Advice To Parents

You Can Have a Happier Family, by Norm Wakefield (Regal, 1977, 143 pp., $2.95 pb), Parents: Give Your Kid a Chance, by Ken Poure (Harvest House, 1977, 158 pp., $2.95 pb), How Not to Raise a Cain, by Pat Holt and Sandy Rau (Victor, 1978, 96 pp., $1.50 pb), An Uncomplicated Guide to Becoming a Super-Parent, by Joy Wilt (Word, 1977, 130 pp., $5.95), The Strong-Willed Child, by James Dobson (Tyndale, 1978, 240 pp., $7.95), and For Families Only, edited by J. Allan Petersen (Tyndale, 1977, 320 pp., $4.95 pb), are reviewed by Charles E. Hummel, director of faculty ministries, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Madison, Wisconsin.

The American family has been declared an endangered species and a spate of books has come to the rescue. Although many provide helpful insights, others only add to the burden of beleaguered parents. Here are six recent books that differ sharply in their approaches to parent-child relationships.

You Can Have a Happier Family is by Norm Wakefield, the father of five children ranging in age from an infant to a young teen. He is presently codirector of the Center for Ministry Studies in Phoenix, Arizona. The author identifies four basic family goals for Christian parents: develop attitudes of consistency and self-discipline; develop an atmosphere of love and unity; provide opportunities to grow, discover, and create; discover and work toward God’s will and purpose for our family.

Nine chapters develop these themes in a readable style with excellent illustrations from the author’s own family and counseling experience.

Chapters 2 and 3 on discipline are superb. Wakefield defines discipline as “guiding, supervising, and educating a child’s choices.” He also says, “The quality of my relationship to my child is more important than the particular mode of discipline I choose to use.”

Wakefield is neither doctrinaire nor dogmatic. He encourages parents with a variety of practices well within their grasp if only they plan and carry through.

Parents: Give Your Kid a Chance is by Ken Poure, the father of three children, who writes from his experience with them from infancy to adulthood. He has also conducted family seminars for years.

The style of this book is popular in the extreme, punctuated with guys and gals, bods and pads, frequently interspersed with wows. But once the reader surmounts this language barrier, he finds helpful counsel born of the author’s success and failure.

The author has a helpful chapter on dating, sex, and marriage; a concluding chapter emphasizes the importance of praise to express appreciation and build confidence.

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For many years the authors of How Not To Raise a Cain have written a weekly question-answer column for a large area newspaper. Here, Pat Holt and Sandy Rau share many of their published answers. The wide variety of questions usually receives a brief answer of about half a page.

The strength of the book is its constant appeal to Scripture. A verse is often quoted and applied in a practical manner. But this strength can also be a weakness, since many parenting problems are too complex for this kind of treatment. Occasionally the authors do take more space to spell out the implications of a difficulty and the way that it can be best handled.

Especially valuable are several fundamental principles and practical steps to help a child build his self-confidence. Less helpful is the authors’ concept of discipline as simply punishment, and usually spanking “because it is biblical” (p. 64). No attempt is made to explain discipline in its educative sense, or to consider various forms of punishment and what they are expected to achieve.

The book ends on a strong note with a reminder too seldom heard: “Please, parents, let’s enjoy our children! Have fun with them from the day they are born.… Parenthood is less of a burden and more of a joy if we keep our sense of humor” (p. 96).

In the age of superman and the super-bowl it was inevitable that sooner or later we should be confronted with super-parents. Joy Wilt, the mother of a girl and boy, ages seven and six, dedicates the book to her super-family as she offers her readers An Uncomplicated Guide to Becoming a Super-Parent.

The first three chapters pinpoint myths about parents and children. For example, “There is one perfect way to raise children, and once I discover what it is, I can be a perfect parent” (p. 19). The author explains why such beliefs are wrong and gives many illustrations.

The book makes an excellent contribution in chapters 5 and 6, which describe certain rights of both parents and children. The author notes, for example, the right to ask questions and obtain an honest answer, the right to privacy, and the right to make a mistake.

With its dozens of anecdotes the book is readable. And it certainly is uncomplicated. Unfortunately, becoming even reasonably good parents is a very complicated task. While the author shares some helpful insights, most of the presentation is superficial.

The father of a boy and girl, ages twelve and seven, James Dobson is associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. His latest book, The Strong-Willed Child treats discipline for the child who “declares war on all forms of authority” (p. 10). He traces such children from infancy to adolescence.

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The author captures the readers’ attention and holds it with forceful language and frequent illustrations, at times melodramatic. He speaks with assurance, leaving no doubt as to what is right and wrong. The issues are sharp and the course of action is clear; the parent must act decisively from a position of strength.

“When that nose-to-nose confrontation occurs between generations, it is extremely important for the adult to win decisively and confidently. The child has made it clear that he’s looking for a fight, and his parents would be wise not to disappoint him! Nothing is more destructive to parental leadership than for a mother or father to disintegrate during the struggle” (p. 32).

A key to Dobson’s thinking is his distinction between the child’s will and his spirit. The parents’ task is to shape the will without breaking the spirit.

Since this distinction is so crucial to the author’s theory of discipline (which is generally equated with punishment), it is unfortunate that he provides neither an adequate biblical basis nor a psychological foundation. Dobson’s view is that disobedience is either childish irresponsibility or willful defiance (a conscious assault on parental authority). Our children do not come so neatly labelled. The disobedience which may appear to be the “rebellious defiance of a steel will” deserving a spanking can actually be the cry of a wounded spirit lacking self-esteem.

The author’s chapters on sibling rivalry and hyperactivity are helpful, as is his treatment of strong-willed adolescents. In addition he provides a perceptive evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of Parent Effectiveness Training.

For Families Only: Answering the Tough Questions Parents Ask has fifty-one contributors on subjects from sex education and abortion to punishment and TV. The articles are brief but informative, averaging five or six pages. They quickly get to the heart of each question and provide practical help to someone wrestling with the problem. The result is a first-rate handbook that can be recommended to all parents. You will quickly turn to the four or five subjects which most interest you now, then put the book on a bedside or family room table for ready reference. While addressed primarily to parents, it also makes excellent reading for teenagers. J. Allan Petersen, president of Family Concern, should receive an accolade for the effort and perception that went into this collection.

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Christian School Philosophy

Philosophy and Education: A Christian Approach by Norman De Jong (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977, 87 pp., $2.75 pb) and The Philosophy of Christian School Education, edited by Paul A. Kienel (Association of Christian Schools [P. O. Box 4097, Whittier, Ca„ 90607], 1978, 218 pp., $4.95 pb) are reviewed by Wilson Benton, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Mississippi.

If statistics from the Association of Christian Schools International are correct, two Christian schools are being started in the United States every day. Tim LaHaye told 3,000 Christian school educators that if the trend continues 51 percent of American students will attend Christian schools by 1990; and Rousas Rushdoony, addressing the Southern Association of Christian Schools, said the present momentum will completely empty the national public school system of students by the end of the century. Such statistics may prove to be considerably exaggerated, but even so one cannot deny the rapid growth of the Christian day school movement. Surmounting denominational barriers, representatives of various theological viewpoints have entered the field. Such diversity of support and accelerated growth have provided the movement with startling impetus, but the only common ingredient is the use of the self-designation, “Christian.” Common purposes, patterns, or procedures are lacking.

One crucial issue is the philosophical foundation upon which the movement rests and these two books, both of which reflect a high view of Scripture and a regard for the biblical view of man, are welcome attempts to address the issue. The title of Norman De Jong’s book may give the impression of providing a complete treatment of the philosophy of Christian education. In fact he only discusses certain thorny questions that are included in the larger scope of educational philosophy, such as the definition of a school, the final source of authority, the place of freedom, the meaning of relative truth, and the nature of curriculum.

While the description of a school is somewhat simplified and more needs to be said in terms of essence and nature, the discussion of authority constitutes a profitable diagnosis. The author’s heavy, if not exclusive, emphasis on the parent-controlled school is bound to meet with opposition. Since he takes his stand so firmly, one wishes he had indicated why other alternatives are not viable. Is this the only consistently Christian structure? A significant contribution is made by De Jong’s clarification of the “sphere sovereignty” concept of Dooyeweerdian Philosophy.

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The whole church is challenged to reexamine the nature of relativity, and a plea is made for the reclamation of the fundamental principle that “all truth is relative.… Relativism, properly defined, means that different ideas or things must be seen in relationship to each other and to some reference point.… And what is that focal point for all our ideas and concepts? For the Christian the answer is disarmingly simple! It is ‘Christ himself’.…” Of value are the thought provoking questions concluding each chapter which take the force of this book beyond the confines of its pages, but even so, its brevity is lamentable. The willingness to address what often is neglected, however, causes one to be grateful that some word has been sounded.

But if De Jong is too succinct, Kienel is too repetitious. The collection of eight essays that he edited claims by its title to address educational philosophy, but it is largely a “how-to” manual of operation.

There are three sections—Principles, Practice, and Perspective, with the last being the weakest. In far too little space J. J. Veltkamp attempts to survey “Philosophical Patterns of Thought” from the “family agency” of the ancient Hindus through the Greek sophists to the Reconstructionalism of T. Brameld with just a grain Pestalozzi, William James, John Dewey, etc., in between. R. S. McBirnie, with equal lack of appreciation for the magnitude of his task, assumes he is “Assessing the Inadequacy of the Present System of Education.” This superficial exposition of major themes is distracting.

D. L. Hocking discusses “The Theological Basis for the Philosophy of Christian School Education” and presents thirteen “principles.” These range from the idea that Christian school philosophy is “based on the authority, authenticity, and reliability of the Bible as the complete and final revelation of God concerning all matters of faith, truth, and practice” to the idea that such philosophy is “based on meeting the needs of people in their chronological, physical and mental development, as well as their spiritual growth as believers.” It is a useful delineation of the obvious. K. O. Gangel submits the most helpful chapter in terms of the purported philosophical theme by explaining the importance of a “world and life view,” interpreting the concept for the facilitation of formal training, and integrating the responsibilities of faith and learning. In arguing for a comprehensive perspective he writes, “Learning unrelated to life is as dead as faith without works.” In his essay, E. H. Birdsall simply explains why and how each school should put its own philosophy of education in writing.

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Other essays are more practical such as Gene Garrick’s discussion of the development of educational objectives, and Robert Miller’s guidance on textbook selection and general curriculum building.

Is The Bible Numerically Pure?

Theomatics: God’s Best-Kept Secret Revealed, by Jerry Lucas and Del Washburn (Stein and Day, 1977, 347 pp., $8.95 hb) is reviewed by David T. Priestley, pastor, North Sheridan Baptist Church, Peoria, Illinois.

By means of numerical values, common themes can be identified in Scripture. This is the hypothesis that Jerry Lucas (of basketball and Scripture memorization fame) and Del Washburn energetically advocate.

Theomatics is a term Washburn coined for his version (by no means the first) of biblical numerology or gematria, and is based on the concept that “all of the meanings in the Bible can be reduced to numbers” (p. 28). Gematria is an old technique of finding meanings by using letters for numbers. Hebrew and Greek use the first nine letters of the alphabet for numbers 1 through 9; the next nine equal 10 through 90 (by tens); the next letters progress by hundreds starting from 100. The fact that the Chester Beatty papyrus copy of the Apocalypse uses this numbering system rather than spelling out the names of the numbers as most manuscripts do is a verification to Washburn and Lucas of the validity of the method. Hence they elevate this manuscript by making it the authoritative text for the last book of the Bible. However, they never quite explain why, for example, writing “45” instead of “forty-five” is so significant.

Theomatics is a kind of reversal of the ancient way of writing numbers. Instead of using letters, theomatics changes the letters of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament into numbers. The “value” of a word, then, is the total of the values of the letters in it (e.g., Jesus = 888); the value of a phrase, clause, sentence, or paragraph is the total of the value of the words in them. These computations are a first step in identifying a theomatic design in the Scriptures, supposedly put there by the God who inspired them.

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Raw theomatic values are not used in their simple form but are transformed into “multiples,” which characterize and identify key themes. Washburn and Lucas employ the familiar symbolic numerical meanings of deity (3), grace (5), sin (6), perfection (7). As the new Adam, Jesus’ number is eight, the number of “new beginnings.” Jesus = 8 × 111. Surprisingly, rather than playing on 8, Washburn and Lucas adduce 111 as a key multiple for references to Christ. “This design covers the complete topic related to the birth and coming of Christ and the child Jesus” (p. 50). One hundred eleven is not a prime (indivisible) number, but a multiple of 37; so in some cases (when it suits them?) 37 is also a number which is key to messianic passages. Frankly, the multiples appear to be arbitrarily chosen.

A “fudge-factor” is also introduced, which they call the “cluster concept.” When the total value of a word or group of words is only one or two numbers off of a key value, they treat it as though it were the key value. They fail to explain why God needs that range of approximation if it is true, as they assert, that he designed the Bible to be so theomatically precise. “What God simply does is to use the right combinations of words (with their various spellings), along with the different articles, to construct a sentence, phrase, or thought that adds up to the proper theomatic value he has chosen” (p. 39).

They assert that articles (such as “the”) and the grammatical cases cannot be disregarded, but then they appear to choose the case they wish to use to make their point arbitrarily. For example, “Jesus” (in the nominative case), “Christ” (in the accusative), “God” (in the accusative and with the definite article), and “Lord” (in the genitive, without an article) all share the key multiple of 111 (p. 64). This is simply arbitrary juggling of cases and articles to create an appearance of statistical objectivity. The validity of theomatics cannot be demonstrated by such cute little manipulations.

Matthew 1:20 needs a special notice. This particular verse appears throughout the book, first on page 51. Unfortunately, Washburn misread en (the preposition “in”) as hen (a noun for “one”). Apparent unfamiliarity with Greek (even ignoring Marshall’s interlinear translation, which they recommend) produced the peculiar translation; “for the one, her begotten of the spirit, is holy” (263 and passim). This basic reading error allowed him to drop “in” altogether or chop up the clause nonsensically. Their assertion that “we took into consideration every single combination possible within those phrases that had intelligible meaning” (p. 289) is dubious in view of what they did with Matthew 1:20 alone.

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Why was the iota subscript ignored (for example, in “her” in Matt. 1:20)? It would increase the value by ten if it appeared in its non-elided form. “Theomatics is not a truth to be understood in English. It is meant to be understood in Hebrew or Greek” (p. 43). What about the use of Grecized Hebrew words and names? Usually they are explained in the Greek (Immanuel = God with us; Messiah = Christ; Joshua = Jesus). But which is their theomatic value, the Hebrew original, the Greek transliteration, or the Greek translation? Theomatically, Jesus = 888 in Greek; Joshua = 391 in Hebrew (which is a multiple of two prime numbers, 17 × 23, that have no theomatic significance in the examples given).

Evidently these two brothers love the Lord and have a high regard for his Word. But Theomatics is a novelty book that demonstrates that gematria continues to find adherents in every generation. Reducing the Bible to numbers must be noted for the sheer energy expended; but after reading this book, one has the disappointed feeling that the labor has produced only wind. It would have been nice if the authors had succeeded in proving their point; they seem to be so earnest. But their mathematical computations neither persuade nor enhance faith. Despite their efforts (which regrettably leave the indelible impression of arbitrary manipulation), my belief remains that the power of Scripture to convince lies solely with the Holy Spirit who inspired it and who illumines its hearers.

Is God From Outer Space?

UFOs—God’s Chariots? by Ted Peters (John Knox, 1977, 192 pp., $7.95) is reviewed by Irving Hexham, assistant professor of philosophy of religion, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

This is a bad book, but it is good for anyone wishing to plumb the depths of current interest in UFOs and their religious significance. It must be read with care and a critical attitude. Peters is a lecturer in religious studies at Loyola University in Chicago and from what can be gleaned from the book, he appears to be a religious liberal with a strong sympathy for UFO cultists. Indeed, he states quite categorically that he believes “there is something real being seen in our skies.” “Flying saucers are not simply an unconscious projection from our imaginations” (p. 19). Having said this, he insists that his real purpose is to investigate “how people interpret and understand what they take to be a UFO or flying saucer” (p. 19). It must be noted, however, that despite his stated disclaimers, he goes beyond simply attempting to interpret and understand people’s claims, and very subtly argues a case for belief in UFOs. This can be seen clearly in the somewhat offhand comment he makes about scientists who reject the existence of UFOs as extra-terrestrial craft: “This superconfidence in an elite group of scientists who supposedly know the truth borders on the fanatic” (p. 70). Scientists who believe strongly in the existence of UFOs are being “open” and “creative”; indeed, he describes them as members of a new “scientific revolution.” But those who challenge such beliefs and question the evidence and claims of supposed contactees are “fanatics” trapped by outdated dogma.

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Once the author’s bias is realized, much can be learned from the book. It presents a lot of material in a compact way while open about the religious significance of the claims made. Peters is undoubtedly right in his analysis of UFO sightings and contactee reports in terms of a religious quest that seeks to supply answers to questions traditionally supplied by religion. But few, I hope, would heed his message that “If UFOs—fact or fiction—can take us one step further down the road towards God’s desired future, I think we should heed their message” (p. 184).

The book is not very well written. Though journalistic, it attempts to convey a scholarly style; the result is misleading for anyone unfamiliar with the literature on both UFOs and the study of religion. An unsuspecting reader could easily come to accept various claims about UFOs, contactee experiences, or Peters’s interpretations as being far better supported by evidence than they are.

In this book we see the futility of humanistic thinking that has departed from the revelation of God. Peters seems desperately anxious to find reasons for faith. He is too sophisticated to openly advocate faith in UFOs. He is too well schooled in theology to reduce God to anthropomorphic terms. Yet, rejecting orthodox Christianity, he has to find a source for faith through the symbolic revelation of UFOs. He seeks grounds to justify his belief in the law of God, which for him is simply the commandment to love. Yet, to him, love is undefined, even as his god is a vague hint of “being” found in the claims of UFO contactees. Rejecting biblical revelation, he seeks a source of authority and assurance in hints of the transcendent. But like so many contactees, he is, I believe, deluded.

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Black Methodists

Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism As It Developed in America by Harry V. Richardson (Doubleday, 1977, 324 pp., $10.00), is reviewed by Dr. James S. Tinney, assistant professor of journalism and political science, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Traditionally histories of Black Christianity have been full of denominational details and propaganda and written by clergymen rather than by the historians. Often they were privately published. Dark Salvation breaks with tradition and provides us with the first general history of an entire Black denominational family written by a recognized historian and published by a trade publisher.

Richardson provides the context for the development of Methodism in America, with coverage of the whole range of race-related issues that affected the faith, including slavery. After discussing events that led to the north-south division of white Methodism the author presents the stories of each of the major Black groups. Two chapters are assigned to each of the reported million-member denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. One chapter discusses the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (until 1954 known as the Colored Methodist Episcopal), which claims nearly a half-million members. Other chapters treat such topics as Blacks in the mostly white United Methodist Church, Black Methodist missionary work, the eighteen colleges of the three major Black bodies, and the church-related periodicals.

Richardson discusses variations in the sources, such as why Daniel Coker declined to accept election as the first bishop. He concludes that Coker was too light-skinned to be accepted by most Blacks. Richardson also denies the most common account of the incident leading to the exodus of Blacks from the white St. George’s Church in Philadelphia in 1787. He does not believe that Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was pulled up from his knees in prayer. Allen’s denomination became the first interstate Black organization.

Unfortunately, the author gives little or no mention to the smaller denominations, such as the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, the Reformed Methodist Union Episcopal Church, the Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church, the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, and the Independent African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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Altogether the book is a fascinating account of perhaps the most highly organized of all Black American organizations. (The two Black Baptist denominations are larger but much more loosely structured. No equivalent history of Black Baptists yet exists.) It is extremely important for understanding not only Blacks within Methodism but also the rise of separate Black denominations throughout Protestantism.

Answers For Inquirers

Questions Non-Christians Ask, by Barry Wood (Revell, 1977, 160 pp., $3.95 pb), is reviewed by Duane R. Phelps, pastor, Community Baptist Church, Summit City, California.

Witnessing is often invigorating. At other times it can be frustrating and confusing, bogged down in numerous questions posed by non-Christians. Barry Wood, a minister to students in Lubbock, Texas, has written a helpful book for the witnessing Christian.

Wood tackles many difficult issues: the world’s religions, the Bible’s truthfulness, the Trinity, and a number of problems related to salvation and to Christian ethics. He develops a clear and concise argument on each issue.

His remarks on Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are sufficient reason to buy the book. He skillfully seeks to answer questions that a rabbi would prefer remained unasked. His brief review of Islam’s history is helpful, as are parallel quotations from the Koran and the Bible. Wood summarizes five basic concepts of Hinduism (Aton, Maya, Karma, Nirvana, and Avitar) and contrasts them with statements from the Bible.

Wood discusses a number of theological issues raised by non-Christians. Some focus on the truthfulness of the Bible, the existence of God, and the Trinity. But he pays the greatest attention to the theological problems regarding salvation: morality and heaven, infants and salvation, good people and hell, the heathen and the Good News, predestination, and prayer for the lost. Wood distinguishes morality and spirituality; morality never produces spirituality, but after conversion spirituality produces morality. While salvation of infants is always a difficult issue, the author concludes children are innocent of the guilt of original sin, until as individuals they rebel against God. The prospect of unconverted “good” people going to hell is supported because one sin damns a man in the eyes of an absolutely holy God. Wood claims the heathen who never heard the gospel are accountable to God on the basis of natural revelation and an inner witness. In addition, their judgment is in degrees (Lk. 12:47–48), because light rejected brings darkness, and the greater the light rejected, the greater the darkness.

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The most difficult soteriological problem to some is predestination. This difficulty, claims Wood, is traced to a confused teaching of foreknowledge, election, and predestination. Wood states, “The Bible nowhere claims the lost person is predestined to Heaven or hell” (p. 116). He also equally asserts that God “determines, before I am born to call me” (p. 117). In order to balance predestination and free will, Wood sets forth corporate election, chosen “in Him,” rather than individual election.

In discussing the problem of evil Wood concludes that we will never know why evil exists, only that “God is with us in our hurts.”

Wood looks at three ethical issues: happiness, hypocrisy, and homosexuality. On the latter, he urges compassion for the person while affirming that homosexual acts are sinful. Wood says deliverance can come, but the homosexual needs a redemptive community, a repentant heart, renunciation of sins, forgiveness, competent counsel, and encouragement.

In view of the range of subjects that are touched on, Wood could be charged with superficiality. But remember that his answers grow out of his own experience of discussions with those with whom he was sharing the message of Christ. Wood has grappled with difficult questions and the answers he relates have been of help to seeking non-Christians. Now others who would be better witnesses can have some of the benefit of his experience.

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