Two Views Of John

Christianity According to John, by D. George Vanderlip (Westminster, 1975, 224 pp. $8.50), and The Gospel of John, Volume I, by James Montgomery Boice (Zondervan, 1975, 443 pp., $9.95), are reviewed by Donald A. Carson, dean, Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Both of these books are concerned with the Fourth Gospel, and each was written by an evangelical living in the Philadelphia area. There the similarities between them end.

Christianity According to John apparently arises out of Vanderlip’s classroom experience. Its twelve chapters constitute a basic theology of the Gospel of John. The chapter headings cover many of John’s most important themes: “Jesus as the Word,” “The Children of God,” “Believe,” “Know,” “Love,” “Light and Darkness,” “The Spirit of Truth,” and so on. Vanderlip writes clearly and concisely and shows competence in the secondary literature (in fact, there are too many quotations).

For better or for worse, Vanderlip goes out of his way to show that John is “relevant.” The first chapter, for instance, “John Speaks to Our World,” begins with several pages devoted to discussing “life’s true meaning,” reality, genuineness, oppression. “John’s understanding of love,” we read, “involves creative human response to need.” Several chapters conclude with a section seeking to develop the contemporary meaning of the exposition. I would be the last to eschew the relevance of the Scriptures, but I think Vanderlip’s efforts to demonstrate this relevance are the weakest part of his book. At one point he even finds it necessary to apologize for the Evangelist’s negative comments on “the Jews.” We have, he says, no right to speak of the Jews, or of anyone else, as “children of the devil” (8:44) as John has done (though it should be observed that John ascribes the remark to Jesus). “We can understand it, but we must not perpetuate it.” I would think that Jesus’ remark, far from being “racist, could be extended to all human beings everywhere apart from the grace of God.

Vanderlip thinks the Gospel of John was written toward the end of the first century, with both Jewish and Gentile believers primarily in view. However, he later allows that the book’s purpose includes both evangelism and instruction. The Apostle John probably stands behind it with his oral preaching and teaching; but one of his disciples prepared the first draft based on John’s proclamation, and a subsequent editor or editors enlarged the draft by incorporating supplementary material—including that which makes up chapters 15–17; 21. It was published in Ephesus. The brevity of Vanderlip’s book means that Vanderlip’s reconstruction of the Fourth Gospel’s early history is compressed into a few pages. It may be convincing to the beginning student or to the student who has already adopted some scheme such as those of R. E. Brown, B. Lindars, and R. Schnackenburg; I doubt if it will commend itself to those who see greater significance in the claims to eyewitness reporting, and who allow that only 21:24 f. was added by other writers.

Vanderlip focuses his attention on the Gospel itself, but in the case of two themes, knowledge and dualism, he includes a fair bit of background material. On the other hand, there are certain omissions. Many of Jesus’ titles are discussed but not “Lamb of God.” Much is made of John’s emphasis on love, relatively little of his stress on wrath and judgment.

Vanderlip reserves the last chapter for a discussion of “History and Interpretation.” It is in this area that I find myself in strongest disagreement with him. Twice he argues that John 9:22; 12:42, and 16:2 are references to excommunication from the synagogue by virtue of an alleged Jamnian decree (c. A.D. 85), even though he acknowledges that Leon Morris “prefers to interpret the excommunication as related to the time of Jesus.” It is not only Morris: M. J. Lagrange, C. F. D. Moule, and even C. H. Dodd, among others, raise doubts as to whether this is an anachronism.

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Not just an isolated incident is at stake. Everyone can agree that John gives his material his own impress, and that he uses his own vocabulary; and indeed the problem of the relation between history and interpretation is extremely difficult. But when entire chapters that the Evangelist ascribes to Jesus are now cast as later pious expansions of the significance of Jesus, then the problem becomes acute. Vanderlip is basically saying that the theology of the Fourth Gospel is true while its historical referents are doubtful. To justify this conclusion, he calls up two crucial arguments. First, he draws attention to Paul, who regularly gives his opinion on various matters: is John not entitled to the same recognition of inspiration that is confidently granted to Paul? But there is a qualitative difference: John ascribes his material to Jesus directly, in historical settings, sometimes even claiming eyewitness veracity. And both John and Paul are quite capable of distinguishing between statements from Jesus during his ministry, and post-resurrection insights (e.g., John 2:17, 22; 1 Cor. 7:10, 12). Second, Vanderlip makes repeated appeal to the Spirit (John 16:12–15), who will lead Christ’s people into truth. He compares First Corinthians 7:40 (“And I think that I have the Spirit of God”), and writes: “If through the years Christians had not acknowledged the validity of this claim by Paul, the writings of Paul would not have been admitted into the New Testament canon. Extending the same principle to John, can we deny to the author of the Fourth Gospel the right to freedom of religious expression under the guidance of the Spirit (John 16:12–15)?”

Hence Vanderlip cites with approval the opinion of Sanders and Martin that “the material in the Fourth Gospel consisted originally of sermons, preached by a man who was a Christian prophet, whose own words were as truly ‘words of the Lord’ as those spoken by Jesus beside the sea of Galilee or in the Upper Room.” But the Christian prophets were always able to distinguish between what Jesus said during his ministry and what his Spirit appeared to be saying through them (see D. Hill, “On the Evidence for the Creative Role of Christian Prophets,” New Testament Studies 20 [1974], 262–74).

I am far from arguing that John is presenting verbatim reports of Christ’s discourses; but I am persuaded that some model other than Vanderlip’s better explains the evidence. John gives condensations, in his own idiom (independence of idiom is especially easy when the original material is in another language, in this case presumably Aramaic); but condensed reports can be accurate reports—both theologically and historically.

The book by Boice arose from the author’s preaching ministry. This is the first volume of a projected series of five and covers 1:1–4:54. The fifty-six short chapters vary considerably in scope: they can cover just part of one verse (e.g., two sermons are given over to 1:14) or a more extended section (e.g. 2:1–11).

In both style and content the book is easy to read. Although written with the layman in mind, it contains insights that the Johannine specialist will appreciate. The work is marked by colorful examples and apposite quotations and illustrations. It is openly evangelistic.

Boice entertains no doubt about the truth of both theology and history in the Fourth Gospel, and occasionally ventures some explanatory remarks (see, for example, the part beginning on page 60).

The reader should be forewarned that the book is not simply an exposition of the first chapters of John—indeed, not quite an exposition. It is not quite an exposition in the sense that Boice selects certain teachings from many of his texts but does not attempt to expound the entire passage. The points he draws out of the text are usually valid; but not infrequently I was left with the impression that I was not being helped to understand John precisely as John wanted to be understood. Again, the book is not simply an exposition in the sense that Boice regularly draws in much material from elsewhere in the Scriptures. For example, in commenting on John 4:25 f., he manages to discuss the Matthean and Lukan genealogies. Three chapters are given over to a consideration of Christian baptism—mercifully, not in the categories of adult versus child baptism, or sprinkling versus immersion. In writing on John 1:4 Boice introduces us to Psalm 23. And, most noteworthy, in almost every chapter Boice ventures applications that, however valid, are not found in the text.

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None of these features is blameworthy, if the book is accepted for what it is: a rewriting of sermons, preached in a textual/expository tradition. As such, the book is stimulating and helpful. I read it with pleasure.

Reference Book On Greece And Rome

Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Classical World, by Michael Avi-Yonah and Israel Shatzman (Harper & Row, 1975, 510 pp., $20), is reviewed by Edwin Yamauchi, professor of history, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

The late Michael Avi-Yonah, who died in 1974, was the leading Israeli scholar of the classical and Byzantine periods. He directed a number of excavations in Israel and served as the editor of the Israel Exploration Journal and of the Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. He had planned this Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Classical World, but its completion is largely the work of Professor Israel Shatzman of the Hebrew University, who is primarily a scholar of the Roman period.

In many respects this is perhaps the best reference work of its kind available. It is quite comprehensive; its articles cover 2,300 topics and are by and large concise and accurate. For the reader who is not a classical scholar, this is more serviceable and readable than the Oxford Classical Dictionary. It is more up to date than William Smith’s Classical Dictionary. It is superior to the comparable Praeger Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Civilization in that it includes bibliographical references, some as recent as works published in 1974.

The work contains six maps and seven pages of chronological charts. There are helpful cross-references throughout, as well as a six-page index of items that are not the primary subjects of articles but are discussed in the course of articles. There are a generous number of black and white photos and some splendid colored illustrations. Regrettably, there is no list of the latter; they appear almost at random without any necessary relation to nearby articles, and there are no references in the text to them.

In view of the many excellent features of this encyclopedia, it is a pity that it has some rather glaring deficiencies, particularly in regard to the works listed in the unnecessarily spare bibliographies. In part this may be due to the publisher’s guidelines or to the limitations of works that are accessible in Israel. In part it probably reflects the fact that no one scholar can hope to be competent in all fields. The deficiencies are most obvious with respect to peripheral areas of the Greek world and the Roman Empire, such as Anatolia and Persia.

What is more lamentable, particularly in a work conceived by a leading archaeologist, is the lack of references to current excavations. Understandable but still regrettable is the omission of references to the New Testament; the articles on Galatia, Ephesus, and Corinth contain no explicit references to Paul’s mission or letters to these areas.

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Although this encyclopedia is not addressed to students of the New Testament, readers will gain much useful background information from such articles as those on Athens, Epicurus, Caesar, and Augustus.

The Message Of Mark

Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, by Ralph P. Martin Zondervan, 1973, 240 pp., $3.95), The Gospel According to Mark, by William L. Lane (Eerdmans, 1974, 652 pp., $12.95), Mark: A Portrait of the Servant, by D. Edmond Hiebert (Moody, 1974, 437 pp., $7.95), and Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, by William Hendricksen (Baker, 1975, 700 pp., $14.95), are reviewed by Harold Hoehner, associate professor of New Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Evangelical scholars produced four major works on the Gospel of Mark in the last three years. Since exegesis properly precedes theology, we will examine the three commentaries before Martin’s theology of Mark.

All the commentators agree that John Mark of Acts 13:5, 13 and 15:37–39 was probably the author of the gospel and that the content of Mark was a result of Peter’s preaching at Rome. Regarding the date of the composition, Hendricksen dates it in the early part of the period between A.D. 40 and 65, while Lane dates it in the latter half of the decade of A.D. 60–69. The difference: Hendricksen accepts the identification of a recently discovered papyrus fragment as a part of Mark; Lane does not. Hiebert does not even mention the controversy but dates Mark sometime between A.D. 64 and 67. Lane and Hendricksen assume that Mark was the first gospel; Hiebert does not commit himself. Lane is the only one who discusses redaction criticism in the introduction. All three commentators argue that the purpose of Mark was to present the good news of Jesus, the Son of God and Son of man, in order to call men to faith.

Lane and Hiebert use the ASV; Hendricksen uses his own translation. One of the problems of Mark is whether or not to accept the long ending (16:9–20). Hiebert seems undecided but does comment on that portion. Lane and Hendricksen do not think it is genuinely Markan, but Hendricksen comments on it anyway. All three agree that Christ ate the Passover on Thursday and was crucified on Friday.

Lane investigated every piece of literature on Mark available through 1972. He deals adequately with the textual problems. His lucid comments do not skirt the issues. He considers other sources such as rabbinical materials that can illumine the text. His extensive footnotes give not only supporting materials but also additional information. He makes a real attempt to grapple with the historical situation of Jesus’ ministry and its possible ramifications for the Roman believer for that day. This is truly a fine commentary. It is the only one with indexes that include authors, persons, places, subjects, and Scripture references, a feature that adds greatly to its usefulness. Apparently the author thought his material was valuable enough that others would want to be able to find it.

Hendricksen also deals lucidly with the issues but in a rather different manner. He is nowhere near as conversant with the literature of today as Lane. At several points he gives helpful charts comparing Mark with the other gospels, and he also has a map of Jesus’ journeys of retirement, He gives practical lessons on the passages discussed. Several times there are discussions he omits because they are in his commentaries on Matthew and John; this is somewhat inconvenient if one does not have those volumes.

Hiebert’s commentary is more devotional in nature. He virtually ignores recent discussions. There is very little new or fresh in what he says. The notes are in the back, which makes it cumbersome to use.

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Martin’s work is not a commentary but rather an attempt to deal with the theology of Mark. After very ably discussing some of the introductory problems, Martin shows that Mark’s gospel is a theological document that is trying to convince the readers to put their faith in the earthly Jesus, now the exalted Lord in heaven. Martin sees that Mark’s gospel was a correction to Gentile churches that tended to see a docetic Christ. Martin interacts with recent works on Mark (but not with the three reviewed here; it was published before these). It is a fitting companion to any of the above commentaries.

For a new believer, Hiebert’s commentary would be helpful, and for the pastor, Hendricksen’s. However, Lane’s would be helpful to the layman, pastor, and scholar who is dealing not only with the past but also with the present discussions of Mark.


A great way to keep a very useful bibliography up to date: The Minister’s Library: Periodic Supplement #1 by Cyril Barber (Baker. 106 pp., $2.95 pb). The original volume was published in 1974 and costs $9.95.

Psychology of Religion is a major bibliographical guide to books and articles on that subject, compiled by Donald Capps, Lewis Rambo, and Paul Ransoloff (Gale Research Co., 364 pp., $18). Most items are after 1950. They are unannotated but are grouped into forty categories (e.g., festivals, glossolalia, prejudice, death) and are indexed by author, subject, and title. For all theological and psychological libraries and the personal libraries of researchers. This is the first volume to appear in Gale’s Philosophy and Religion Information Guide Series.

Richard Ruble, a psychology professor at John Brown, gathered twenty-eight articles, mostly by evangelicals, to use in his courses. They are available under the title Christian Perspectives on Psychology. Other teachers might want to consider using them. (MSS Information Corp. [655 Madison Ave., New York, N. Y. 10021], 147 pp., $3.75 pb).

Ever wonder what some of the symbols on church buildings and their accessories stand for? Tourists especially should welcome A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art by Gertrude Grace Sill (Macmillan, 241 pp., $9.95, $5.95 pb). The difference between square and round halos, the significance of a closed gate, and the meanings of numerous other objects depicted in traditional Western religious art are briefly described, often with illustrations, under fifty headings (e.g., beasts, flowers, saints).

Four rather different aids to the study of Genesis were published recently. Origins: Creation Texts From the Ancient Mediterranean, edited by Charles Doria and Harris Lenowitz (Doubleday, 356 pp., $4.95 pb), offers a good opportunity for the interested non-specialist to see the contrast between the creation accounts of the Hebrews and those of their neighbors. The widely known evangelist John R. Rice has written a verse-by-verse commentary in sermonic style. In the Beginning.… (Sword of the Lord, 559 pp., $5.95). Another conservative commentary, much more scholarly in style, is Harold Stiger’s A Commentary on Genesis (Zondervan, 352 pp., $12.95). Ray Stedman, a widely known pastor, delves homiletically into the first three chapters of Genesis in Understanding Man (Word, 154 pp., $4.95).

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls radically changed the understanding of the early history of the text of the Old Testament. Frank Moore Cross and Shemaryahu Talmon have collected fourteen previously published articles that illustrate some of these changes, and each has added fresh articles with his own proposals, in Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text (Harvard, 415 pp., $16.50, $5.95 pb).

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The first half of volume one of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics was translated into English by G. T. Thomson in 1934. The second half appeared decades later, in 1956, under the editorship of G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, who went on to supervise the rest of the multi-volume translation. To make the set uniform in style, Bromiley has made a fresh translation of the first half-volume; it is available for£8 from the publishers, T. & T. Clark of Edinburgh.

Essays by various authorities on the educational contributions of twenty-six prominent religious leaders (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Loyola, Wesley, Bushnell, and William James) have been edited by Elmer Towns and somewhat misleadingly entitled A History of Religious Educators (Baker, 330 pp., $8.98). Primarily a college or seminary text.

How an Episcopal minister went about the increasingly difficult task of finding a church to pastor is narrated in Do You Know the Way to San Jose?: One Pastor’s Search For a Job by A. Richard Bullock (Alban Institute [Mount St. Alban, Washington, D. C. 20016], 20 pp., $2.50). Alban Institute publishes many other studies of clergy-laity relations and activities. Write for a catalogue.

Lois Glenn has compiled an annotated and nearly complete bibliography (through 1974) of material on Charles W. S. Williams and his writings (Kent State University, 128 pp., $7.50).

Human Life Review begins its second year of publication as a quarterly journal with scholarly articles from an anti-abortion/pro-life perspective. All academic, theological, and medical libraries should subscribe, and many individuals will want to do so as well ($12/year; Room 540, 150 East 35 St., New York, N. Y. 10016).

An easy-to-read, sympathetic report of the major World Council of Churches meeting at the end of last year is presented in Nairobi 1975 by James W. Kennedy (Forward Movement [412 Sycamore St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202], 144 pp., $1 pb).

Renewing Our Minds

Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling, by Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., (Zondervan, 1975, 111 pp., $4.95) is reviewed by W. J. Donaldson, Jr., professor of psychological Services, Georgia State University, Atlanta.

Two basic tenets underlie Crabb’s model of biblical psychology. First, every person must first reach the goal of personal fulfillment before he is free to live for something or someone else. “The basic personal need of each personal being is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being.” Personal worth is defined in terms of significance and security. Both of these needs are seen to be met in God, who is totally sufficient. All behaviors are attempts to meet our deepest needs.

Second, “all personal problems are really thinking or belief problems, wrong beliefs about how to meet [our deepest] needs.” Using Romans 12:2 (“be transformed by the renewing of your minds”) Crabb states that Scriptures “support the belief that psychologists are right when they emphasize the importance of thinking.” “Paul taught that transformation comes from renewing neither feelings nor circumstances, but our minds.”

This basic cognitive approach linked with some social learning and Adlerian concepts forms the basic content of Crabb’s theory. Diagnosis is “uncovering wrong beliefs supporting sinful patterns of behavior.” Sin is basically wrong thinking, i.e., thinking that does not lead to absolute dependency upon a sovereign God for our personal needs. Treatment is “teaching right beliefs, and encouraging right behavior consistent with right beliefs.” The ultimate goal of biblical counseling, then, becomes one of assisting a person “to change in the direction of Christlikeness.”

Crabb offers a perceptive blend of Schaeffer’s apologetics, cognitive behavior therapy, and Adlerian theory, but he needs to deal more fully with the following questions: (1) Does Paul’s use of nous in Romans 12:2 refer exclusively to cognitive processes or, as Ladd suggests, to “moral judgment” as well? Or to put it another way, how are the will and cognition tied together? (2) In Crabb’s discussion of sin, he sees it as wrong thinking. But is all wrong thinking sin, as he implies? (3) Wrong thinking is ultimately not depending “on a sovereign God for all our needs.” Crabb claims that no situation is intolerable; “the basic cure is learning to be content in whatever circle is mine.” Is there no time when the biblical counselor can label a situation unjust and rightfully assert himself against it in cooperation with the client? It seems that Crabb has negated the necessity of standing up against evil situations. (4) In his attempt to be absolutely dependent upon God, Crabb only gives slight acknowledgment of Christian community. Is not the body of Christ a necessary part of God’s plan for meeting our deepest needs for significance and security?

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God’S History And Man’S

The Gospel as History, edited by Vilmos Vajta (Fortress, 1975, 246 pp., $10.95), is reviewed by Malcolm L. Peel, chairman, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

This volume of collected essays is the last of four in a series sponsored by the Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg, France. The series, entitled “The Gospel Encounters History,” has provided a set of working papers for ecumenical discussion. The contributors are from a variety of countries and a variety of theological disciplines. The result is a wide spectrum of opinion, in accord with the institute’s policy of promoting open dialogue.

The Gospel as History begins with two essays devoted to the possible interrelation of holy history (God’s acts among men) and human history (man’s acts in the secular realm). Regin Prenter, professor of systematic theology emeritus of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, argues in “Words and Works of Jesus Christ” that these two histories really converge in God’s incarnation in the world. Christ is the “linguistic event” (i.e., supreme example of the unity of works and interpreting words) that forms the redemptive, center point of history. In his two natures the two types of history are seen to coalesce. By its conduct of baptism, preaching, and the Eucharist, the Church continues the incarnational history of God in the world, the ultimate goal being the overcoming of self-love and the redemption of all history.

In contrast to this Christocentric interpretation, Gustaf Wingren, professor of systematic theology at the University of Lund, Sweden, asserts in “God’s World and the Individual” that the first article of the creed (God as Creator) has been neglected amid the contemporary stress on kerygmatic theology. The Gospel (God’s saving act in Christ whereby freedom is granted from sin, guilt, law) is addressed primarily to the individual and makes sense only against a background of cosmic Fall and cosmic Providence. Wingren stresses God’s positive work in redeeming the world as Creator, even apart from the Church and the Gospel. Both Prenter and Wingren agree, however, that there is no gospel basis for the use of violence in achieving justice, though Wingren does contend that social barriers are shattered when the Gospel is proclaimed.

Part Two contains two essays on “Creation and Gospel in the Scriptures.” In the first, “Creatio, Continua, and Nova,” John Reumann, professor of New Testament at Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, gives an exegetical, traditio-historico survey of biblical traditions about Creation and New Creation. This is designed to provide insight into the history of God’s dealings with his world. Reumann offers twelve theses in conclusion, summarizing biblical theologies of Creation and offering pointers for today’s theological tasks.

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The second of these essays, “The Historicity of Scriptures and the Witness to One Gospel” by Jürgen Roloff, professor of New Testament at the University of Erlangen, Germany, really has nothing to do with study of Creation but concentrates on the problem of identifying the unity of the Gospel in the plurality of its New Testament witnesses. Roloff maintains that the rise of historical criticism and its application to the Scriptures resulted in their fragmentation into separate strands of tradition. Awareness of their fundamental unity was lost, and different church groups were easily able to justify their subsequent separate existences. On the other hand, this same historical criticism, by making us aware of diversity in primitive Christianity, should warn us against accepting any one theology as normative, should lead us back to Christ, who is witnessed to throughout the diverse New Testament interpretations, and should impress on Christians that the New Testament must remain the only norm and guideline for the Church in its preaching and content.

Part Three, “The Passing on of the Gospel,” contains three articles that explore the very important issue of Scripture and tradition. Andre Benoit, professor of patristics at the University of Strasbourg, surveys “The Transmission of the Gospel in the First Centuries,” breaking off with Irenaeus at the end of the second century. Harding Meyer, a research professor at the Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg, offers “The Ecumenical Reconsideration of Tradition: An Evaluation.” Two points are most significant in these articles. The first is that Protestants (through insights yielded by synoptic form and editorial criticism into the importance of pre-literary, oral transmission of gospel traditions, as well as through their acknowledgment of having twisted the Reformation principle of “sola scriptura” into that of “scriptura solitaria”) have moved closer to Catholic theology in acknowledging the importance of tradition in the interpretation of Gospel. The Second is that Catholics (through their increasing use of historical critical biblical study and post-Vatican II reexamination of the role of Scripture) have moved closer to Protestant theology in recognizing the normative primacy of apostolic writings in the order of precedence within the various entitles of tradition.

Philip Hefner, professor of systematics at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Illinois, concludes Part Three with an article on “Dogmatic Statements and the Identity of the Christian Community.” His thesis is that dogmatic statements, whose formulation is always the task of theology, serve to establish the identity of and give direction to the Christian community as it develops through history and nature. Still, given what we know about how organisms and institutions are affected by processes of historical development and individuation, dogmas cannot be viewed as fixed entities and must always be subject to review in light of Scripture.

This volume demands of the reader a serious level of engagement. Poor translation from German obscures the already difficult argument in several of the articles. Even so, Wingren’s insistence on the importance of the doctrine of Creation to contemporary theology and insights into modern Protestant-Catholic dialogue on Scripture and Tradition should not go unheeded. It is, in sum, a significant contribution to constructive theology and ecumenical discussion.

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