Theology For Everyman

What the Bible Teaches About the Church, by John Balchin; What the Bible Teaches About What Jesus Did, by F. F. Bruce; What the Bible Teaches About Jesus, by Geoffrey Grogan; What the Bible Teaches About the Holy Spirit, by John Peck (Tyndale House, 1979, $3.95 pb), are reviewed by Dr. W. Wilson Benton, Jr., pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Mississippi.

Permit a very loose translation: “Of the making of many series of theological books for laymen there is no end.” In light of the series before us, this can be a positive reaction—despite the overabundance of such material.

Geoffrey Grogan, principal of the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow, Scotland, addresses the matter of Christ’s person in 12 thoughtfully arranged chapters in What the Bible Teaches About Jesus. After briefly surveying the biblical material, Grogan focuses on the key aspects of Christology: preexistence, hypostatic union, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return of the Savior. But don’t be misled: the material is not presented in a stiff, theological textbook style. There is freshness and feeling in the unfolding of ancient but not archaic doctrines. He handles intricate items with dexterity and simplicity, and does not oversimplify the issues. Of particular interest is Grogan’s lucid analysis of the death experience and explanation of Christ’s entrance into it.

F. F. Bruce, professor emeritus, University of Manchester, England, writes on the work of Christ in What the Bible Teaches About What Jesus Did. Bruce determines to answer four questions concerning the incarnate Son of God: (1) What did he do? (2) What is he doing now? (3) What is he going to do? (4) What is he said to have done in his earlier existence?

In answering the first question Bruce produces as concise and cohesive a statement of Christ’s earthly ministry as can be found. This is not an abbreviated harmony, but a unique treatment based on Christ’s first recorded statement, “I must be about my father’s business.” This, according to Bruce, sums up Christ’s public ministry. Interwoven in the theme, but not obscuring it, are helpful interpretive comments about various events, statements, and relationships.

The miracles are presented not, as some have suggested, as seals on the document guaranteeing its genuineness, but as elements of the text itself. “They were as much a part of the message of the kingdom as the teaching was.” Jesus advanced his claim of deity principally by identifying himself with the powerful God of the Old Testament.

Article continues below

In answering questions two and three Bruce depends primarily upon the writings of Paul and John, and systematizes the expected features of Christ’s present reign and personal return. Points common to evangelical eschatology are discussed, but details of particular millennial schemes are omitted. The fourth question receives only minimal attention.

John Peck, lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament theology at Suffolk College, England, “ignores many of the disputes” and simply explains the basic ideas in What the Bible Teaches About the Holy Spirit. Concerned for the reader to get “the main weight of the Bible’s own language” and “the overall impact of the Bible’s words,” he has seasoned his writing with ample doses of scriptural quotations and references.

With the person and work of the Spirit as theme, Peck looks at his personality, power, gifts, and influence. Chapter titles indicate the content: “The Spirit,” “Spirit and the Word,” “Fellowship of the Spirit,” “Spirit of Proclamation,” “Spirit of Grace,” “Spirit of God.” There is nothing fancy here, simply straightforward, uncluttered presentation of scriptural facts about the third person of the Trinity.

Peck refuses to become embroiled in the charismatic conflict, but he nonetheless offers two helpful appendixes. One explains the terms used in debating the subject, and one covers the gifts of the Spirit. “Charismatics tend to claim rather uncritically that they know, for instance, what a ‘word of knowledge’ is: theologians tend to claim, rather loftily I think, that nobody knows!” The rejection of both extremes indicates the tentative but helpful nature of his comments.

John Balchin, lecturer in theology and New Testament studies at London Bible College, examines What the Bible Teaches About the Church.

You name it—Balchin discusses it: the early church, the modern church; the visible church, the invisible church; apostles and apostolic succession; clergy and laity; denominational unity and diversity; church members and church officers; church nurture and church discipline (“quality control”); the church’s worship; the church’s mission; the church’s sacraments; the church’s relationship to the world; the New Testament figures for the church. If at first you don’t succeed in finding a topic you’re looking for, try again—it’s there!

And some subjects may be there that you would not expect to find. How about baptism for the dead or a strong call for the exercise of excommunication? The issue of women’s role in the church is met head-on: “Scripture never understands women as men with a different shape!” One marvels that so much material is surveyed within an effective structure and simple style.

Article continues below

Believing that the story of the church is still incomplete, yet confident that the promises and predictions for it will be fulfilled, Balchin challenges the church to cast off a depression born of doubt, and labor with a new zeal born of grace, to be the people of God.

This is an excellent series of books.

Introducing Barth

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, by Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 1979, 206 pp., $5.95 pb), and An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth, by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1979, 253 pp., $7.95 pb), are reviewed by Donald W. Dayton, librarian and assistant professor of historical theology, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

The growing interest among evangelicals in the theology of Karl Barth is confirmed by the fact that Eerdmans has issued simultaneously these two “introductions” to his thought. The first is actually a reprint of the translation of the final 17 lectures of Barth’s academic career. The first five were also given at Princeton and the University of Chicago during his only visit to the United States in 1962. Intended for a more popular audience, these lectures are a distillation of his thought in four statements each about the “place” of theology, the theological existence, the “threat” to theology, and theological work. For Barth, “the qualifying attribute ‘evangelical’ recalls both the New Testament and at the same time the Reformation of the sixteenth century” (p. 5).

Serious readers of Barth, however, must tackle the unfinished Church Dogmatics even if they are intimidated by the 13 thick volumes published by the time of Barth’s death in 1968. Even experienced explorers of this exhilarating terrain require a map or a guide. Such is Geoffrey Bromiley of Fuller Theological Seminary, major translator of the Dogmatics. Few persons in this world can claim to have read the whole of the Dogmatics, but Bromiley has done so several times and is thus uniquely prepared to provide this tool.

Barth is often interpreted through caricature or from partial reading. Bromiley hopes by this book to encourage more responsible interpretation and critique, and it is thus a largely objective summary. His own critical comments are reserved almost entirely for a final short chapter. There, while praising Barth for the “greatness and power” of his “authentic theology” and suggesting that “nowhere has the Scriptural centrality of Christ found more convincing exposition,” Bromiley registers concern about Barth’s view of evil, his universalistic tendencies, and so forth. But such criticisms are minor; the basic intention of the book—admirably achieved—is to provide access to the Church Dogmatics so that readers may come to their own conclusions.

Article continues below
This Is My Body

The Lord’s Supper, by Martin Chemnitz, translated by J. A. O. Preus (Concordia, 1979, 302 pp., $10.95), is reviewed by Mark Noll, associate professor of church history, Wheaton College and Graduate School.

People who are interested in the history of Protestantism as well as those concerned about observance of the Lord’s Supper today owe a debt of gratitude to J.A.O. Preus, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, for providing this translation of an important sixteenth-century theological study.

Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586), sometimes called “the second Martin,” wrote The Lord’s Supper to defend the Lutheran view of Communion against Roman Catholic, Anabaptist, and particularly Reformed convictions on the subject. With Luther before him, Chemnitz insisted that Christ meant the words of the last supper, “This is my Body,” to be taken literally. Reformed theologians like Calvin, who spoke of a “spiritual eating” in the supper, did not go far enough. Chemnitz insisted that Christ’s statement must be given “the simple, proper, natural, sure, and common meaning of the words” if believers were to receive the benefits that come from the Lord’s Supper. Chemnitz’s argument provides the historically minded with an excellent view of how later Lutherans maintained positions that Luther had hammered out in the early days of the Reformation.

It also shows, however, that changes were taking place in Lutheran theology. Chemnitz repeatedly emphasizes that the words of institution are “the words of the last will and testament of the very Son of God.” Although Luther had also fully explored the testamentary character of the Lord’s Supper, he had placed equal or greater stress on the fact that Communion constituted “a promise of the forgiveness of sins made to us by God.”

Interesting as the book is historically, it may be even more valuable for all who want to bring biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper to life in our churches today. Those who desire a healthy scriptural faith must respect Chemnitz’s detailed study of the relevant texts, his careful reasoning, and his judicious use of patristic authorities.

Article continues below

Will the book convince non-Lutherans to abandon their beliefs that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial celebration with mere bread and wine or a sacramental feast with spiritual eating only? Probably not—for opinions on the Lord’s Supper are too closely intertwined with other convictions. Still, this book forces all Protestants to ask themselves serious questions.

The book, ironically, raises questions for Lutherans. Is the division of Protestantism as important as the maintainance of Luther’s traditional view? (Some Protestants who see the Lord’s Supper in strictly memorial or spiritual terms could in fact agree with everything that Chemnitz wrote in his 10-page section on the value of the Lord’s Supper.) The book also raises the question of why Lutherans are not as eager to press the literal meaning of the texts on the issue of baptism as they are on the issue of the Lord’s Supper.

In sum, although this book is not the last word historically or doctrinally, its careful study of a topic sadly neglected in evangelical circles makes it a valuable work.

Recent Children’S Books

Recent children’s books are reviewed by Mary K. Bechtel, Library Learning Center teacher, Hawthorne School, Wheaton, Illinois.

The value of books in the lives and development of children cannot be overstated. They are as basic to the maturing mind and imagination as good food, fresh air, and sunshine.

Books can be an antidote to the harmful influences of television. They can help lay the groundwork for Christian character, perfect a child’s thinking processes, provide insights beyond the narrow range of his own environment, and help him recognize his own unique place in God’s plan.

To assist parents and other adults who want to select those books that will help most during childhood, such sources as Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart (Zondervan) or John and Kay Lindskoog’s How to Grow a Young Reader (David C. Cook) may be consulted. Both secular and religious titles are suggested.

Series books have proven value to interest readers. Elizabeth Gail and the Mystery at the Johnson Farm (Tyndale) by Hilda Stahl is the first book in the story of a welfare child who is fortunate enough to be placed with the Johnsons following a series of discouraging foster homes. Determined never to let herself love anyone again, her behavior is a trial to her new family; but love eventually prevails amidst temper tantrums and unkindness. Elizabeth and the Secret Box and Elizabeth and the Teddy Bear Mystery continue the reader’s acquaintance with the Johnson family.

Article continues below

The Secret in the Hills (Chariot, David C. Cook) is set in the coal fields of Wales where Andy goes to live with relatives he has never seen after the death of his only surviving parent. His grandmother proves to be a lovable and amusing friend and the family is kind. But it is Tag, the blind pony from the mines, to which he is most drawn. Christian truths are interjected unobtrusively. Alaskan Smoke Eater (Back to the Bible), from a series of “Tyler Tales,” was first written as a drama and featured on the “Back to the Bible” youth broadcast. It is the most “tract-like” of the books mentioned, and consists of two interwoven stories: one about Sally, a new Christian and daughter of an alcoholic mother; and Roy, a strong believer, who finds his faith tested during a fire-fighting stint in Alaska.

Robbie, of Robbie and the Stolen Minibike (Creation House) by VaDonna Jean Leaf, is a junior high rebel whose father has abandoned him and whose mother is dead. He is sent to live with a crippled grandfather in a small Iowa town. There, confronted by the love and patient understanding of this old man and the influence of church friends, he is able to withstand the miseries of school and eventually to start to overcome deep-rooted habits of theft and meanness as he discovers new perspectives in Jesus Christ.

The Crooked Gate (Chariot, David C. Cook) by Marilyn Cram Donahue was the winner of Cook’s 1978–79 Children’s Book Contest. In this book, 13-year old Cass and her two rather pesky young brothers are sent to spend the summer with Aunt Mathilda. The strange but wise old lady, whose unique house stands on a cliff overhanging the ocean, has a talent for straightening out self-centered teen-agers that is unparalleled.

Turning to an earlier era, Margaret Epp shares with us Sarah and the Mystery of the Hidden Boy (Victor Books). It is the fourth book in the Prairie Adventures series for 8- to 12-year-olds, and portrays such old-fashioned values as hard work and responsibility, which are rewarded by warm family relationships, love, and good times. More Stories from Grandma’s Attic (Chariot, David C. Cook) by Arleta Richardson contains charming vignettes of a day gone by.

The Taming of Cheetah (Victor Books) by Lee Roddy is another story about a granddad, whose wisdom is a steady and comforting influence in this story about the taming of a horse. My Friend Krow (Chariot, David C. Cook) by Fiona Satow also tells of the taming of a wild horse. When boy and girl twins in England’s Lake District slide down a treacherous precipice on a dare, the girl is killed. Nick, her brother, is left alone with a mother who cannot forgive him. He finds some comfort by taming a wild black pony, and makes new friends. He and his mother are finally able to forgive one another because of their newfound faith.

Article continues below

Ride the West Wind (Chariot, David C. Cook) by Barbara Chamberlain continues a fictionalized account of seventeenth-century English Quakers whose story was begun in The Prisoner’s Sword. Aboard a ship, The Welcome, they endure one of the worst crossings to the New World, beset by illness and death. The faith of the believers was a witness to all.

A series of “story devotions” for boys by a young writer who remembers what it was like is Growing Up Isn’t Easy, Lord, (Augsburg) by Stephen Sorenson. Short prayers and Bible verses skillfully provide the punch line.

Questions and answers about evolution are interestingly presented in Dry Bones … and Other Fossils (Creation Life) by Gary E. Parker. This oversized paperback (with black-and-white illustrations just begging to be crayon colored) takes the reader fossil hunting with a paleontologist and his family of four children. Clear and concise explanations from the creationist viewpoint not only give answers, but arouse curiosity. Approaching science in nature, John Calvin Reid tells Secrets from Field and Forest (Tyndale) with selected Scripture references that are useful for devotions with young children.

One Spring Day (Judson Press) by Shigeko Yano was first published in Japan. The delicate watercolor illustrations in this hardcover book are a joy to behold, and the words, reminiscent of haiku, speak of faith in God who, though not visible, is clearly seen with the eyes of faith.

The ears of faith led young Manuelita to hear The Song of Guadalupana (Our Sunday Visitor). Author Drew Bacigalupa tells of a retarded Mexican boy whose fancy is found to be fact and whose prayers are answered. It is beautifully illustrated by Jeannie Pear.

Yet another adaptation of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is Christian’s Journey (Abingdon), retold by Rhoda Couldridge. The illustrations, by the author’s young daughter Anna, contribute much to the charm of this colorful hardback edition.

Several Bible story books should be noted. Picture Stories from the Bible: The Old Testament in Full-color Comic Strip Form (Scarf Press) is a hardback reissue of a 30-year-old publication depicting major Bible stories. “Little People’s Paperbacks” (Seabury) are 20 in number, published over a period of about 16 years. Written by Gerard A. Pottebaum and illustrated by Robert Strobridge, each small book is artistically unique with lovely torn-paper artwork and colorful format. Some titles have been changed, including God Made the World, The Story of Christmas, The Loving Father, and The Great Harvest. Another series of small paperbacks is Zondervan’s “Follow the Leader” series, published jointly with Scripture Union. The Frightened Fishermen and The Kind Captain are humorously told by David Lewis and well illustrated by Alan Perry. The latest in Broadman’s Biblearn Series, containing 23 titles, is Apostles, Jesus’ Special Helpers. Questions follow each chapter.

Article continues below

Finally, there is Barnaby Frost (Tyndale) by Laurel Lee. It is a picture-book parable, illustrating the truth of John 15:5 on the vine and the branches. Barnaby Frost was peddling his bicycle down a highway crowded with trucks. When he turned off on a narrow road, it split open at his feet. Out of the crevice grew a vine that encircled him, then led him to glorious delights in the land of the vine. When he returned to the main highway, he was “pulling a flower-spangled banner. It was the glory and power of the vine.” Traffic slowed and cars “no longer considered only themselves in their race for position.” Beautifully illustrated by Dennis Adler and in a nicely designed format, here is a book that even adults could ponder.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.