Definitive Evangelical Theology

God, Revelation and Authority, Volume III, by Carl F. H. Henry (Word, 1979, 536 pp., $24.95), is reviewed by Ronald Nash, head, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green.

Given Protestant theology’s poor state of health, the continuation of Carl Henry’s magnum opus may be just what the doctor ordered. Henry’s earlier volumes, which appeared in 1976, began a study of 15 theses about inspiration, revelation, and biblical authority. His original plan was to conclude his exposition of the last eight theses in Volume III. However, Henry obviously felt compelled to expand his discussion, so that it now takes up two volumes totalling some 1,200 pages. The projected fifth and final volume of the series, now scheduled for publication in 1983, will deal with the doctrine of God.

The thesis that God’s special revelation culminates in Jesus Christ who is the Incarnation of God, provides Henry with a way into the entire subject of Christology. God made himself known in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian conviction about the Incarnation makes Jesus’ views on any subject normative for the believer. Nowhere is this point more important than with regard to Jesus’ own view of the Bible. For Jesus, the Scriptures were inspired and authoritative. Henry challenges all views of the Bible that are incompatible with that held by Jesus. Of special significance is Henry’s critique of the claim that God’s revelation in Jesus eliminates or supersedes any need for a revealed Scripture. Jesus himself recognized that “genuine faith has an intellectual content not reducible to naked faith in a person.”

The conviction for which Henry is perhaps best known is his insistence on the possibility of cognitive knowledge of God. Assaults on this basic plank of the faith have come from a number of different directions. Henry does not miss one of them. First, however, he lays a foundation for his position through an extended analysis of the Logos-concept in Christianity. The Logos presupposes “an intelligible order or logos in things, an objective law which claims and binds man, and makes possible human understanding and valid knowledge.… The concept of the logos comprehends at once the interrelationship of thought, word, matter, nature, being and law.” Henry explores many related topics: the Logos-concept in ancient philosophy, its use in the Alexandrian Judaism of Philo, its appearance in the Johannine writings, its implicit use in the Book of Hebrews, and its continuing importance for Christian theology. As the Logos of God, Jesus guarantees human rationality and certifies the ability of man to understand the Word of God. The correspondence between the mind of God and the mind of man that is grounded in the Logos makes possible a human understanding of the divine communication of truth.

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Henry denounces the prevalent neo-orthodox tendency to drive a wedge between the logic of God and a so-called human logic, a move that can only lead to total skepticism. If the divine and human reasoning processes differ in any significant way, all knowledge about God becomes impossible and all human reasoning, including that of neo-orthodox theologians, is vitiated. But since consistency has seldom been a virtue of neo-orthodox thinking, theologians in this camp rarely practice what they preach with respect to revelation. And so, while their premises entail skepticism, they claim to be reporting all kinds of information about God. Where, Henry wonders, in the absence of any divine revelation of truth, do they get their information? How can their reasoning be sound, since by their own admission it differs from God’s canons of reason? How can their theological judgments be true? If the premises of neo-orthodox theologians were true, their whole careers would be one bad joke. Henry hits hard at contemporary theologians who argue that because God is unique and totally other, human beings are incapable of attaining knowledge about God. Henry suggests that Karl Barth would not have recognized knowledge had it hit him in the face. Barth repeatedly confused knowledge with thanksgiving, wonder, awe, confrontation, and other noncognitive states. While no Christian should minimize the importance of those states, they are not knowledge; and any ignoring of the difference results in the kinds of mischievous confusions that pervade Barth’s writings. If God speaks and knows the truth, and man speaks and knows something different, then, quite simply, man cannot have either truth or knowledge. If man can know anything at all, then at that point at least, man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge must coincide.

Affirming that God’s revelation is a rational communication of truth, Henry embarks on a lengthy treatment of propositional revelation that insists that God’s revelation is not contradictory and that it is expressed in meaningful propositions that convey intelligible ideas. Human language is a more than adequate carrier for the truth God reveals, and human reason is capable of understanding God’s revealed truth. Henry speculates about the origin of language and rejects suggestions that linguistic knowledge arose from sense experience, or by evolutionary development. “In the theistic view,” he writes, “language is possible because of man’s God-given endowment of rationality, of a priori categories and of innate ideas, all of which precondition his ability to think and speak. Since every human mind is lighted by the Logos or Reason of God, thought stands behind language.… Human language is adequate for theological knowledge and communication because all men are divinely furnished with certain common ideas.”

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The fact that God has spoken, has given men an intelligible, rational, and verbal revelation should discourage Christians from continuing their infatuation with the various forms of religious irrationalism that are the legacy of post-Kantian epistemologies. Carl Henry’s exciting and creative work will undoubtedly be regarded as the definitive statement of the evangelical theological consensus for years to come.

Renewing The Congregation

I Believe in the Church, by David Watson (Eerdmans, 1979, 368 pp., $4.95 pb), is reviewed by George Mallone, teaching elder, Marineview Chapel, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Several years ago I spent considerable time pondering the use of a sabbatical leave. I thought immediately of an internship type of program, in a church experiencing both spiritual and functional renewal, but I was not entirely satisfied with the options available in North America. Then a member of our church told me of Saint Michael’s Church in York, England, which was apparently experiencing a number of the elements I desired to see. After reading about the church and its pastor, David Watson, in Decision magazine, and being personally assured that my three-week visit would be welcomed, I headed for northern England. That exposure has proven to be the single most influential factor in my present vision of the local church.

Although David Watson is unknown to many North Americans, he is recognized in England as an outstanding younger leader in the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church. Recently, at a conference in Canterbury Cathedral, he was introduced humorously by the archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, as his “problem priest.” Before going to Canterbury, Coggan was the archbishop of York and directly responsible for the oversight of Watson’s work. Watson proved to be a “problem” by constantly requesting more space for the hundreds of people who began to flow first into the halls of Saint Cuthbert’s, and then into Saint Michael’s. In a day when many Anglican churches were being declared “redundant,” it was a pleasant “problem” to see a church that was actually healthy and growing.

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Church leaders in North America now have a chance to understand some of the principles that are proven effective in the author’s ministry over the last dozen years. After contributing an earlier volume to Michael Green’s popular “I Believe” series on evangelism, Watson has now added this second book.

Watson, a highly sought after evangelist for student missions, begins by showing that the deteriorating condition of the local church is the greatest block to the acceptance of the gospel. Until that blockage is cleared, there will be only a marginal Christian impact on culture. “Unless renewal precedes evangelism, the credibility gap between what the church preaches and what the church is, will be too wide to be bridged. It is only when the world sees the living body of Christ on earth that it will be in any way convinced of the reality and relevance of Christ himself.”

The author reviews God’s movement through his church in history and concludes with the assurance that Jesus is “building his church,” even though it may be viewed as having faltering charisma and influence. Chapters four through eleven recite the great biblical themes of ecclesiology, “the Kingdom of God,” “the people of God,” “the Body of Christ,” and many others. The reader doubtless will be impressed, as I was, that Watson is not a man who traffics in unlived truths. He and his family work out what it means to be a part of the “people of God” by living in a community that includes the sharing of a “common purse.” However, he does not speak condescendingly to those of us who have not adopted such a lifestyle.

Chapter eleven, “The Spirit in the Church,” reveals that Watson is most concerned that the Holy Spirit not be relegated only to an article of the Apostles’ Creed, but that he be allowed to be the dynamic person of the Godhead who brings the presence of Jesus to the church in life and vitality. This concern, along with his assessment of the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, will no doubt result in his being labeled a “charismatic.” It should be perfectly clear, however, that Watson falls into that genre of Anglican “charismatics” who reject the exegesis and theology of classical Pentecostalism, as well as the cultural motif usually accompanying it, but who still maintain a need for a Spirit-controlled, gifted-oriented community. Michael Green’s earlier book in the same series, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, makes a rather extensive analysis of this issue and some of the practical outworkings of it.

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The section entitled “The Life of the Church” offers refreshing insights into the context of traditional forms of church life and worship, as well as an account of new innovations that have been used successfully at Saint Michael’s. Watson assumes that the church is a community of people whose essential existence is for the benefit of nonmembers. The church is called to serve and to save; therefore, any creative vehicle that can be harnessed and used with integrity can be of service in the church’s mission. This can mean a craft shop or restaurant, open-air drama or dance, large city-wide rallies or small house fellowships—in short, anything that will visualize for the world the beauty and the love of the Lord Jesus as it is revealed in the life of his body, the church.

The two chapters I found most helpful were on worship and leadership. As one who has sat through a three-hour, Series Three, Communion service at Saint Michael’s, I have become convinced of the rightness and the fruit of wedding worship to evangelism. Watson has said, “We preach and answer questions that have been raised by our praise.” Praise and worship become the matrix for the hungry soul to find Jesus, and week after week people do find Jesus at Saint Michael’s.

Watson also concludes that the Scriptures demand the full equipment and emancipation of every believer-priest to the ministry for which God has gifted him. This demands not only a reassessment of the ministry of women, but also of the sharing of the pastoral oversight with a plural eldership.

I Believe in the Church is neither a heavy theological tome nor a fluffy testimonial on local church success. Within the bounds of its 368 pages, it brings together the best in exegetical and biblical theology of the church. Though many may have questions about some of Watson’s conclusions on spiritual gifts, the ordination of women, and certain sacramental issues, I Believe in the Church should be received as another stimulant in the ongoing search of the church which “knows in part” now, but shall someday “know fully.” Watson’s book is a practical one and needed by every pastor. It is written by a fellow pastor who has done his homework, both in and out of the study. For those who want to stay abreast of the latest in church renewal resources, this book is a must.

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The Ultimate Integrity Of Their Witness

The German Churches under Hitler: Background, Struggle, and Epilogue, by Ernst C. Helmreich (Wayne State University, 1979, 616 pp., $30.00), is reviewed by David J. Diephouse, associate professor of history, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This large and impressive volume deals with a subject that is no less compelling for its familiarity. More than a generation after World War II, the so-called Church Struggle in Nazi Germany continues to command widespread attention. For churchmen, of course, it will long stand as a crucible of faith and practice, a test in extremis of the Christian witness. Its significance for secular scholars is also considerable, if only for the fact that, of all the major institutions in German society, only the churches effectively resisted Nazi “coordination” and ideological control. While historians and political analysts seek to explain this institutional resiliency, the Christian community wrestles with the inner legacy of the Church Struggle for present-day theology, ethics, and church order. From either standpoint, the deeper one probes, the more ambiguities one uncovers and the more difficult it becomes to view the Church Struggle as a simple morality play, with Good and Evil cast in clear, easily distinguishable roles. From the Nazi leadership to the German Christians, from the confessing church “brotherhood councils” to the Catholic bishops conferences, the struggle testifies to human frailty and fallibility at every turn, and the line between martyrdom and apostacy often appears disturbingly thin.

To do justice to so emotional and complex an experience is a forbiddingly difficult undertaking. Few scholars are better equipped to attempt it than Ernst Helmreich. Emeritus professor of history at Bowdoin College (Maine) and long one of America’s leading students of European church-state relations, Helmreich brings to the task a lifetime of reading and research in German archives. The result is a balanced and meticulously documented account which, unlike most such studies, explores the full range of German church life, Catholic as well as Protestant, large territorial churches as well as the various free churches and sects. Helmreich proves a sure guide through the labyrinth of church-state confrontations in the Third Reich, including the drafting and implementation of the 1933 Concordat, the abortive and divisive drive for a Nazified national Protestant church, and the long list of subsequent skirmishes between church leaders and the regime. What sets Helmreich’s interpretation apart is the unusually broad historical context within which he sets these events. In effect his book is nothing less than a concise institutional history of the German churches since the Reformation, with fully one-third of the total text devoted to developments before 1933 and since 1945. Helmreich’s central thesis reflects this broad-gauged outlook. He argues—convincingly, for the most part—that the Church Struggle actually confirmed rather than altered the pattern of German church history, a pattern marked by growing secularism on the one hand and, on the other, by a growing interest in unity, autonomy, and ecumenicity within the historic church bodies.

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As this suggests, and as the book’s title implies, Helmreich’s principal concern is with the churches’ institutional functioning rather than with theological or political issues as such. While he therefore deals only tangentially with many of the themes usually considered central to the Church Struggle, such as Lutheran political theology or anti-Semitism, his approach pays significant dividends of its own, not least of all for the American reader whose denominationalist prejudices might blind him to vital peculiarities of the German Volkskirche tradition, notably the intricate bureaucratic and financial links which, even today, influence relations between the church and the German states. Especially in the case of the large Protestant churches, but elsewhere as well, these peculiarities help to clarify many otherwise obscure aspects of the Church Struggle, including the shifting attitudes toward a national bishop, the often puzzling actions of the “intact” churches, and the persistent intramural tensions within the confessing church. They also help explain, at least in part, why the Nazi regime failed with the churches where it succeeded with trade unions, political parties, and even the army. In the end, as Helmreich emphasizes, only the churches offered any sustained institutional challenge to Nazi supremacy—belated, halfhearted, and self-interested though it may have been.

Helmreich is no polemicist, and although his own attitudes can often be deduced, his book holds a brief for no one political or ecclesiastical position. Throughout, however, the sober prose radiates a clear sympathy for the church as a spiritual community. The gospel was preached in Nazi Germany, Helmreich reminds us, and where it was preached it was not without effect. Without ignoring the serious flaws in Christians public behavior, particularly during the Nazi rise to power, Helmreich implicitly but unambiguously affirms the ultimate integrity of I their witness.

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