A Model Of Evangelical Scholarship

The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by I. Howard Marshall (Eerdmans, 1978, 928 pp., $24.95), is reviewed by David M. Scholer, associate professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

I. H. Marshall’s splendid work is the first major commentary in English on the Greek text of Luke in nearly 50 years and takes its place as the best commentary on the Gospel of Luke in English. Massive and detailed, it always discusses the text in Greek; no English translation is included.

The major strengths of Marshall’s commentary are these: (1) the detailed consideration of virtually every lexical, grammatical, and historical issue in the Gospel of Luke; (2) the extensive use of scholarly literature on Luke and Gospel studies in which other positions are regularly summarized and evaluated; (3) the careful presentation of his own interpretation with the evidence he considers relevant to his decision; (4) the excellent introductory discussions for each paragraph of Luke; (5) the sensitive and balanced discussion for nearly every paragraph of the questions of historicity and the relation between tradition and redaction; and (6) the good bibliographies of recent literature for every paragraph of Luke.

Marshall’s eight-page introduction is rather scant for such a commentary, but he considers his 238-page Luke: Historian and Theologian to be the introduction to his commentary. He holds that the third Gospel was written by Luke about A.D. 70, utilizing Mark as we know it, Q in a form different from that form of Q known to Matthew, and many independent traditions that are peculiar to his own Gospel.

Marshall argues that the commentator’s primary task is to discover the author’s theological intentions, a task often referred to as redaction criticism. In other words, Marshall wishes to establish by careful exegesis what Luke intended in his written text, rather than to focus on the traditions and sources prior to Luke. “The primary purpose of the present commentary,” says Marshall, “is thus to carry out exegesis of the text as it was written by Luke so that the message of his Gospel for his readers may stand out clearly and in its distinctiveness over against the other Gospels” (p. 32).

Marshall does engage, however, the question of the historical origin of the gospel tradition in the ministry of Jesus. He rejects the view that the basic tradition was created by the early church, noting that “… where there is no positive evidence that a saying must have originated in Judaism or in the early church, it is wiser to reckon with its origin in the ministry of Jesus” (p. 33). He is willing to concede, however, that the basic tradition was modified both in its transmission and by Luke “… in order to reexpress its significance for new situations …” (p. 33).

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In spite of the wealth of material in the commentary, Marshall should have given more explicit attention to the purpose and occasion of Luke’s Gospel. His outline of the structure of Luke is fine, but the division between the so-called Central Section and the Ministry in Jerusalem would better be placed between Luke 19:27 and 19:28 rather than between 19:10 and 19:11.

These and other relatively small problems do not detract from Marshall’s monumental work. He has faced with integrity and care the issues raised by the text of Luke, by the comparison of Luke and Mark, and by the research and hypotheses of other scholars. His careful, sane scholarship, and his respect for biblical authority provide a model for evangelical scholarship, indeed for scholars generally, in the study of the synoptic Gospels.

A Case For Eternal Punishment

Whatever Happened to Hell?, by Jon Braun (Nelson, 1979, 205 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Dan Nicholas, publicist, Mendocino County Public Schools, Ukiah, California.

Jon Braun is old fashioned. He really believes that the lost will go to hell—forever.

In his latest book, What Ever Happened to Hell?, Braun addresses a serious theological subject with a clarity of language that makes one think perhaps “theology” is not a bad word after all. He is the common man’s theologian, who knows his subject well. Braun says plainly that he believes the doctrine of eternal retribution for the unbelieving is basic Christian truth. He also believes this place is hot and that neither you nor your friends would ever want to go there.

The subject of hell is no longer fashionable, says Braun. Many modern Christians tip their hat to this teaching but little more. And it hasn’t gone out of style due to the pernicious work of the liberal theologians alone. Evangelicals are also at fault for slipping into a convenient forgetfulness of this portion of the old-time religion in order to have an easier time winning converts.

“The book’s basic message is a plea for the faithful to return to a doctrine that was for centuries taken by all corners of the church as an apostolic truth. Braun relies heavily on the literature of the church’s history to make his point. He cites both the Old and New Testaments, the Reformers, Augustine, Aquinas, Gregory of Nyssa, the Confessions of the European churches, and, most authoritatively, Jesus Christ’s own words on the subject.

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The book is an interesting combination of scholarly research and earth-level preaching. Nowhere does Braun try to convince you that it is rational or scientifically defensible to believe in an eternal hell. He presents a two-fold argument that is not hard to follow: (1) the Scriptures teach the eternal punishment of the wicked, and (2) the mainstream church has always held to this doctrine as basic, apostolic, and orthodox. Braun believes that a proper return to this doctrine will aid rather than deter from the strength of the pulpit ministry. He makes clear that a “pop gospel” that is image conscious does not lend well to either orthodoxy or effective evangelism.

It is not enough for the author that the reader have a mental assent to a doctrine of eternal retribution for the unbelieving. He wants you to know that the wicked go to a place that is painful and lonely, where “the worm dieth not,” and that you do your pagan friend a service to warn him against such a place.

The pastor who has been afraid to address this subject from the pulpit will benefit most from the book, as will his parishioners.

Putting The Truth In Human Terms

Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross Cultural Perspective, by Charles H. Kraft (Orbis, 1979, 445 pp. $12.95 pb), is reviewed by William A. Dyrness, associate professor of Theology, Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, Philippines.

Missiological studies have come a long way since the pioneering work of Eugene Nida (Customs and Cultures, 1954) and the old Practical Anthropology, founded about the same time. Charles Kraft, professor at the Fuller School of World Mission, with a Ph.D. in anthropological linguistics and missionary experience in Nigeria, offers us the opportunity to assess the nature of this progress, its value and its problems. Kraft addresses Christian communicators and theologians who are interested in a broad, culturally informed perspective on Christianity that is cross-culturally valid, and who need to recognize the importance of what the author calls translational expertise.

In a series of 13 models (which confusingly do not correspond to the 18 chapters and leave readers paging back and forth), Kraft develops his views on communicating the Christian message. He begins by defining biblical Christians (those who base their views on the data of Scripture and yet are open to change) and cultures (those models of reality that govern our perceptions and actions and which are conceptually organized and directed by “worldviews”). In the latter he distinguishes between form and perceived meaning and yet emphasizes the underlying human commonality that makes intercultural communication possible.

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In a second section, Kraft proposes what he calls ethnotheological models; that is, those revised theological understandings that may have cross-cultural validity. God is above culture but uses culture “as the vehicle for interaction with human beings.” God communicates supracultural meanings through specific cultural forms, which provide for adequate, but not perfect, perception of his truth, Theology is then a culture-bound process that involves a dialogue between the culture of the Bible and that of the interpreter. To illustrate God’s revelation in culture, Kraft makes use of a communications model: source-message-receptor. Revelation is God’s receptor-oriented communication across the supracultural gap. The Bible is an inspired, multicultural case book: “a collection of descriptions of illustrative real-life exemplifications of the principles to be taught.” Revelation has an informational base and a Spirit activator (its inspiration); it is truth plus impact. The constant in the message is God’s appeal to people throughout history (though Kraft nowhere defines this call explicitly, it appears to be something like “have faith in God”), wherein he starts where they are and seeks to transform them through a process.

In the most helpful chapters of the book, Kraft explains his views of communication as a translation that seeks dynamic equivalence. As in the translation of a language, to which communication is the cultural analogue, what is called for is not a formal correspondence, but an equivalent process that accomplishes in the receptor’s frame of reference what we see happening in Scripture. Theologizing is the interpretation and communication of revelation that seeks equivalent understandings of the church and conversion in order to transform cultures from within.

Though we cannot here even summarize the dense argumentation and the various case studies and diagrams, we will try to give some account of the achievement and the problems of Kraft’s approach. First, it is impossible any longer to ignore Kraft’s contention that hermeneutics is an essentially cross-cultural enterprise. What we see in Scripture is clearly conditioned by the biblical cultures and defined by our own. Kraft calls the interpreter to take full advantage of this by using an ethnolinguistic method of exegesis that goes beyond the traditional grammatical-historical techniques.

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Second, the communicator can make full use of the social sciences for the theological reason that God deals with us as we are: creatures of cultures. People need not be extracted from their settings to respond to God. Kraft notes: “People don’t seem to need more ideals (especially foreign ones) to increase their feeling of guilt and frustration. What they need in the first instance is assistance in dealing with their own ideals.”

Finally, Kraft’s transformational model points up in helpful fashion how the gospel best works in culture: slowly (like yeast rather than dynamite), from within, at the deepest level of allegiance and world view, outward. For wherever an indigenous word or form is pressed into service to convey Christian meaning, there “the process of Christianity-stimulated conceptual transformation has begun.”

All of this—and much more—is indispensable for the Christian communicator. But Kraft’s approach also has certain limitations that may be pointed out. In doing his ethnotheology, Kraft seems overly impressed by a model of a communications system for understanding revelation. Kraft desperately wants to avoid seeing revelation as static information, but the model he has chosen (source-message-receptor) leaves him little choice. We are told: “Revelation like all communication is a matter of information structured into messages designed to stimulate response.” This conviction has certain interesting corollaries: he cannot see how revelation can progress from the Old Testament to the New—the coming of Christ is an “elaboration of our understanding of the way God brought about human salvation, not an alteration of that way.” He does not believe revelation can have stopped with the closing of the canon—can we believe God “changed his method of operation to such an extent that he now limits himself to the written record”? Information in Scripture without the Holy Spirit activator is only potential revelation, and even general revelation is not deficient as a basis for salvation—special revelation is only more “impactful.”

Strangely, Kraft often quotes Geerhardus Vos, but he does not see Vos’s point that revelation is the redemptive world-changing work of God in which Scripture self-consciously participates. Its information is dynamic, as Kraft says; but that is because God’s self-revelation is the powerful remaking of the fallen order focusing on Christ’s binding of the strong man. It is true, of course, that God continues to communicate himself, but only because Christ’s work is finished and we live in the last days in which God is pouring out his Spirit. Perhaps, in other words, revelation is simply not “like all other communication” and we need a model that grows out of the abundant, loving, triune character of God and that takes seriously his people as the embodiment (and not only bearers) of this life message.

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We also look in vain for any theory of the relation between cultural forms and their meaning. Kraft says that meaning flows through the forms like water through a pipe, and that culture is really a neutral vehicle with only perceived meaning—but clearly he does not mean this, for elsewhere he insists that forms are very important and “certain cultural forms do, apparently, allow for a greater possibility of being employed to serve Christian functions.” But Kraft does not pause to consider why this might be so: cultural forms do not seem to have any intrinsic meaning; we are not to seek a culture that we can call Christian. Significantly, the only reference Kraft makes to art—where the meaning is intrinsic to the form—is to allow drama a role in repersonalizing the message. Similarly, words can only receive their meaning from the context, they do not bear meaning (contrast with P. Ricoeur: “The word preserves the semantic capital constituted by these contextual values deposited in its treasury,” Rule of Metaphor). One may not agree with Cassirer and his followers that the form and meaning are inseparable, but clearly there must be some reciprocal relation between them. For it was God himself who first recognized the intrinsic value in the created order and created this symbolizing potential in man. Here, certainly, is a basis for a theology of culture that Kraft eschews.

This is not an easy book and some may be uncomfortable with Kraft’s persistent polemic against closed conservatives; but it is an important contribution to a discussion of concern to all Christian communicators, and it deserves a wide and careful reading.

An Evangelical Look At Theology

Tensions in Contemporary Theology, edited by Stanley Gundry and Alan Johnson (Moody Press, 1979, 478 pp. $10.95), reviewed by Guy Oliver, Jr., professor of Christian mission, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.

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When Tensions in Contemporary Theology was first released in 1976, it was widely praised as a significant and timely book, likely to become a standard text in evangelical seminaries and colleges. Now a potential shortcoming has been remedied in an “expanded edition” that adds two chapters dealing with the theologies of liberation.

This book was planned and written by evangelicals for evangelicals to defend the evangelical faith against its contemporary alternatives within the Christian world. It was mostly written by systematic theologians from outstanding evangelical seminaries in the United States. Its stated aim is to help “the student rather than the academician” focus on the theologies of the sixties and seventies in a “concise yet comprehensive manner.” It seeks to meet “the present crucial need for a positive, scholarly, world-related and evangelical theology.”

The heart of Tensions consists of chapters dealing with “Secular Theology” by Harold Kuhn, “Theology of Hope” by David Scaer, “Process Theology” by Norman Geisler, “Recent Roman Catholic Theology” by David Wells, and “Theologies of Liberation” by Harvie Conn. Basic background for these topics is provided by preliminary chapters giving historical, philosophical, and semantical analyses by Bernard Ramm, Vernon Grounds, and Stanley Obitts. A concluding overview of the issues by Harold O. J. Brown points to “The Conservative Option.”

Tensions fares better than most collections of this kind, thanks to the editorial forethought and direction of Stanley Gundry and Alan Johnson. Their hope for “a strong unity that binds the material together and creates the impression of a singular development” is largely realized, partly because most of the writers operate from within the same discipline (systematic theology) and partly because they seem to prefer as their theological stance that of “conservative evangelical.”

In a work of this type it is expected that there will be some minor disagreements. For example, Grounds and Kuhn seem to disagree about whether there is really “an earlier and a later Bonhoeffer.” But, on the whole, Tensions is remarkably free from such differences. A more critical divergence is found in the general attitude of the writers toward their subjects. Some approach those with whom they disagree in a spirit of openness, believing they have something to learn as well as much to share. The chapters by Kuhn, Geisler, and Conn follow this approach especially well by setting forth the contributions or good points of their opponents as well as their errors or faulty judgments. Other contributors, however, apparently see little or nothing to be learned by evangelicals from the sector of contemporary theology assigned for their evaluation. Scaer especially, and Wells to a lesser degree, seem to follow this modus operandi. A crucial question arises: Are these differences related more to the subject matter of the contributor, or to a particular understanding of the proper approach to others in theological disputation? Are there positive as well as negative evaluations to be offered by “conservative evangelicals” in relation to the “theology of hope” (Scaer) and recent Roman Catholic theology (Wells)? This reviewer believes that there are and that the usefulness of Tensions is hindered by its failure to recognize them.

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Tensions becomes a “must buy” for the serious evangelical student, however, because of the contributions of Geisler and Conn. Believing that one does not have “the right to criticize a view who has not first understood it and learned something from it,” Geisler offers eight positive contributions and eight basic criticisms of “process theology.” This follows a summarization of the philosophical and theological roots of the movement. Throughout, Geisler is scrupulously fair to his opponents while maintaining a firm commitment to evangelicalism.

Conn, in a hundred pages, offers the best evaluation of “liberation theology” yet written from an evangelical perspective. He concentrates on both the liberation theology being done in Latin America and that which is usually known as “black theology” in the U.S. The major figures in each movement are surveyed for both ideas and influence. While Conn finds great pluralism in the movement (“theologies of liberation”), he is able to locate a unity as well: “The commonness of the struggle unites the diversities of the liberation theologians’ responses. But it does not remove the uniqueness of each response.” In another place he explains that the commonness of the liberation theologies is expressed in their economic, cultural, and theological criticism of North Atlantic influences. Conn seeks constantly to guard against a simplistic approach by overlooking neither the commonness nor the uniqueness of the liberationists.

The most significant criticisms of liberation theologies, according to Conn, are put forth by the “radical evangelicals” (e.g., Samuel Escobar, René Padilla, and Orlando Costas). This is harder to agree with after reading Conn’s own evaluation, which must place him at the forefront of the informed critics of the liberationists. His major criticism is that the liberation theologies are not “radical enough”—their “new” way of doing theology is not really new enough, because it does not involve the constant dialectic of action and reflection with God’s Word. Thus, they “flatten out” or distort the wholeness of the gospel. According to Conn, a middle-class evangelical mentality distorts the whole gospel by spiritualizing and privatizing it, and interpreting it within the myths provided by capitalism; a liberationist mentality distorts the whole gospel by externalizing and collectivizing it, and interpreting it within the myths provided by Marxism. Conn sees the way of deliverance through a “contextual hermeneutic” (René Padilla) that stresses “the necessity of listening to God’s Word in our own context and obeying it” with the result that we continuously deepen our knowledge of God in our response to his will (“the hermeneutical spiral”).

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A crucial question for evangelicals is raised by this book: What shall we make of that union of “conservatism” and “evangelicalism” throughout (except for Conn)? Granted the historical connection, at least during this century, is it a legitimate union in the light of evangelical allegience to sola scriptura? Furthermore, might this union become a bias that would hinder at some points evangelical receptivity to hearing the Word and being obedient to it? If it is true, as most contributors here contend, that an underlying fault of liberal theology has been its cultural captivity to the spirit of its age coupled with a rejection of biblical authority, can evangelicals be faulted for a conservative commitment that sometimes makes an equally humanistic spirit determinative for faith and practice? Perhaps a new symposium is needed to deal with “tensions in evangelical theology” by bringing “conservative evangelical” scholars into dialogue with those who refuse to surrender the name “evangelical” because their ethos is “progressive” or “radical.”

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