Speaking For Itself
A Literary Survey of the Bible, by Joyce Vedral (Logos, 1973, 243 pp., $2.50 pb), is reviewed by Virginia R. Mollenkott, chairperson, Department of English, William Paterson College, Wayne, New Jersey.

That faithful standby A Handbook to Literature by Thrall, Hibbard, and Holman rightly makes the point that few English or American authors can be read with satisfaction by anyone ignorant of biblical literature. The influence of the Bible (especially the King James Version) is seen in subsequent literature in the use of scriptural themes and phraseology, the use of allusions or modified quotations, and the conscious or unconscious incorporation of biblical phraseology into common speech. Yet modern students, even college English majors, are so ignorant of the Bible that they can hardly tell a Jonah from a Joshua, much less the Apocrypha from the Apocalypse.

To meet that need in a Manhattan high school, Joyce Vedral built a course called “The Bible as Literature,” and it became so popular that four sections had to be scheduled to accommodate the overflow. Out of that class grew A Literary Survey of the Bible. Because it does its job well, concentrating on basic information and inductive questioning, it is appropriate not only for high school classes but for college and adult study groups and indeed for individual study.

In a foreword to the teacher, Ms. Vedral suggests that those who adopt the book as a classroom text should act as moderators, confronting controversial issues head on but withholding their own views in order to allow students to express their individual beliefs without fear of censure. This practice may be necessary on the high school level, and Ms. Vedral has obviously used the technique with great success; but in my own experience on the college level the opposite is true: students tend to become bored or withdrawn unless their mentor is willing to reveal his or her personal commitments and the basis on which they were made. The secret in either case lies in building an atmosphere of trust. Whether or not the teacher reveals personal beliefs is not as important as proving to the students that their individuality is respected and will not be violated by coercion of any sort. Such tolerance is especially important in an area as vital, as loaded with controversy, as laden with emotion, as the study of the Bible.

Ms. Vedral establishes such an atmosphere in her book by assuring students in a brief foreword that “the aim of this course will not be to make anyone change his opinions, but rather to teach what is in the Bible.” Evangelicals who wince at this objectivity because they would prefer a more militantly Christian approach must remember how they would feel had this book been written by a Jewish person or an atheist: in that case, they would have considered objectivity about what the Bible teaches absolute minimum requirement. It is no less a basic requirement because the book is written by an orthodox Christian.

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As a matter of fact, if the book has any serious weakness at all, it is a very subtle slant in favor of fundamentalism. For instance when Ms. Vedral discusses what happens after death, she mentions only that “the spirits of the faithful live in heaven (cf. Luke 16:19–31), there awaiting the final day of resurrection when their spirits will be rejoined, not with their corruptible bodies, but with ‘spiritual’ bodies suited for eternity (1 Cor. 15:42–44).” This treatment is certainly acceptable to Protestant or Catholic fundamentalists, but one wonders about the objectivity of a book that suggests no other possibilities—mortalism or soul-sleeping, for instance—while claiming to confront controversy head on.

Similarly, the author gives support to the “chain of command” concept of female subordination, failing to wrestle with the problem of the severe versus the liberating strand of biblical attitudes concerning the male-female relationship. Although she is able to distinguish a first-century cultural situation from a universal principle when it comes to slavery, showing that Paul respected Philemon’s rights as a slave owner yet inculcated “principles that would lessen the harshness of slavery and ultimately abolish it,” she fails to make the same distinctions concerning first-century female subordination as opposed to the liberating principle of Galatians 3:28—a failure that is particularly unfortunate in these days of Women’s Liberation and in a course that is helping to formulate the self-concept of hundreds of young women.

Ms. Vedral also sidesteps the “situation ethics” implications of the Book of Hosea, raising no questions whatsoever concerning the complexity of moral choice on the basis of God’s directing Hosea to marry “a wife of harlotry.” And there is no mention of the possibility of universal redemption, although there are many biblical Christians who strongly believe that that glorious promise is definitely “in the Bible.” Many fundamentalists will no doubt regard this subtle slanting of the materials as a strong recommendation of the book; but those who truly believe that the public schools should treat religion with strict objectivity will regard it as a weakness.

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A short but solid preface concerning the influence of the Bible on European and American literature is supplied by Samuel T. Logan, Jr., of Barrington College. Ms. Vedral’s own introduction includes pithy sections on oral and written tradition, the making of the canon, the various English versions, the Apocrypha, the arrangement of the books of the Bible, and the chronology of biblical times (the latter presented, quite properly, in a tentative spirit).

The major portion of A Literary Survey of the Bible takes up each book one by one, giving basic information about dating, authorship, and major themes, and raising questions about various doctrines, some of which require students to ponder the implications of the Bible for twentieth-century experience. Frequently questions are answered in the text, and occasionally they are answered too soon after they are raised to allow reasonable time for students to work independently; for instance, students are asked to infer the meaning of the phrase “Job’s comforter” from the accounts in Job 1–6; 8–9, and 11, but are told in the very next line that the phrase means “someone who comes to a person in time of grief, only to make that person feel worse than before.” This is a problem of editing.

An appendix supplies brief studies on modern Israel, the Devil, witchcraft, the end of the world, Judgment Day, hell, and messianic prophecy, the latter tactfully supplying a list of thirty-five Old Testament passages (along with “some of the more explicit passages in the New Testament in which the writers assert or imply that a certain Old Testament Scripture has been fulfilled.” Then follows an annotated bibliography, a list of suggestions for book reports—plays, novels, and non-fiction works that require a fairly good knowledge of the Bible—and an anthology of forty-three biblically oriented selections by poets ranging from Edmund Spenser of sixteenth-century Britain to John Updike of twentieth-century America. The anthology supplies literature that is excellent enough and varied enough to provide a basis for many hours of spirited discussion. The general index is thorough, and there is also an index of biblical passages.


The Chicago Declaration, edited by Ronald Sider (Creation, 144 pp., $2.45 pb), Political Evangelism, by Richard Mouw (Eerdmans, 111 pp., $1.95 pb), and Politics For Evangelicals, by Paul Henry (Judson, 127 pp., $1.95 pb). Three important reflections of the increasing evangelical discussion on social action. The first presents the declaration signed by fifty-three evangelicals last Thanksgiving and includes five essays plus nine brief comments. The other two, both by young men who teach at Calvin College and signed the declaration, are good brief examinations of the present state of evangelical political thinking and proposals for more biblically informed patterns.

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Calling For Christ, by Luther T. Cook (Moody, 127 pp., $1.95 pb). Practical guide for house-to-house evangelism. Touches the basics.

Beyond the New Morality, by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw (University of Notre Dame, 240 pp., $7.95, $2.95 pb). Very readable college-level introduction to ethics. General principles and specific applications are considered.

The Church Christ Approves, by James Draper (Broadman, 128 pp., $3.95). The associate pastor to W. A. Criswell of Dallas’s huge First Baptist Church shares his views of Christian life and witness. Interesting.

Opinions on Church Music, edited by Elwyn A. Wienandt (Markham [Baylor University, Waco, Texas], 213 pp., $10). Excerpts on music criticism from Martin Luther, J. S. Bach, Samuel Wesley, and many other eminent church figures since the Reformation. Portrays changing attitudes and practices within the Church. For the specialist.

Be Joyful, by Warren W. Wiersbe (Victor, 130 pp., $1.75 pb). Practical study of Philippians by the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

Multiplying the Witness, by Lawrence T. Slaght (Judson, 192 pp., $4.95). Traces 150 years of the publications and educational ministries related to the denomination now known as American Baptist Churches. Numerous photographs.

Finding the Old Testament in the New, by Henry M. Shires (Westminister, 251 pp., $7.50). A very helpful study of the dependence of the New Testament on the Old for theme, doctrine, and general approaches. Includes lengthy tables of recurring phrases, prophetic fulfillments, and repeated narratives.

Paul and His Teachings, by Fred L. Fisher (Broadman, 160 pp., $5.25). Good introductory overview.

Sexist Religion and Women in the Church, edited by Alice Hageman (Association, 221 pp., $8.95, $5.95 pb). Eleven essays on such topics as women and ministry, women in Judaism, black women and the church, women and missions, sexism and the contemporary church.

Tonight They’ll Kill a Catholic, by R. Douglas Wead (Creation, 115 pp., $4.95). American journalist’s personalized and people-centered account of both sides of the battle in Northern Ireland but with an added dimension of the charismatic revival that is crossing religious lines and feelings. Sensitive, challenging, depressing, and hopeful.

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Journey Into Fullness, by James Mahoney (Broadman, 144 pp., $2.95 pb). Excellent blend of the narrative of the Exodus with New Testament principles of Christian maturity. Very readable.

The Reluctant Vision: An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion, by R. Patrick Burke (Fortress, 136 pp., $3 pb). A philosophical analysis of religion (that looks at the “structural laws” by which religion operates without questioning its essential nature and without distinguishing between religions.

Faith, Facts, History, Science and How They Fit Together, by Rheinallt N. Williams (Tyndale, 140 pp., $3.95). An apologetic work that seeks to clarify faith’s claims on facts and history and science. Discusses philosophical questions with clarity and style.

The Beatitudes Are for Today, by George L. Lawlor (Baker, 131 pp., $2.95 pb). Exposition of Matthew 5:1–16 based on the original Greek text. For the student.

Ms. Vedral, Mr. Baker, and Logos publishers are to be congratulated for producing this attractive and meaningful book at a price students can afford, and for emphasizing the inductive approach. Too often in the process of education, especially religious education, questions are answered before they are deeply felt and struggled with; and too often, Bible lessons are much too biased in their implication that a certain passage can mean only what the teacher takes it to mean. Within the limitations previously discussed, Ms. Vedral supplies a healthy corrective for both tendencies. From the secular point of view, A Literary Survey of the Bible is worthy of study in the public schools because of its relatively dispassionate and objective presentation. From the Christian point of view, its appeal is to those who believe that without powerfully biased interpretations, the Bible can do its own persuading.

Is Decretal Theology Biblical?

The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, by James Daane (Eerdmans, 1973, 208 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by W. Fred Graham, professor of studies in religion, Justin Morrill College, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

More than twenty years ago a seminary student went on his honeymoon and took along one book besides the Bible: Reformed theologian Lorraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The purpose of James Daane’s The Freedom of God is to rescue the biblical and Reformed doctrine of election from the “decretal” predestinarianism of men such as Boettner, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, and (within his own Christian Reformed Church) Louis Berkhof and Herman Hoeksema. I was that honeymooning seminary student, and while I don’t suppose I so much as opened Boettner’s tome on that trip with my bride (I hope not!), I wish Daane had performed his rescue two decades ago. For though introduced to the great elective decree of God in seminary by professors I still esteem, the impossibility of preaching that “God predestines whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession of Faith), or counseling anxious people with the aid of immutable doctrines of election and reprobation (i.e., election to damnation), soon convinced me that Reformed theology, as I knew it, was of no practical pastoral help.

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“Why is election, which runs like a vertebra through the Scriptures, so rarely preached?” asks this Fuller Seminary professor. He does not intend to follow the Arminians, who delete election from the corpus of classical Christian doctrine. Election is inescapably and gloriously biblical. But rather, his “main concern is to demonstrate that God’s only decree is the gracious and elective purpose that he in divine freedom purposed in Jesus Christ, and that this decree can be preached because it can be believed.”

Some readers may not be aware that a major tenet of much Reformed or Calvinist theology since the Westminster Confession (1647) is that from the beginning (either before or after the Fall) God has elected a certain number of the human race to be saved, and either “reprobated” or left un-elect the rest of humankind. Although Daane insists that the Dutch Synod of Dort (1619) does not allow (but detests) treating election and reprobation “in the same manner,” the fact is that many Reformed theologians have done so, and those who have not—such as Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield—have rather weakly defended their slighting of reprobation against their more logical, if less scriptural, brethren.

Daane’s criticisms of this “decretal” theology (so-called from the one decree of God electing certain people to salvation, or the twin decrees of election and reprobation) are numerous and convincing. It is Aristotelian, not biblical; it binds God, rather than allowing him freedom to respond in love to sinful men; it drives Arminians to ignore a basic scriptural teaching; it downgrades God’s election of Israel (Romans 10 and 11) and must erroneously assume that after Christ, Israel has no place in God’s plan; it treats the Church as a collection of elect and non-elect individuals rather than the “elect lady” of God; it is incapable of being used for anything but teaching—you cannot really preach the Good News with the mental reservation that many hearers are reprobate and are really “hated” by God for Christ’s sake! As I said, had I read Daane in 1953, I might not have given up for so long a key doctrine that seemed then to be arid, having no contact with my own experience and showing no concern for sinful humanity. But because good and zealous professors taught it, a modicum of guilt was never completely taken away until I wrestled myself back into the Reformed fold by hard study of Romans 9 through 11. Daane’s help would have made it an easier struggle.

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Mark well: there is a great gulf fixed between a theology that teaches that before all things were created God planned to the tiniest detail everything that would happen, and a theology of a biblical God who calls and carries, who redeems and destroys, who argues and pleads, who peers behind bushes for Adam and fingers the tablets of stone, who has a controversy with Israel, yet weeps over Jerusalem as God Incarnate, who “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” and “consigns all men to disobedience that he may have mercy upon all.” As Daane puts it, “God is immutable in his grace, but mutable in his judgment.”

I shall leave to the reader Daane’s helpful study of the election of Israel, the election of Jesus Christ, the election of the Church. Suffice it to say that his work is solidly, seriously, and joyfully biblical. I will refrain from criticizing him for letting both Calvin and the Synod of Dort off the hook too easily—the decretal theologians mined their material somewhere! This is a needed book, a solid study that can help rescue a (the?) most important doctrine of the Bible for pastoral care and gospel proclamation today.

The Angelic Doctor

Friar Thomas D’Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work, by James A. Weisheipl (Doubleday, 1974, 464 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Sue Peterson, M.A. candidate in philosophy, Catholic University, Washington, D. C.

Although the study of Thomas Aquinas has regained popularity in recent decades, biographers have not concluded the date of his birth, nor have they agreed on the years of his major writings and travels. There remains much to be discovered about the life of the Angelic Doctor, who died March 7, 1274 (a date that even one medieval source disputes). To commemorate the 700th anniversary of the death of Thomas, Father Weisheipl gives us a conclusive, well-researched biography that truly honors in its scholarship the thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian. Weisheipl, who like Thomas is a Dominican, is an authority on Thomistic studies and professor of the history of medieval science at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto.

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Weisheipl maintains that we must view Thomas’s intellectual achievements in the context of his own day: “Strange as this may seem, unless the teaching of Aquinas is seen in its true historical perspective, there is not only the danger of misunderstanding his teaching, but also the danger of rendering Thomas irrelevant to our age.” He explains in lengthy detail the early stages of the Dominican order, its evangelical spirit and growth at the universities; the controversy that raged against mendicant orders at the University of Paris; and the political unrest between papal and secular forces in which the Aquino fortunes and Thomas’s brothers were involved. He notes that the “political situation in which Thomas lived … was one of the most confused experiences of the Catholic Church.” Thomas considered worldly wealth and power to be extraneous to the spiritual authority of the pope; he rejected papal offers to make him abbot of Monte Casino, archbishop of Naples, and a cardinal, all of which promised financial and political benefit. That Thomas practiced a position novel to his century “surely grew out of his experiences with his own family,” Weisheipl comments.

He charts meticulously the stages of the career of Thomas and offers suggestions for resolving contradictions between other accounts on matters such as Thomas’s travels, when he obtained the commentaries of Aristotle translated by William of Moerbeke, and the chronology of manuscripts. Following the text he has tabulated this data into a chronology of Thomas’s life and a listing of his writings.

Although Weisheipl does not hesitate to recount several plausible anecdotes and miracles from earlier traditions, the wealth of this biography lies in its description of Thomas’s intellectual development. He provides a summary of each major work, showing that “early in his life Thomas grasped certain fundamental philosophical principles that never changed.” Of recent interest is the influence of Platonic doctrine on the thought of Thomas; Weisheipl discusses thoroughly Thomas’s interaction with the Pseudo-Dionysius and the Elementatio Theologica of Proclus. He brings out the spiritual mission behind many of Thomas’s works, such as the Summa Contra Gentiles, written to aid missions to Islamic cultures, and the Commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, written to help students combat the heresies of Averroes.

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Weisheipl has given us an invaluable reference aid for the study of the life of Thomas Aquinas. With him we may concur that “even men who are not Thomists must pause and marvel at the life of this saint who directed all his energies to the pursuit of truth.”

The Spirit On Groups

The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission, by John V. Taylor (Fortress, 1973, 246 pp., $5.50), is reviewed by William Conard, Christian Missions in Many Lands, Chiclago, Peru.

The Holy Spirit has become a hot topic in current bookmaking, and it is no surprise to see another volume added to what has become a pretty long list. However, as John V. Taylor draws from his experiences as missionary, churchman, and student of world cultures he produces some fresh and very stimulating concepts. Seeing that the subtitle refers to missions we would expect another rehearsal of the Spirit’s power over decadent religions, but we discover a far more delicate case.

Broadly defined, mission is a recognition of “what the Creator-Redeemer is doing in his world” and our seeking to do it with him. In this sense, the soul’s salvation is but an intermediary step toward a much greater objective—the unity of Christ’s people in a world deeply influenced by his teaching. How is this to be realized? By the go-between Spirit, who creates a current of communication through every area of life, making us aware of ourselves and others, things and God. Indeed, Taylor sees the first work of the Spirit as producing awareness, followed by the necessity to make a personal and responsible choice, leading then to a path of self-oblation and sacrifice for others. When men do encounter the Spirit they are met not so much by rationale as by emotion, which is just as much God’s message as any words that are pronounced.

What, then, is the distinction between Spirit and Word? The Spirit is the power, the total impact, the forcefulness (wind) that inexplicably drives one, while the Word is more particular, with form, meaning, and purpose. It is only while these two are kept in constant proximity that the Word is able to address and make an impression on the hearer, so that the idea comes upon him with the Spirit’s mighty force. We have too long relied principally on the word, and the “vast majority of mankind is not going to find God through such a cerebral religion as the Christianity it has so far encountered”!

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Taking a cue from his understanding of our Lord’s life, the author contributes to the current Christological debate as he sees the answer to the human/divine relationship in Jesus in his being totally and uniquely filled with the Spirit, identifying the divine nature with the Spirit. While the human Jesus is borne along by this Spirit he becomes increasingly aware of his own unique relationship to God as Son and Servant, and as the Prototype of the Spirit-filled man he breaks religious and social barriers to accomplish the necessary. He is free.

I was favorably impressed throughout the book by the repeated assertions that the Spirit comes upon and abides within the groups of Christ’s followers. For too long various victorious Christian life schemes have neglected this essential truth, and as a result have not seen the reality of new life and victory over sin that only Christian fellowship offers. The church of the future—and the present!—then is in the warm and loving fellowships often called “house churches.”

Very interesting is the chapter on ethics, and the presentation of a Spirit situation ethic instead of the codified legal systems that commonly stultify the spiritual growth of nascent churches. And I found even more stimulating Taylor’s thoughts on the charismatic practices of healing, prophecy, and tongues. Feeling that many illnesses are psychosomatic, he believes that the Pentecostals’ vibrant faith in God, loving enthusiasm, and uniting with the sick in the laying on of hands goes a long way toward treating such illnesses. Prophecy is simply a primitive teaching ministry that later gives way to more rational teaching methods. Tongues finds its attraction in that the simplest new believer can stand and be heard in a church (even if his words are unintelligible). If this description is correct (and I think it is), we need to express our loving concern more frequently by having church leaders visit sick parishioners to lay on hands (which may also be just the required obedience for a genuine healing), provide openings for primitive teaching (even if considered inadequate by advanced standards), and encourage verbal participation by more church members in meetings.

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The author must be classed as a very liberal evangelical, and many readers will object to some of his arguments and examples. He accepts evolution without question, is quite entranced by Paul Tillich, and seems to doubt legitimate miracles. He leans heavily upon many divergent sources and quotes them to buttress his case, when available scriptural references would have served his purposes better and made his work more palatable to evangelicals. But as a springboard for serious discussion by missionaries and church leaders, The Go-Between God can be well used.

Perfectly Clear

Once Upon a Time, God …, by Thomas Howard (Holman, 114 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by John Marshall, editorial assistant, Canon Press, Washington, D. C.

In her exceptional work The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers points out the futility of the complaint that man measures God by his own experience. The fact is, man cannot measure anything except by his own experience. It is the only gauge he has. In speaking about God and heaven, Scripture continually draws upon earthly images (thrones, crowns, kingdoms, treasures, seeds), as if that is the only way spiritual truth can be communicated to us; St. Paul himself seems to hint at this in one place (2 Cor. 12:4). If we are to make Christianity understandable we must use language that is clear to the hearer as well as to us. To our dismay, many of us discover that the language we use is so cliché-and jargon-ridden that it is difficult even for us to know exactly what we are saying, and if we try to pin our beliefs down more accurately the result is not always satisfactory.

One certainly cannot fault Thomas Howard on this score. With the aid of an imaginary interrogator he expounds in clear, everyday speech the essential message of Christianity. The novelty in this well-worn exercise is that it is not novel. There is nothing here that cannot be verified by historic orthodox Christianity as exemplified by the creeds of the Church. It is therefore not surprising to find the author making statements similar to those of other articulate Christians, notably C. S. Lewis. And this is as it should be. It is in using this approach that Howard is most original, for it is not in the quest for originality that one finds it but, as Lewis says, in the attempt to speak the truth as one sees it. The author does this in a graceful colloquial style that is simple but not simplistic. The muscle of Christianity is all there: the uncompromising demand for obedience, the tender compassion, even the humor. One doesn’t often think of the Gospel as humorous, but humor is essentially a way of coming out of oneself, an ability to sec oneself momentarily from another’s point of view. And the result is mirth. “The shouting and the waving of palms and the flourishing of trumpets,” the “embracing and kissing and greeting,” the “rushing up of the whole creation in victory and joy” that make up heaven are all represented here.

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The dialogue form of the narrative is intriguing. So often in conversations with non-Christians we have had the experience of being at a loss for the right way of saying what we mean, or for the proper reply to a difficult question. We sometimes fall back upon a few pat answers and then go away disappointed in our shoddy performance. In reading this one is inclined to imagine oneself in the role of the believer who, without being slick and with clearly thought-out principles, is able to confront the unbeliever with his faith. This exercise can help clarify many affirmations of the Gospel we have so taken for granted that it is questionable whether we do in fact understand them.

One accusation that traditional evangelicals level at the method of approach typified here is that it tends not to use much Scripture to back up what it has to say. This objection is understandable in view of the need to avoid making statements apart from the authority of the Word of God. But it is equally true that the words of Scripture can often be used by those who have not mastered its sense, to batter people with the Gospel. Real questions need real answers from those who know the message of the Gospel, not just the words that compose it. That he indeed grasps the message Howard demonstrates to a tee.

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