotherhood, he depicts the motifs of Christian nationalism (the idea of a sacred African nation blessed with the “virtues” of Western Christian culture) and guardianship (the protection of non-whites, which actually creates a racial caste system) that are garbed as divinely inspired support of racism. Perhaps the sheer absurdity of the population proportion increases the feeling of guilt: by the year 2000 a predicted 30 million Bantus (black Africans) will face 5 million whites. The Bantus are jammed into a migratory labor system; the men are forced to live and work in prescribed areas of cities, visiting their families only a few days a month. (This situation is very similar to that inflicted on the Navajo, who has to leave the reservation to work for the white man’s money to barter for the white man’s goods.)

Most discouraging of all is the consistent support of apartheid policies by such churches as the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Reformed Church of South Africa. However, credit is deserved by most of the member churches of the World Council of Churches in Africa, the Roman Catholic Church, and various other churches that have attempted to resist the practice and ideology of apartheid. In fact, Verkuyl presents the message the Council of Churches addressed to the people of South Africa in 1968, calling for commitment to the whole Gospel of the Lord Jesus in breaking down barriers of racial hostility. He then rightfully appeals to all churches outside South Africa—particularly those in fellowship with the Reformed churches of South Africa—to support this South African message.

With the growth of a world “culture” that brings Chiclets to every port and, more seriously, in the name of amalgamation seems to have no care for a man’s true culture, one remembers how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity and longs with Figart and Verkuyl that some precious oil would come down upon the beard of this old world.

A Very Helpful Commentary

A Commentary on Daniel, by Leon Wood (Zondervan, 1973, 336 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by James A. Stahr, editor, “Interest,” Wheaton, Illinois.

The incentive for a new commentary on Daniel was the availability of much more historical background material than was known a few years ago. Especially important, says the author of the commentary, has been “the reading of the Babylonian Chronicles, giving the official history of Babylonia from the point of view of the royal court.” The professor of Old Testament and dean of Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary has made good use of such material in this up-to-date, thoroughly conservative, scholarly volume on Daniel.

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The commentary is arranged very conveniently, with each verse treated separately. Although the writing style is smooth, the book is designed more for study than for reading.

The original Hebrew or Aramaic is frequently given, but in Roman letters with translation. Even grammatical points are explained for the benefit of users who never learned—or have forgotten—the original languages. For example, this is the comment on the first words of Daniel 9:25: “The two verbs employed (roots: yada‘ “to know” and sakal “to be wise, understand”) are imperfects, but are used in the jussive (indicating urgent obligation).”

There are occasional references to other commentaries, usually in footnotes. One never gets the impression—common among scholarly commentaries—that the author is more concerned with what the scholars taught than what the Holy Spirit taught. Nevertheless, Leon Wood is obviously well acquainted with other writers’ views. He seems more prone to cite amillennial writers like Keil, Barnes, Leupold, and Young than to refer to those who share his own position. He gives close attention to interpretations held by conservative scholars (for example, his point-by-point refutation of the view that the Messianic kingdom of Daniel 2:44 is the spiritual rule of Christ established at his first coming).

To the prevailing critical views, however, he gives short shrift, having little time to bow to the altars of skepticism. The common scholarly approach to Daniel is that it was written in the time of the Maccabees, with Daniel’s name attached for prestige purposes. What was already history was presented as prophecy to give it effectiveness. Wood makes an interesting comment when discussing the related view that the four successive empires of Daniel 7 were Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece:

The motivation for making this identification is mainly to avoid identifying the fourth beast with an empire as late in history as the Roman (recognizing that this would call for supernatural prediction) [p. 183].

Regarding the detailed prophecy of Daniel 11, Woods writes:

When subsequent history proves to fit it exactly …, it is no wonder that liberal expositors, who deny the supernatural in the Bible, insist that it must have been written after the history has transpired. Because it was indeed written before, it provides conversely, an excellent demonstration of the fact that the Holy Scriptures are truly a product of supernatural revelation [p. 283].
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Woods’ position is the standard, premillennial viewpoint. He does not offer novel twists of his own. Nor does he have the future figured out to perfection and in considerable detail. He gives the broad, general picture of things to come as Daniel gives it and leaves it at that. The four empires of Daniel 2 and 7 are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Wood holds that an extensive time gap in the history of the Roman Empire is symbolized in all Daniel’s prophecies, the restoration of that empire being necessary to provide the setting for the second advent of Christ.

In the final stage of the Roman Empire a powerful king will emerge who is “commonly and properly called the Antichrist,” says Wood, and

who will be Satan’s counterfeit world ruler, trying to preempt the place of God’s true world Ruler, Jesus Christ, who will later establish His reign during the millennium.… [This Antichrist] breaks covenant with Israel at the midpoint of a week of years, which means at the three-and-one-half-year mark, after which he brings severe persecution on the nation for the last half of the week, a period of three and one-half years, called in Matthew 24:21 the Great Tribulation [pp. 187, 202].

The return of Christ terminates his rule.

The commentary is quite helpful in historical matters such as the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar, the fall of Babylon, and the absence of Darius the Mede from secular history.

From a personal standpoint, the high point of Daniel’s experience came when he saw the man clothed in linen (10:5) who stood over the waters of the river (12:6). The remarkable similarity of the descriptions of this person (10:5, 6) and the Lord Jesus Christ as seen by John (Rev. 1:13–16) would indicate that Daniel also saw Christ. Both Daniel and John responded by falling at His feet as dead, and were restored by His hand to receive a prophetic message.

This is one of the relatively few places where Leon Wood’s commentary is weak. Wood says, “He may have been the second Person of the Godhead, because the description given is much like that set forth regarding Christ in John’s vision on Patmos.” Then, instead of detailing the parallel, he dismisses it by noting that the person whom Daniel saw received assistance from the chief angel, Michael. “It is not likely that a mere angel could be, or would be called upon to be, of assistance to Christ.” This statement ignores the fact that the Lord was strengthened by a mere angel in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), and could have called on twelve legions of angels for assistance if he so desired (Matt. 26:53).

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Sensitivity To Jewish Feelings

The New Anti-Semitism, by Arnold Foster and Benjamin R. Epstein (McGraw-Hill, 1974, 354 pp., $7.95), and Your People, My People: The Meeting of Jews and Christians, by A. Roy Eckardt (Quadrangle, 1974, 275 pp., $8.95), are reviewed by Gordon Melton, director, The Institute for the Study of American Religion, Evanston, Ill.

One of the imperatives of biblical ethics is to be sensitized to the places where people are hurting as preparation for Christlike action toward them. These books aim to sensitize.

Foster and Epstein are both high officials of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and are authors of an outstanding study of extremism, Danger on the Right (1964). Here they ask, “Do you know what hurts me? If not, how can you truly love me?”

The book describes a new form of anti-Semitism arising since the Holocaust by Nazi Germany. The prime characteristic of this anti-Semitism is a callous indifference to both Jewish concerns and to attacks on the Jewish community. The authors describe, for example, the “Christ of the Ozarks” and Passion Play project of Gerald L. K. Smith in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I myself was among those drawn into this commercialized tourist trap only to discover that it was a phoney road to respectibility for Smith; he continues to preach his anti-Christian message, including anti-Semitism, with Christian trappings.

In Your People, My People, Eckardt, having established himself in earlier books as a major voice in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, turns his attention to his Christian brethren and offers counsel concerning our response to the existence of the Jewish community in our midst. Theologically, he is trying to deal, on the one hand, with the New Testament imperatives on Christian behavior toward the people of the Messiah out of whom the Church emerged, and, on the other hand, with the imperatives of Christian guilt, because of centuries of anti-Semitism for the Holocaust. His challenge is to penitence for anti-Semitism and to reparation for the evils done.

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Both books raise questions more than they give obvious solutions. For example, they raise the question of definition: Who are the Jews? Are they a religious group, a cultural group, a racial group, or some combination? Who speaks for the Jewish community or articulates a Jewish position?

Most significantly, especially in light of increased publicity of Jewish Christianity represented by such groups as Jews for Jesus, is the question, How does the Christian imperative to preach the Gospel to all men distinguish itself from strong cultural associations? This question is crucial and demands the attention of all thoughtful Christians, especially those actively engaged in mission work to minority cultural groups. The effect of Christian mission has often been, not the intended communication of Christ and him crucified, but an onslaught on a people leading to cultural (and sometimes physical) genocide. Christians, bemoaning a post-Christian era, do not realize that they are still viewed as the religious power in the United States by non-Christians.

The two books also challenge us to reexamine just what constitutes anti-Semitism. We have no trouble recognizing anti-Semitism in its blatant forms. With effort, more subtle forms can be perceived. What is difficult is the borderline area where strong differences of opinion exist as to what “activities” constitute anti-Semitic behavior.

Both books agree that attitudes toward the State of Israel are a key item in current definitions of anti-Semitism. But are they correct? In the polarized Middle East, can a priori attitudes toward Israel, especially in terms of supporting a pro-Israel lobby in Congress, ever be a “Christian” perspective? Can the demands placed upon Christians by the simple imperative of justice and retribution for past persecution dictate the policy toward displaced Palestinians and political relations with Arab states?

After reading these two books, you may not find you agree even with the major points. But you will be unable to walk away from the issues the authors raise.

Modern Idolatry

To Turn From Idols, by Kenneth Hamilton (Eerdmans, 1973, 232 pp., $3.95 pb), is reviewed by James Houston, principal, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY may remember an award-winning article by Professor Hamilton on the cult of relevance in the issue of March 21, 1972. That essay has been included in a slightly altered form in this original and challenging book, which thoughtful Christians should read. Hamilton, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Winnipeg, shows that the origins of idolatry lie in the imaginations of men’s hearts. In exploring the role played by the imagination, he challenges us to adopt a Christian imagination as well as possess Christian knowledge. Insights that he gained in the writing of his previous works on the relations between theology and literature he has used in a fresh way in this challenging book.

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The first three chapters deal with the images of idolatry, examining the biblical view of idolatry, the dynamics of the idolatrous imagination, and the need to distinguish the spirits today. Hamilton has wise insights into the role of the imagination in contemporary world views, including demythology.

In the second part of the book he identifies three idols of the modern market place: the cult of relevance, “the Great God Change,” and the cult of liberation. Hamilton has critical contempt for the modern use of slogans and catchwords, but his use of the phrase “the Great God Change” might seem to some to make it a catchword, too. Here the author perhaps fails to analyze, from the mechanistic and evolutionary world views of the last two centuries, how this cult of change has come into such prominence.

In turning from the idols, the third section of the book then deals with the need for the Church to be cleansed from idolatry in worship, preaching, and the furtherance of the community. These are key matters, but perhaps the author has been too ambitious in trying to cover them all. Perhaps he could have investigated more thoroughly the role of the imagination in human life, and narrowed the range of his topics.

However, Hamilton has pioneered in an original and significant area about which we shall hear much more in the future. Symbolism will be increasingly important, and evangelicals do not understand much about it. As the author concludes: “Adequate biblically based symbols can prevent us from adapting ourselves to the pattern of this present world by pointing us to a better pattern, which is God’s will for us.” Perhaps in the context of Romans 12:2 we need “a transformation of the images of our imagination.” In this age of renewed polytheism, To Turn From Idols is a book I highly recommend.


All About Repentance, by Richard Seymour (Harvest House [Box 800, Hollywood, Florida 33022], 180 pp., $1.50 pb). A theology professor at Florida Bible College shows from a detailed study of the Scriptures that repentance is included in coming to true faith in Christ rather than being a separate step to salvation.

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The Paraphrased Perversion of the Bible, by Gene Nowlin (Bible for Today [900 Park Ave., Collingswood, N.J., 08108], 297 pp., $6). An impassioned polemic against the Living Bible. Cites alleged misquotations, errors, false teachings, and vulgarisms. Bitter.

Understanding Mental Illness: A Layman’s Guide, by Nancy C. Andreasen (Augsburg, 110 pp., $2.95 pb). An introduction to mental illnesses and their treatments. Includes a vague chapter on religion and psychiatry. For the general reader.

Old Testament Form Criticism, edited by John Hayes (Trinity University, 289 pp., $8). Six scholarly papers on the study of forms for various genre.

Rules: Who Needs Them?, by Ethel Barrett (Regal, 150 pp., $.95 pb). Casual, contemporary retelling and application of selected stories from Judges and first Samuel. For the youthful reader.

Between Science and Religion, by Frank Miller Turner (Vale, 273 pp., $12.50). Study of six members of the nineteenth-century English intellectual community who abandoned Christianity for scientific naturalism, only to discover a lack of fulfillment.

World’s Largest Sunday School, by Elmer Towns (Nelson, 189 pp., $5.95). Story of First Baptist of Hammond, Indiana, and its pastor, Jack Hyles.

Eschatology and Ethics, by Carl E. Braaten (Augsburg, 182 pp., $3.95 pb). A scholarly yet readable collection of essays by the modern theologian that develops his “eschatological theology” and applies it to current social and political issues.

No Easy Answers, by Enoch Powell (Seabury, 135 pp., $6.95). A collection of addresses and dialogues wherein a British right-wing politician discusses Christianity and the problems of living in Caesar’s world. Widely criticized for views on immigration that allegedly increased racial tension in Britain, this idiosyncratic Anglican holds that as a politician he “cannot apply” the Good Samaritan principle to the whole world.

Tailor-Made Teaching in the Church School, by Mary Duckert (Westminster, 124 pp., $2.95 pb). From practical experience come suggestions and illustrations on individual church development of curricular material to meet the specific congregation’s needs.

Everybody Can Know, by Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Tyndale, 403 pp., $4.95). A presentation of basic Christian truth based on the Gospel of Luke, designed for family participation. A wide variety of acts and topics are suggested. Delightful and challenging.

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Beyond Petition, by Paris Reidhead (Bethany Fellowship, 84 pp., $.95 pb). Good basic book on prayer.

The Coming Antichrist, by Walter Price (Moody, 240 pp., $4.95), and Where Is the Antichrist?, by H. A. Maxwell Whyte (2 Delbert Dr., Scarborough, Ont., Canada M1P 1X1, 70 pp., $1 pb). Two divergent views of prophecy, each convinced that it is the only one true to the Scriptures. The former represents the popular futurism of today, the latter the historicist approach common among earlier Protestants.

Tyndale Bulletin, Number 24 (Tyndale Fellowship [36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge CB39BA, England], 128 pp., £2). The latest edition of this foremost evangelical scholarly annual has five articles, including three on resurrection (in Matthew, Luke, and the prevailing culture).

Research in Religious Behavior: Selected Readings, edited by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (Brooks/Cole, 404 pp., $4.50 pb). A collection of previously published articles on the study of religious behavior, especially the sociology and psychology of religion.

Unreached Peoples (Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center [919 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, Ca. 91016], 117 pp., $4 pb). Variously classified lists of some 600 “peoples” (tribes and the like) that have very few if any professing Christians. Admittedly incomplete.

Zen Meditation For Christians, by H. M. Enomiya Lasselle, translated by John C. Maraldo (Open Court, 175 pp., $7.95). Christian theology and belief seen as compatible with Zen meditation. Stretches Christianity considerably.

The Academic Melting Pot, by Stephen Steinberg (McGraw-Hill, 183 pp., $8.95). An informative study of changing roles of Catholics and Jews in American higher education.

Man: Believer and Unbeliever, by Francis M. Tyrell (Alba, 415 pp., $5.95 pb). A Catholic theologian interacts with various modern thinkers (such as Freud, Sartre, Mao, Teilhard, and Rahner) and then offers his own understandings of the faith. Attempts to find points of contact with “modern man.”

Hunting the Divine Fox: Images and Mystery in Christian Faith, by Robert F. Capon (Seabury, 167 pp., $5.95). A slim but entertaining book on God-words, likening God to an elusive fox and theological works to a pack of foxhounds.

The Truth: God or Evolution?, by Marshall and Sandra Hall (Craig, 186 pp., $2.95 pb). A vigorously presented case for special creation by two who formerly accepted naturalistic evolution.

The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment, by G. Herbert Livingston (Baker, 296 pp., $8.95). A handbook that is both an analysis of the content and interpretation of the Pentateuch and a basic study of its Ancient Near Eastern context. Informative and visual. Intended for the non-academic Bible student.

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Captive on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, by Marjorie Clark (Moody, 160 pp., $2.25 pb). Inspiring story of the two young Plymouth Brethren missionaries to Laos who were captured by North Vietnamese. They have since returned to the field. (Two of their co-workers were executed.)

Christianity and Culture, by George Florovsky (Norland, 245 pp., $8.95). Volume II of this Russian Orthodox scholar’s collected works includes nine articles on church history. Primarily concerns the Orthodox churches.

Jesus the Jew, by Geza Vermes (Macmillan, 286 pp., $6.95). A prominent Jewish scholar’s presentation of Jesus against the background of his times. Scholars can find it of value in some ways.

Atheism: The Case Against God, by George H. Smith (Nash, 355 pp., $8.95). People who are atheists for practical purposes are all around us. It is good to see one willing to argue for the position ideologically. Useful for exposing some improper defenses of doctrine. Reassuring if this is the best that opponents of God can do.

Living in the Word, edited by Frederick Coutts (Augsburg, 320 pp., $5.95). Comments on short passages that take one through the four Gospels. Suitable for daily Bible study. Very well done.

Oriental Mysticism, by Edward Stevens (Paulist, 186 pp., $1.95 pb). The surge of Asian religious practices in America warrants this brief introduction, which, unlike many books, combines psychological, philosophical, and devotional approaches.

The Triumph of Pastor Son, by Yong Choon Ahn with Phyllis Thompson (InterVarsity, 96 pp., $1.50). Account of Japanese and Communist persecution of a Korean citizen for his belief in Christ. Challenging reading.

A Modern Pilgrimage in New Testament Christology, by Norman Perrin (Fortress, 148 pp., $6.25). Seven technical essays published over the past eight years are reprinted with postscripts showing where and why the author no longer agrees with himself. An interesting idea. For advanced scholars.

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